I’ve learned more about my own mental health from the Internet than I have from the health care system.
I’ve been followed regularly by orthopedic specialists and family doctors for my bone disorder since my diagnosis at 18 months. My doctor treated all of my symptoms and pain for the bone disorder and often saved the mobility of my limbs by intervening before damage could be done to the nerves and tendons.
But in all the time…I’ve never received adequate care for my mental health. In fact, I didn’t really know anything was wrong with me…I kept rationalizing my symptoms as a normal part of teenage development.
I ignored those symptoms, partly because I didn’t want to alarm my family but also because I was ashamed. Everybody remarked about how strong I was for enduring surgeries and daily pain, and I was afraid that by admitting I was suffering, that I was hurting more than in just a physical sense, that I would somehow let them down. I feared that I would no longer be strong in their eyes.
Fast forward to the Internet; to blogging and Twitter and connecting with like-minded people. It was easier to discuss my feelings on a blog, through an “anonymous alias”, than to admit those feelings to people I knew in real life. I still brushed off a lot of what I was feeling.
I still kept most of what I struggled with a secret.
Fast forward to hearing that what I was feeling daily wasn’t “normal”. Flash forward to teaching myself about mental health, about depression and anxiety and finally feeling a slight lift of weight off my shoulder, a slight ease that came from more knowledge in the matter, by my own means of research. I worried that the doctors would tell my parents and I was still afraid of somehow letting them down. I didn’t want to give them yet another thing to worry about.
I remained silent for several more years. I fought my battles quietly. I was afraid of being told “you just want attention“, because that’s what people said back then. Hell, they still do it. They still say cruel things like she just wants attention when someone says that they are struggling.
My husband was the first person I admitted any of that stuff too, and I kept trudging through it all on my own for several more years. In 2012, I finally went to my family doctor and told her I was struggling.
And I hated how she looked at me.
I hated the judgmental pursed lips, the narrowed gaze of assessment while she quizzed me with a detachment that made me feel extremely tiny and unimportant.
Is there anything going on that could contribute to your feelings of depression and anxiety?
Why…yes, actually. A fucking lot. I’m sore all the time, I feel trapped financially…unable to contribute financially. My husband carries the heavy burden of being the primary breadwinner but my bad pain days have me leaning on him for even more help, which puts a strain on us. I’m dealing with abandonment issues or something along those painful lines. Oh…did I mention I’m sore all the time?
She barely glanced at the screen before writing out a prescription for some kind of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication, and I left her office with more questions than I had answers.
Like…how could me answering five standard questions asked by a family doctor really give an insight to what’s happening in my mind?
Or, why is it so hard to see a psychologist?
I’m still waiting for an appointment. Twiddling my thumbs and wondering why the resources are so difficult to come by, especially those who can’t afford to see a private psychologist.
What is going on here? Why is it harder to get help for someone struggling mentally than someone struggling with a disability or physical sickness?
Actually, I have a theory about that. The health care department and the government, hell the majority of doctors themselves, do not understand the complicated human mind, and therefore do not know how to treat it. They’re afraid to step into someone’s dark world.
Which is why I’ve received the best advice from friends who also struggle with mental illness; because they are not afraid to go into the dark place and truly see who you are. They are not afraid because they’ve been there, or are there. They see you as a person first and always.
This is exactly why Stigma Fighters is such an important cause. It’s putting faces to illnesses, it’s putting words to thoughts and helping those who don’t understand see things in a different light. It’s not just about speaking up and breaking the stigma, it’s about making us more human to the doctors who are supposed to treat us. It’s about demanding more than the sorry excuse for mental health care that we’ve been receiving. We are individual cases with individual methods of coping, we don’t fit into any one box labeled “depression” or “anxiety”. We aren’t just another patient number.
We are more, and we’ve always been more.
If you struggle with a mental illness, consider sharing your story with Stigma Fighters. You never know who your words are going to reach and help.