I live with depression and anxiety, as well as a chronic pain bone disorder. For years, I didn’t talk about the depression and anxiety I dealt with daily because I was afraid admitting I struggled would be admitting I was weak. Everyone always spoke about how “brave” and “strong” I was for dealing with my chronic pain disorder, and I was deeply afraid that I would let them down by confessing the truth:
I struggle with it. Daily.
Anxiety came at me first, and it came at me like a freight train. I had my first panic attack in my homeroom classroom in seventh grade, when the teacher asked us to introduce ourselves. I was going to state my name and the fact that I had a bone disorder, but suddenly my heart was pounding and I couldn’t breathe. I feared that if I told my classmates and friends about my MHE, they would all make fun of me or treat me differently. I pulled my sweater back on, hiding my scars, and when it was finally my turn to speak, all I did was say my name and that I liked reading in the tiniest, wobbly voice I could muster.
I spent the next several years compulsively hiding my scars and bone growths with layers and baggy clothes–even in the dead of summer, convinced that I’d be treated differently if my classmates found out. I didn’t want the attention, so I tried to hide. Even when I had surgeries and returned to school with walking aids and bandages, I didn’t talk about it. I couldn’t.
I first started experiencing bouts of serious depression shortly after, and it got worse in high school. Hiding a major part of myself and dealing with the anxiety took it’s toll on me, and whenever I experienced a particularly bad pain day, I’d fall into a depression. I didn’t want to leave my room, because I was tired of hurting and tired of being different. I felt isolated and alone. I’d made friends who had MHE, but they all lived so far away. In my small, rural school…there wasn’t anybody going through the things that I was going through. Nobody else missed weeks of school for surgeries.
Coping the only way I knew how; I hid it. I wore a mask, and I wrote religiously in journals about my feelings, and while it lifted some of the burden I carried, the depression and anxiety didn’t disappear.
To this day, I still struggle with depression and anxiety. I no longer compulsively hide my scars and tumors, and I make it a point to talk about my MHE and mental health struggles. The change came slowly, with the birth of my sons and their diagnosises of MHE. I decided to be honest about my struggles, with the hope that maybe I could ensure that my sons never experience the isolation and self-imposed segregation I felt growing up.
I want to help break down the stigma and barriers that society has imposed on mental illness and those who live and love with it, and the surest way to do that is to talk about it, to demand change within our health care system, and to advocate for those who can’t.
The conversation starts with us–so let’s talk.