#EndtheStigma: Mental Health Awareness Month

Sitting in my Primary Care Physician's office in January of 2016, I felt foolish. The anxiety bubbling in my stomach (my grandma calls it the "Tempest Stomach"), making my palms sweat should have been a sign that I was not, indeed, foolish. But years of hearing the stigma surrounding anxiety and depression had convinced me that sitting here, in this chair, waiting on Nurse Terri, I was a fool. I was convinced that being here was a sign that I was just another millennial that couldn't handle the "real world."

Even my parents (whom I love and I know would support me no matter what) were skeptical. My dad's response was a huff, and my mom was uncertain at best, despite herself (and later I would find, another close relative) having suffered through the same issues. That's what the stigma around depression and anxiety has caused: people with a genuine health ailment feel too afraid to seek help because they're afraid they're making it up, or they are weak, or spoiled. Too often, this stigma comes at the cost of someone's life. They don't see a way out. Their condition is amplified by the feelings of shame and self doubt associated with their illness, and they feel their hand has been forced. 

I'm writing this post to finally put to rest the shame and foolishness I felt that day in my PCP's office: I have depression and anxiety, and I am not ashamed of it.

All those times when I was so anxious about something that my stomach would hurt to the point of my crying, that was my Anxiety. That first started happening to me when I was 6 and my parents went to Disney World on a trip they won. I remember being awake in my bed in my grandparents' house, worrying about them dying in a car accident or a plane crash, for no reason. That was Anxiety, and I'm so relieved that I sought treatment for it.

Spending the last two years feeling nothing (and when I felt something, feeling sad at nothing)...that was Depression. Nurse Terri looked at me sympathetically and explained that young adults now are doing too much, contrary to how entitled us Millennials are.  When she was 25, she explained, she was graduated from school, married, and owned her house. At 25, I had just moved to Chicago on my own (with only one family member living here), was starting a new job, and was fresh off of two heartbreaks. That's a lot, no matter how fortunate I am to be where I am. That stemmed into Depression, and I'm glad I shook off the fear to seek treatment.

What's my life like now that I've sought treatment? To put it how my mom did when she was explaining how my medicine would make me feel, it's like the world is in color again. At some point over the past three years, the world had morphed into some sepia-toned monster version of itself, and I hadn't realized it until it was suddenly in vibrant color again. I sat in the dentist chair, preparing for a filling, and my stomach wasn't in painful knots. I felt...normal. For the first time maybe ever.

It was the most liberating feeling being able to feel like myself again! I suddenly was interested in running again, and yoga. I went out and made friends, took Oliver for insanely long walks, made goals and plans for the future. Fell in love. Felt independent and recognize my successes for what they are: successes!

Treating my Anxiety and Depression has changed my life, and I'm sharing this post to help #BreaktheStigma and hopefully encourage someone else to make the life-changing and bettering decision to seek help, like I did.

You are not alone, it is not your fault, you should not feel ashamed. Get help. Talk to a friend or family member. See the world in color again.