A student’s perspective on why we need to end stigma surrounding mental illness
There is nothing more frustrating than having a millions things you want to say and not being able to say them.
There is nothing more infuriating than feeling out of control of your own emotions and actions.
There is nothing more discouraging and isolating than people pushing you aside, and labeling you as feeble.
I have suffered from anxiety for a very long time, and was recently diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I have dealt with obsessive compulsive behaviour, anxiety attacks, fear, and the constant feeling that something bigger and more powerful than me was standing on my chest 24 hours a day, seven days a week—in a constant state of fight or flight and high alert from what is usually a fabricated danger.
This summer, I found myself unable to sleep, curled up in a ball in my bed at 3 a.m. crying to my mother about how I couldn’t take it anymore. I just wanted it all to stop. Despite my struggles, I was never one to ‘give up,’ as they call it. I was never one to lose total control. I always thought I was in control; I always had it all figured out.
My world was spinning—I felt as though I was alone in a dark room with no windows… no air. I could see the light through a small crack. I could see the people going about their everyday life; my friends, colleagues, everyone I knew so far away—out of reach. I knew what was out there, I knew it was good, but I couldn’t fit through the crack because the monster on my back was too large.
It was at that point that I realized I let my anxiety take complete control of my life. I had seen doctors in the past; I have had many health issues related to my stress. They’ve given me tips and ways to manage my anxiety. I’ve always managed to do it on my own, but now I felt defeated because I no longer could, and I felt like I had nowhere to turn. I was ashamed.
This year, I started treatment for my anxiety. This year, I spoke up and said that I could not longer do it on my own. I can proudly say that as of right now, I have not had a panic attack in three months. I can take elevators again; crowded metros aren’t the death traps I once considered them to be. I can go to a movie theatre without constantly looking over my shoulder at every little movement I see in the dark. Small steps, but I am no longer ashamed of my struggles.
These may seem like completely ridiculous feats to you, but to me they are paramount accomplishments. To me, they symbolize my ability to silence the monster on my back. It’s still there—I still have a lot of work to do, but if I keep reminding myself that I control it, and it not me, its power is greatly diminished.
I am writing this because people are quick to share links and re-tweet tweets on “Bell Let’s Talk” Day, but that’s one day in the year. There are 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, and 8765 hours in a year, and in the life and struggle of someone suffering from anxiety, depression, and mental illness. It is so easy to feel alone and isolated, and for many that makes the situation even worse.
A change of mentality—an end to the stigma surrounding mental illness needs to be brought forth. It’s such an immense part of so many people’s lives. According to Canadian Institute of Health Research, one in five Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at one point in their lives. And yet, we are still whispering about it. Just writing this and publishing it with my name has me feeling rather nervous, even though I shouldn’t be.
The stigma is alive and thriving and I have unfortunately experienced it first hand. I am not weak, rather I am stronger than you could ever imagine. And to the people who say, “just shake it off,” you don’t just shake the monster off. You look it in the eye, and you fight it. A person is always more powerful with the support of those around them.
You are not alone, I can promise you that.
Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about the what, the why, and the how surrounding mental illness. Be kind, be good, take the time to be understanding and open-minded, and together we will find concrete solutions.
To learn more about “Bell Let’s Talk Day”, visit letstalk.bell.ca/en/.