Stigma and Self Diagnosis.

In the past week, I have read two very disheartening blog posts about mental illness. They were both very similar in context; one being about self diagnosis being inaccurate method to use and the other saying how mental illness is just made up for attention.  I was not originally going to make this a blog post, but I figured if I was going to write a novel about something I’m passionate about, I might as well make it into a post.

Let’s start with the first article I read.

First off with this article, it is titled “Stop Whoring Out Your ‘Mental Illness.’ It’s unsettling to me because it comes off as overly aggressive and also because I refrain from using any word pertaining negatively to a woman’s sex life (I’m not perfect, I slip up, but it’s something that I’ve been working on for the last couple years.) But besides the unnecessary use of the word whore, this article was outright aggressive before I even opened the link to read it. 

Secondly, this article talks a whole lot but really has no point at all. The article talks a whole lot about doctors. It talks about claiming you have a mental illness and then seeking support from your family and friends. Let me tell you a little story:

I was depressed since fourteen. At sixteen (after two years of self diagnosing) I finally saw a therapist who diagnosed me with (surprise!) a depressive disorder. By the way, my therapist is a Licensed MSW (Master of Social Work) so she isn’t a doctor. In the situation where you can ONLY be diagnosed by a doctor (as this article suggests), does my own self diagnosed confirmed by a professional who is not a doctor not matter? Of course not. It completely matters. Just like my two years of me diagnosing myself.

I didn’t choose to go undiagnosed for so long, but it was because of my situation that I could not. It was because of the STIGMA associated with Mental Illness that I chose not to discuss my health with anyone, even after I was diagnosed. So how did I know I had depression? I thoroughly (and I still do) researched about it. You are out of your mind if a scared little fifteen year old girl doesn’t google “Why do I want to hurt myself?” from time to time.

Let’s bring in the second article now.

The first paragraph of this one is, “These are the signs that, even if you do struggle with some anxiety/depression/whatever, you are exaggerating a decent part of it for all the attention (and the excuses) that it provides you.”

I often wonder what it’s like to not be mentally ill and then instantly regret it. I have a feeling that this article, as well as the first, would be a good summary of being mentally perfect. Do these people show no empathy? No, they don’t. Because in order to show empathy you must be able to try to put yourself in other people’s situations and shoes. Them being put into my, someone who is mentally ill, shoes is them seeing the opportunity to whine and complain and to give out excuses.

Let’s bring both articles together now:

The stigma of mental illness is horrible. It is absolutely horrible and I wish it didn’t exist. These two articles truly embody the stigma. It is one thing that has made me truly terrified of opening up to others about my health.

You don’t know stigma until you are having a panic attack in your high school’s bathroom but you can’t go home because you are just “overreacting” that you’ll have to “grow up because you can’t cry whenever something goes wrong in the real world” that you “have to be an adult.” You don’t know stigma until the same person comforting you all day calls your Mother to tell them that they think I read too much on depression that I “convinced myself I have it.” You don’t know stigma until you’re suicidal knowing that you need to get medicated but fearing that the doctors won’t help or will judge you. And most of them did just that.

All of those are reasons why I won’t get help when I know I should. All of those are reasons why I am so terrified to open up to people about my mental health unless I know I have their support 110%. I have been the butt of the joke for too long with my mental health and I refuse to be it anymore.

So, yeah, I think it’s safe to say that stigma can be a pretty large part on why you would ever Self Diagnose yourself. 

I also think that it is safe to say that the reason us who are mentally ill are so hesitant to seek help for our illnesses are hesitant because there are people out there just like these two people who wrote the articles. Only alive and in the flesh instead of hiding behind a computer screen.

I will continue to promote my mental health as well as mental health as a whole until something in our society changes. I am not doing it for attention. I am not ashamed of it. I am not complaining about it. I am here to educate and support others.

I feel for those teenagers who are Self Diagnosing because that’s who I was for a long time. I feel for those who don’t open up because they are scared because I am nearly an adult now and I am still terrified. I feel for those who are just looking for something to describe what they are feeling.

Most importantly, I feel for those who don’t understand mental illness. I feel for them because they lack empathy. I feel for them because mental illness is more common they think and they will be touched with it one way or another. Read a book. Talk to your doctor. Talk to someone who is suffering. Because you will learn a lot more about mental illness that way rather than bitching about it.

 

(You can find the articles in the links appearing throughout this post. Because God Forbid I get accused of plagiarism by stealing one of their pathetic ideas about mental illness.)

Breaking Up

We’ve all been head over heels in love with someone and as cliche as it sounds, love is blind. Love is really, really blind. So blind that it’s sometimes impossible to really truly get aggravated at your partners actions or words or habits. One day, though, you’ll wake up next to them and you’ll want to smother them with a pillow to stop the snoring. Or duck tape their mouth shut to stop talking. Or start sweating hoping they don’t do anything to offend your friends and family. This will all happen, it’s inevitable, but it’s what you do with this realization that really matters.

We dated for two years and it was my first serious relationship. Looking back on it makes me feel an array of emotions ranging from happy to annoyed to sad to angry. Two years is a significant time. He was there through my family issues, when I was very sick for two months (and ended up giving him mono), proms, graduation, holidays, college, etc. We experienced and shared many milestones together.

We were two completely different people with two completely different personalities. It’s really difficult for me to write this without turning this into document of what he did to me and how much it messed me up. I wanted to write this, though, to talk about unhealthy relationships.

I learned so much from just a terrible relationship. To make it sound more positive, it was an opportunity of growth for me. I learned what I didn’t want in a relationship, I learned when to run in any other future relationship, I learned what I should work more at in future relationships, etc. I learned a lot about myself. I learned even more about myself when I broke it off eventually.

We got as far as we did in the relationship based off of manipulation, self-pity, and fear. And also that love is blind.

When I made the decision to end things, I didn’t think I would survive it. I actually went back to him once before deciding I needed to stick to my word. I stayed in bed for a week. I called off of work twice. I showered only once, I think, and it was only to sit in the steaming hot water until it ran out and just cry.

If I’m being completely honest, I put off breaking up with him because I was afraid of being alone. I was scared of letting go of the person that was my life for two entire years. I was afraid of throwing everything we had away. I was vulnerable and  afraid and I’ll admit I did not handle the break up well. I pushed myself into working and hanging out with friends because sitting in my room alone at night was terrible. I still had so much of his stuff and I couldn’t even touch it.

But my point is, I did it. I broke up with someone I thought I loved despite all that I feared. Some of those fears did come true. I survived that too. I lost a lot of friends and I was hurt a lot more in the end than I could have ever imagined. I’m still hurt with the way things ended between us, but I learned the valuable lesson that some people only keep you around to watch you suffer. 

The best part of this story, though, was the hardest part. Breaking up with him really, truly, did suck. But the second I woke up from the sad haze, my life had just begun. I sat down and thought about it. I was almost twenty, I was in college, and I had the whole future ahead of me. I am so young and it is completely unrealistic that I met my future husband at seventeen. I had (and still do have) a lot of growing to do and I had so many more people to meet and experience.

I am genuinely upset with the way things ended between us in the very end. Sometimes I really wish that we could have a civil relationship and catch up a couple times a year like other ex-couples can do because he was such a significant person in my life for two years. It’s not like that though. It makes me upset that I’m pretty indifferent (slightly on the more dislike side even) towards him anymore. It’s okay to stop caring about people you though you’d care forever though.

The best best part of this all is another cliche; love comes when you aren’t even expecting it. Two months after I broke up with my ex, I met someone. I met someone who made me entirely question any intimate relationship I ever had in my life and also love itself. I truly believe I have never loved anyone until him. I am genuinely crazy about him and I am so thankful for him everyday. It’s not perfect, but it’s close enough.

So, don’t be afraid of break ups. Don’t blame the heart-breakers for wanting to move on, because in reality they really do want to make things work. Break ups are terrible and heart-wrenching and not fun, but once you get out of that funk you won’t regret it. You’ll learn more about yourself and what you want in a relationship more than you will ever learn in a relationship. Don’t be afraid.

Also, know when it’s time to leave. You deserve to be treated with respect and you deserve for your desires to be heard. If you find yourself fighting more than ever, sit down and genuinely think about what you want your future to be. Can you see yourself marrying your partner? It’s okay if you don’t. Sometimes holding on is actually more hurtful in the long run.

And to anyone it may concern: You have the whole future ahead of you with plenty of new people to meet. Just remember that. Especially you high school and college kids who don’t know what they are doing.

Heavy Stuff.

I’ve been thinking about suicide. But not like that.

Pretty recently, it was my Uncle’s 13 year anniversary of when he took his own life. I was in second grade when it happened and didn’t understand. I understand now. I feel what he went through now. I can empathize with him.

At the beginning of the week, I woke up to a text. The text informed me that someone I had worked with in the past had taken his life the night before. I didn’t believe it at first, honestly. I didn’t believe it until I went on his Facebook page and read dozens of statuses he was tagged in and eventually his note.

He was a great guy. He was a great friend to his coworkers and also a fatherly figure to some. He was a family man. He volunteered often. I worked with him for a little over two years. I knew that he had previously found help for his depression, and I sent him my kind words (I was away at college at the time). When I came back to work, I smiled whenever I saw him and asked him how he was. We complained about customers sometimes. After I left that job, I didn’t see him around much and I only got to see what he chose to share with his Facebook friends.

On Facebook, he seemed happy. He was building or fixing up a house. He was talking about work. He was talking about his guardian angel who he missed dearly. Just based off his Facebook, it was  a complete shock. I’m still in shock. I still really don’t believe it. I keep thinking it’s a dream.

There are a lot of points to this relatively short post.


Point #1:

Suicide is terrible. Suicide is not selfish, though. Suicide does not mean that that person does not love you any less. Suicide is confusing and painful for everyone. Suicide can be prevented easily.

Point #2:

Talk to someone. Check in with someone. Listen to someone. Just sit there with someone. Call professional help if you receive any messages indicating someone hurting themselves or others. Invite someone out. Make them come out. Bring over an animal. Take them to a dog park. Hug them. Tell them how much you love and appreciate them. Sit in silence with them.

Do all of this with yourself as well.

Point #3:

Getting help is scary. It is so terrifying. It is stressful and just exhausting. In the beginning, you’ll swear it isn’t working and you’ll feel like a burden. Give it time. Because in the end, the cons outweigh the pros. You’ll feel better. You’ll start to feel like you can breathe more. You will look back on the time you were miserable and you will cry because you are so happy that you were strong enough to overcome it. You can do anything and you will do everything.

I know it’s hard and I know people can be discouraging about it. No body wants to admit that they feel like they are an endangerment to themselves. I sat in a bath tub until the water got cold trying to decide whether to check myself into the hospital or not. Then I spent 20 minutes sitting outside the hospital wondering if I should check myself in or not. Then I spent the whole time I was in the hospital (which is another story) wondering if I had made the right decision and wanting to leave immediately.

Point #4: 

People hide behind masks. There is a happy mask and an angry mask and a sad mask and so on. Most people hide behind that happy mask all the time. That’s why everyone should check in on everybody once in a while. This doesn’t have to be something elaborately planned or though through. It’s just smiling and asking how someone is.

Point #5:

Suicide and depression and all other mental illnesses in general are not to be forgotten about. They shouldn’t be only thought of when someone takes their life because they can’t take it anymore. Depression is just not a feeling. Depression is a lifestyle.


As a person with depression, I can’t stress enough how easy it is for someone to make me feel better.

  • Don’t pressure me to talk about things I obviously do not want to talk to.
  • Don’t pity me.
  • Invite me out (even if I don’t go out, the thought really and truly matters)
  • Listen to me without cutting me off. Make me feel like my feelings are valid.
  •  Just literally do anything without invalidating me.

I’ve thought about suicide. Not the black and white part of it, but the gray. Not how I would do it and what the world would be like after. Because I have no intention of doing it. I don’t expect the world to stop turning and I know that people will care. I know that I will hurt people. I know that if I kill myself, I can’t be there for my loved ones to help them. I know that people I talked to once in high school will overly grief for me and at least half of my former classmates will be hit hard with the news of my passing. I know all of these things. And that’s why suicide isn’t selfish, because I’m not thinking about myself. I’m thinking how everything will impact others. Because similar thoughts have gone through everyone’s head that desires to do it.

I think it’s noteworthy to bring up the fact that they did a research on the people who attempted suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. All of them said that while they were jumping they realized that at least half of their problems were fixable.


This one is for Uncle Mike and Dave.

Therapy.

 

I didn’t get help right away when my depression started up again for the second time. It was in the Spring of my sophomore year. I lost my appetite. I didn’t eat much for a long time. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to eat, because I did, it was just something about the process of it..like it was too much energy. (I’m currently struggling with this issue now and I don’t know why it happens. Food is just very unappetizing to me at the moment. Thankfully there is a Juice Bar here on campus that I’ve been taking full advantage of recently. Don’t ask me why I’d rather drink a smoothie than eat but it is what it is. I’m getting something in me and that’s all that counts.) I got migraines every night. I briefly had an encounter with insomnia. This was worse than my first cycle with depression.

I thought that it would somehow resolve itself like the first time around. Months past and it didn’t. My dear friend Brittany (Hi, Britt) urged me to go get help, so I eventually asked my Mom to make an appointment with something or someone that could help. And that’s when I met the most fantastic woman.

Because confidentiality is key in therapy (and because we know a lot of mutual people), I can’t tell you who she is. What I can tell you is that she made my world bearable and she has become a mentor to me and one of my most trusted counselors. She is a Social Worker. She is one of the big reasons why I am pursuing a career in Social Work.

I was nervous my first appointment, as anyone would be probably. I cried a lot the first couple of appointments explaining the divorce and relationships with people and how I felt like I was completely pointless. She was the first person to say “hey you have depression and it’s okay” and later she was the first person to say “hey you are suffering from Dysthymia* and it’s going to be okay.” She was the first person to validate what I was feeling.

We have been working together for 4 years now. She has seen me succeed and fail. She has seen me happy and completely depressed. When we first met, she saw me at a point in my life where I couldn’t visualize the next day let alone week. Now, she’s come to see me as someone who can visualize years in advance.(Although now I can’t visualize next week but can visualize a couple years ahead.) There’s been periods where I think I’m okay and don’t see her for awhile but she is always welcoming me back when I need her. 

So when I go home in a couple weeks, I’ll go see my therapist. I’m making the transition to a new therapist since I am moving away from home soon. We’ll talk about that, I’m sure. We’ll talk about how glad we are that school is over for now. We’ll talk about a lot of things. And I’ll feel like I am home and safe when I walk in her little office. There is a picture of a quote on her wall that I always read when I go to sit down. It’s comforting and it’s familiar:

“I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.”
― Portia Nelson, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

 

*Dysthymia is a type of depression that is mild to regular depression but the symptoms last longer (two years or longer). You can still experience major depressive episodes during dysthymia as well which is referred to as “double depression” which feels as worse as it sounds. Thanks WebMD for helping me explain this.

The First Cycle.

I used to hate the phrase “It is what it is.” My Mom said and still does say it all the time (in fact, that is what her “Favorite Quote” is in her Facebook bio.) I used to think the saying was a “Mom thing” and avoided saying it at all costs. Now, I really like it and I think it to myself about twice a day. “It is what it is” has become one of my two mantras in life. Past Katie would surely think Future Katie is such a Mom *eye roll*.

It was not until this past year that I learned that depression ran in my family, on both sides. Genetically the chances were slim to none that I would live a mentally healthy life (although I do believe that everyone experiences a mental illness at some point in their life, it’s just the severity that counts in my case). I get bitter because of the genetics. Sometimes I think that I was a ticking time bomb of sadness waiting to explode from the time I was born.

My mental health journey started when I was fourteen, a soon to be freshman in high school. It started with my parent’s divorce. Six years have passed since the divorce and I still get emotional whenever I talk or think about the whole ordeal.  I repressed nearly all of it, yet it’s still rooted deeply in me.

Since then, the depression comes in cycles. I do not have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), so let me clear that up right away. Each time my depression comes back, it is usually worse than the last time around.

The First Cycle consisted of a lot of denial and a lot of repression. I honestly don’t know what happened during that time because I can not remember. I just remember being hurt from the divorce and also having to juggle the drama and the crushes high school always seems to bring. It was literally a dark time. I don’t think I was home often and I definitely remembering almost failing that year. I wish I could tell you more about the first cycle, but I can’t remember. If you take anything out of this, I want you to realize that repression is a real thing and also the effect divorce has on children. The latter seems like a no brainer, but it is easy to forget.

Divorce is stressful for everyone involved so I’m not going to make it seem like it sucks less for one particular party. Because it sucks all around. I am a Child of Divorce, like half of this generation. It is rare when I meet someone who has one holiday dinner instead of two. Divorce is more common than I’d like it to be. My perception of love and the future is damaged. I don’t know what I want but I do know what I don’t want: a divorce.

I never once thought I was the cause of the divorce, but I often felt that I accounted for half of the arguments during the divorce. Divorced people, it seems to me, pay more attention about arguing over the kids that they miss what the kids are feeling. Kids are angry and are in denial. How many songs are there about kids being angry with divorce? It’s a super sensitive time for everyone. Especially if you are old enough to understand what is going on.

The divorce awakened the depression. I don’t blame my parents, though. Divorce is a dark time for everyone. Plus, I was  a ticking time bomb to begin with. It would have happened eventually, maybe with fewer twists and turns, but it would have happened. Don’t get me wrong either, it’s a joy watching my parents fall in love again. Without the divorce, I don’t think I’d see my Dad actually smile and I would never have met my step-brothers, sisters, and nephews. I met a lot of great people through the side effects of the divorce and I got to see my parents happy. I still struggle with the divorce. I get uncomfortable still. As much as I would rather my parents being happy together, seeing them happy individually is good enough.

(S/O to John, Emily, Shane, Brad, Sierra, Lauren, Freddy, Mike, Mom and Dad.)

 

My First Blog Post

I’m not quite sure how to start one of these things, honestly. It’s just about as worse as trying to start a paper due the next day; it’s terrible to start with but it must be done.

So, basically, I chose to start a blog. Specifically, I chose to start a blog centered around my own mental illness.

Yesterday I posted on Facebook, after hitting and going past my breaking point, about my mental illness and I got a lot of feedback from it. Some supportive and also some non-supportive. I got messages and I got calls. I got asked why the hell I would post something like that on Facebook for everyone to see. I also got a lot of responses by who did not like it…like those people you thought you were close to. The silence brought by those people was deafening, but nothing I could not handle. Because, you know, I got about 500 other things that my brain made up for me to worry about.

So here is my answer: I posted what I posted for a couple reasons, the big one being that people need to change the way they see mental illness. I posted what I posted to start a conversation. Mental illness in America needs to be heard. Mental illness in schools needs to be heard. Mental illness can not be ignored any longer. I should not have to feel immense guilt for taking a “Mental Health Day” nor should I be fearful for asking for one. I should not have to lie to people about how I am feeling if asked. It should generally be accepted by now that some people need a little extra help to get along and not feel like a burden for asking for help. I should not be talked out of medication if I need it. You would not tell a diabetic to stop taking their insulin or monitoring their blood sugar because “therapy is a great alternative to medicine.” I should not live in fear of seeking help because the stigma against mental illness is so prevalent. I should not be told that my mental illness is “all in my head” or “you’ve been reading too much about it on the internet”.

I should not have to deal with it and neither should anyone else. Simple as that. So this is me starting the conversation. This is me sharing my biggest vulnerability, shamelessly, with anyone choosing to view this blog for the greater good. All I’m asking is for openness from your ears, heart, mind, and soul.