I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD a year ago. As a 20 year-old college junior who seemed to have it all going for her, it was a huge punch in the stomach. Almost immediately after I heard the words come out of the doctor’s mouth I knew that I would be living with stigma and fear for a very long time.
After being diagnosed I was caught in the precarious balance of being “too crazy” and “not crazy enough”. In my inpatient and outpatient programs my fellow patients, and even therapists, told me I was being too hard on myself, I was too critical of myself, I just needed to lower my standards. I was even told that I was suffering from “rich people problems”. However, while these people tried to discount my feelings and emotions, I had people at school and work who thought that my mental health concerns made me unstable, incompetent, and disabled. I soon began to guard my diagnoses as a deep dark secret. Ashamed and terrified that people would find out and judge me.
It was shortly after this that I began to self-harm. I turned to cutting to show people the pain I felt inside. I couldn’t find the words to express it and I wanted help so I just showed them. All it did, though, was scare people and levy more judgment on me.
The biggest thing that my diagnoses led me to do was question who I was. I felt like everything I thought I knew about myself was a lie. I felt weak and betrayed by my own body. I was completely lost. I found myself stumbling along trying to piece everything together. My medications were changed upwards of five times, my diagnoses changed twice, and I began to hate myself. I lost friendships, my boyfriend and I broke up, and school became difficult. I couldn’t keep my secret in anymore; I couldn’t act like I was okay when I wasn’t. I had to let myself be vulnerable and I had to ask for help. I decided to do this by helping others with my same issues. I began to speak out against stigma. I joined the staff of a school senator and began working solely on improving mental health services on campus.
I am proud of what I have done, but I still choose not to share my chemical imbalance with people until I’ve known them for a while. I still face stigma and I fear that if people knew I could even be denied a job when I graduate. But, having the word that has caused me so much pain written on my forehead and showing it to the world makes me feel empowered and I do not regret it.