No Longer Taboo; Speaking Out on World Mental Health Day

Did you know that nearly twenty percent of the US population has a diagnosed mental illness? For World Mental Health Day, we conducted e-interviews with three young professional women in that twenty percent.

Jessica Greene

Hello! Please tell us a little about you.

Hey there! Thanks for interviewing me.

I go by Jess. I’m a freelance writer who works with small businesses to create content suited to their business.

It’s still a part time gig, but I’m thrilled to say it works well for myself and my family. I’m pretty much the chief cook in my house as a result… Thankfully no one complains about having dinner on the table when they get home!

I enjoy spending time with my fiancé, Geno, as well as my mother and aunt. On days our schedules line up, it’s nice to share a home-cooked meal together and watch a movie or sitcom.

In my spare time, I work on what I hope will be my first of many novels. It’s a new adult epic fantasy, and I hope to finish the rough draft before my wedding next June!

Do you have a mental illness?

Yes. I suffer from bipolar disorder, chronic depression, anxiety, and ADD (attention deficit disorder).

How did it make you feel to be diagnosed with a mental illness?

 Okay, lovelies. Bear with me, here!

I was younger than ten when I was diagnosed with depression. Though I was already “different” than other children my age, the depression diagnosis made me feel even more ostracized. I didn’t know of any peers who had the same problem.

In eighth or ninth grade, I had what can only be described as a “meltdown” in front of my friends. I was suicidal for about a week afterward, but when my doctor diagnosed the bipolar problem—and got me on the proper medicine—I felt a lot better. This diagnosis was totally different than the first in that respect.

My ADD came to light during high school when I couldn’t concentrate. Again, the proper medication made me more functional. It was like a miracle to me!

Lastly came my anxiety diagnosis. I went to the E.R. thinking I was having a heart attack, but it turned out to be anxiety. Honestly, this was relieving to me. I would rather deal with anxiety for the rest of my life than have a heart attack in my early twenties!

Can you give a brief summation of your time spent with the problem(s)?

Like I said before, sometimes getting diagnosed with new issues was a relief because I could get medication that helped me…

But it’s not a cure.

Life was still a roller coaster ride at times!

And you know what? It will continue to be that way for the rest of my life. Mental illness can come in waves. Some days are fine and then some days are really crummy—and sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it.

The trick for me is to be thankful for the good time I have, and try to remember those times when I’m feeling down. Remember those times in a good light. Know that they can return!

What was the most difficult situation/challenging parts of your diagnosis?

The most challenging part of my mental illnesses was losing friends I had for many years. When I first lost them, I felt upset, insulted, and angry. It wasn’t as if I could control the chemicals in my brain by myself, right? It wasn’t my fault.

But when I got older, I realized that not everyone is going to be capable coping with my mental illness…and that’s okay. They have their own happiness to worry about, and once again, that is okay.

What’s not okay is putting someone’s illness under a stereotype or negative stigma without trying to understand what they’re going through.  That’s the most frustrating part about my problems. While my “emotional issues” might sound overdramatic to someone else, they are very real to me.

I think if everyone would think a little more about how another person feels—and why—the world would be a better place.

What does it mean to you to have “mental health issues?”

To me, having mental health issues means you have to try a little harder sometimes. Try harder to get out of bed at a reasonable time. Try harder to socialize. Try harder to pursue your passion.

But you know what? It also means I am more grateful for the good times I’ve had. Even though I have a ton of negative memories from the past fifteen years, I have a lot of good memories, too!

Of course…we should all recognize mental health issues are different for everyone.

If you could tell people anything about mental illness, what would it be?

I would tell people that there are negative stereotypes about pretty much everything—including mental illness. Don’t let what you hear be what you think. Do your research!

Kelly

Hello! Please tell us a little about you.

Hi! I’m Kelly. I own and operate Just Six Club with the help of some very lovely folks. I love my puppy, significant other, and family, of course; my favorite things to do are taking photos and running my shop. Overall, I’m a pretty upbeat person, a little distractible, and a bit of a perpetual student.

Do you have a mental illness?

Yes, bipolar disorder, OCD, and anxiety. I’m open about them with friends and family, but a little intimidated to discuss them here to be honest.

Can you give a brief summation of your time spent with the problem(s)?

Sure, I spent quite a few years undiagnosed. I’ve had various types of OCD for as long as I can remember, particularly hoarding (I held on to everything, parting with even the smallest piece of trash felt like the end of the world). Other types like checking tendencies, came later, but more on that in just a bit.

Bipolar disorder developed while I was in high school and crept in slowly. I didn’t feel sad necessarily, so it never crossed my mind that what I was experiencing could be depression- it was more of an empty feeling at first, I had no motivation or drive, I felt disconnected from others. My habits changed too- I would often fall sleep right after school and stay awake all night painting, I would do most of my homework but didn’t bother to fill out college applications because they felt like an insurmountable process.

Hypomanic episodes started slowly too and gradually became more intense as time went on. Mine aren’t as destructive as they can be for others, so they never really alarmed my family- in fact they had quite the opposite effect. My ups are most often a hyper productive mode where I start to take on way too many projects and work through things quickly, among other things. The more projects I took on, the more the people closest to me were proud while more impulsive behaviors were chalked up to just having fun in my twenties (spur of the moment trips, irresponsible spending, and so on). To this day, the only person who ever raised an eyebrow has been my psychiatrist (she raised both and was pretty alarmed).

The things I do while in an up mood usually look great on paper, but are not good at all in real life. Along with the hyper productivity, I would not sleep for more than a few hours a day for several days in a row. As I got older, my ups shifted from largely positive and productive to frenzied- I would often forget to eat for days at a time, and my emotions were magnified- happy was joyous, upset was furious, sad was all-consuming, and so on. Meanwhile, my depressed moods also got increasingly worst and even less productive.

By my first semester in graduate school, it felt as if things were completely out of control. When depressed, I wouldn’t have the energy to do anything, I would be angry with everyone around me, and I felt like no one cared about me. Or, when hypomanic, I would be in a spiral- starting projects I couldn’t finish, going out to shop until the middle of the night instead of completing school work (and spending way too much money while doing it), I felt anxious, antsy, couldn’t focus no matter how hard I tried.

It still had not crossed my mind that mental illness could be at the root of these problems, I attributed the increased trouble to relocating far from home. I finally went to the doctor after my s/o very directly told me that the ups and downs I’d been having were not at all healthy. After finding the right medicine and making lifestyle adjustments, I felt like myself for the first time in a while. Which was amazing. Adjusting took some time, and truth be told, it is still a work in progress. Thankfully, I have very supportive friends and family who have been more than willing to help. Sometimes I still have break through mood episodes and other challenges- as Jess said earlier, the right medication and lifestyle changes do wonders, but they’re not a cure-all. However, at this point, it’s a smaller part of my life rather than a destructive, driving force.

How did it make you feel to be diagnosed with a mental illness?

Good and bad at the same time.

When I was first diagnosed as bipolar and I felt a wave of relief. I had a label on the problem and a list of possible solutions, which felt great. The doctor’s first solution, however, immediately soured that. Within a few minutes, he handed me a prescription (something, he informed me, that I needed, and would likely need long term) which I had not prepared myself for. I turned it down and insisted on getting tested for every possible other cause in mood changes first. I also tried exercise, attempted to get on a proper schedule, and tried to eat properly as well. This process went on for a little over a month completely unsuccessfully.

Since I had been seen at school, I wanted to find an outside doctor that I could go to. That doctor was a bit more thorough and told me that in addition to bipolar, I had OCD and (primarily social) anxiety as well. Once again, this was a mix of good and bad. They identified things in my life that had always been a challenge which I had just accepted as normal and gave me ways to improve them them, but I didn’t want to accept that I had that much to work on.

What was the most difficult situation/challenging parts of your diagnosis?

I’ve had a hard time answering this one. Bipolar Disorder has seriously messed with my life and relationships many times,  however it has been mostly in check recently. At this point, the most challenging day to day issue arises from OCD.

I feel guilty and awful about this, but my checking tendencies often get in the way of leaving my house. When my OCD flares up, sometimes I feel like I need to go back and check outlets and appliances 4, 5, sometimes more than 20 times before I feel like I can leave (sometimes it gets so bad I change plans and do not leave at all). The people I love most frequently end up waiting for me and often get frustrated because of this. Unlike Bipolar, OCD is often dismissed or treated as a joke in media, which makes it more difficult to talk about.

What does it mean to you to have “mental health issues?”

Jess touched on this better than I could I think, it means extra effort. Just like any other health condition, certain parts of life take a lot more work and I have to be conscientious about preventing issues as much as I possibly can.

If you could tell people anything about mental illness, what would it be?

To people who are struggling with their diagnosis- you’re not alone. Being diagnosed with a mental illness can feel scary and isolating at first. I never realized how common these issues were until I started being open about them with those closest to me. It’s ok too, if you don’t feel comfortable openly discussing them, they are still pretty stigmatized- just remember that there are plenty of places to go for support if you need it, both online and off.

Sami

Hello! Please tell us a little about you.

My name is Sami, and I am 17 years old and a senior in high school. I am most passionate about two things in my life: cycling and psychology. As for cycling, I ride with a local cycling team for weekly 40-mile rides. I hope to eventually become a psychologist, as I love studying human behavior and constantly look for ways to put this interest into practice! This past year, I founded a charity bike ride event called “Move for Mental Health,” which raised money for the Mental Health Association in Southwestern New Jersey. With over 140 riders, the event was a success and helped me to spread the word about the importance of mental health awareness throughout my community. I also enjoy creating art and spending time with my friends and family.

Do you have a mental illness?

I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at the age of three.

How did it make you feel to be diagnosed with a mental illness?

Since I was very young at the time of my diagnosis, I don’t think I fully understood what mental illness was. I knew I was living with a “bully in my brain,” where I suffered from obsessions and had to perform rituals to lessen my anxieties that these obsessions caused. However, I didn’t understand why it had to be this way. It took me many years later to fully comprehend what living with a mental illness would mean for me: lots of hard work to take back control of my brain.

Can you give a brief summation of your time spent with the problem(s)?

I remember washing my hands until they were raw, checking that the oven was turned off time after time long after my family was asleep, and more. I like to say that I went through different stages of rituals – some very noticeable, and some not so much. At about 12 years old, I began to take therapy very seriously. With the amazing amount of support that I have received and lots of hard work, I have overcome so much of my OCD. I still live with certain obsessions and rituals on a daily basis, but it is much more controlled (and not even noticeable!) and it impacts my daily life much less than it once did.

What was the most difficult situation/challenging parts of your diagnosis?

I think the most difficult part of my diagnosis was seeing the effect my OCD had on others. My family, for example, was my biggest support system. But it’s extremely difficult for parents to have to see their daughter struggling. Likewise, I wanted to be an example for my sisters, but I did not want them to see me suffering due to my OCD. Since I have grown up with my diagnosis, I have found ways to communicate about my OCD with my family and friends when I need to. But more than this, I have learned that it’s perfectly okay to not be okay all of the time, and that struggling is sometimes a part of the process.

What does it mean to you to have “mental health issues?”

Besides the more obvious definition, a mental illness affects a person’s daily life in some way or another. For example, everyone has idiosyncrasies. Some people like to keep their room extra clean, and others might be bothered when different types of food touch each other on a plate. However, a true mental disorder does more than this. It is debilitating and persistent, and I think it is really important to remember the difference between behavioral differences and mental illness.

If you could tell people anything about mental illness, what would it be?

I would say that mental illness should not be a “taboo” topic in today’s society. In order for people to seek help and get better, we have to talk about often, one of the most helpful things a person can do for someone who is struggling with a mental illness is to talk with him or her – become educated and try to learn as much as you can.

Editor’s Note

We would like to thank everyone who participated.

Please be aware that mental illnesses vary greatly from person to person, we hope that sharing these stories will help others.

If you suspect that you or someone you love needs treatment, contacting your primary doctor can be a good first step as they will be able to refer you to the correct specialist. In case of a mental health emergency, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.

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