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Sophie’s Story

“There is no greater suffering than an untold story inside you.”

Share your stigma experience.

I had a panic attack while doing a presentation at the end of my first year of university. It was the worst sensation I had experienced in my whole life. Basically, my body and mind suddenly believed, for no obvious reason, that I was facing a very dangerous situation and that I needed to escape or fight for my life. It felt horrible. But what was worse than the sensations in my body, was the meaning I gave to those sensations. I was losing control, I was failing, and something was wrong with me. The panic attacks crept in everywhere, as I was so fearful of them. It overwhelmed me totally. I couldn’t accept it because it didn’t match the idea I had of myself; a happy, confident and unstressed person. I became anxious all the time, I became unable to sleep that finally lead to being depressed when I lost hope to ever feel better.

I felt the weight of the stigma around mental problems when I felt ashamed of what was happening to me and my inability to deal with it. I felt it when I realized how uncomfortable I was and still sometimes am to share those experiences. I feel it when I judge myself for feeling that way, when I think something is wrong with me, when I think I am weaker than I should be, when I don’t accept it. I feel it when I notice how it affected my self-esteem and the way I perceive myself.

I think we need to fight the messages shaming individuals for their mental suffering, that it is our fault or that it is us failing somehow. The ideas that happiness is normality, that strong is always better than weak, that weaknesses should be hidden and that suffering or reacting differently is necessarily a problem. All kinds of suffering are not failures of anything, they are just possible experiences of the complex human mind coming from a set of predispositions, experiences, circumstances, social context and more. It needs to be taken care of gently, individually and collectively.

How did you overcome this experience?

I am not sure I would consider that I have overcome this experience yet, but I am in the process of it. I am still afraid that panicking, feeling depressed or anxious can take me away from being and doing what I want. I often feel vulnerable. I know that I am not alone which is helpful and that sometimes I do feel better. I also know that the stigma existing in this society made it harder for me to accept these experiences. It led me to judge myself instead of having compassion for myself. Knowing this helps me.

Help others by sharing a brief, positive message.

Maya Angelou said that: «There is no greater suffering than an untold story inside you». I believe it to be true. I think by all sharing our stories, big or small, without minimizing, we can help others and also help ourselves to not feel isolated, weird or less worthy.

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