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Reshaping perceptions and going beyond a checkbox

"I am not my mental illness. My mental illness does not define me."

Written story

Arien’s Story

What kind of stigma did you experience/observe?

I have struggled with depression most of my life, but wasn’t diagnosed with general anxiety and panic disorder until I was 30, but so many habits made sense to me. When applying to new jobs, I felt the need to not answer “do you have a disability?” Technically, yes. My options were to lie and say no, or choose not to answer, which made me look “guilty”. I am a hard worker with so much to offer, but I knew if I answered yes, my credibility would be questioned. My whole resume would be shadowed by, “So what’s wrong with her, and do we even want to have to accommodate it?” In the end, I couldn’t lie about it. I never got called back. Yes, it’s a rough job market, but the anxiety in my head fed off imagined scenarios where my application was thrown out because I was “disabled”.

Suddenly, it became clearer how prejudice could change my life, despite laws and policy established to protect me and give me equal opportunity. Checking that box felt like saying “I’m broken” to people who had never even spoken a word to me, much less allowed me to discuss my situation. In the end, I didn’t want to discuss my situation.

I am not my mental illness. My mental illness does not define me. But I knew it would, because “mental health” is still a scary phrase, and “disability” is equated, in some ways by society, as “less”. But my depression doesn’t make me less, it just makes me different. But by just checking a box, I can’t explain that.

How did you overcome this experience?

I realized the power of therapy in college. I called a suicide hotline when I had to move back in with my parents, unemployed. I talked to friends about how I felt. Later, with cognitive behavioral therapy, the right medication, and leaving a toxic work environment, I’ve managed to thrive and even earn a full time job with a company that prides itself on employee wellness. I still rely on self-help books, medication, checking in with other friends who have had depressive episodes, and occasional counseling to make sure I’m ok. It’s still a struggle sometimes, but less!

Help others by sharing a brief, positive message.

Please remember you are loved and make a difference in our world. Whether you braked for that squirrel, held the door for someone, or gave a friend a hug, you’ve made a difference. Please seek support and help so you can continue to do so. We need you.