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Through the lens of connection: Cara’s story of accepting her diagnosis and finding support through therapy

"Real human connection is the best therapy."

Written story

Share your stigma experience.

I’ve always struggled with depression, though it took 20 years for me to accept that it was more than just “feeling a little down”. I have atypical features, so I can still enjoy hobbies and social activities, but over the last two years, it’s taken more of a toll on my relationship and my daily functioning. I’ve been isolating myself and craving connection but not able to reach out and speak about what I’ve been going through. I spend a lot of time at home, not focusing on ways to promote my career as a freelance photographer and writer, but instead distracting myself with “life chores and responsibilities” (i.e. car repairs, cleaning, organizing, taking care of the cats, etc.) and wasting time procrastinating by watching movies and TV.

Mental illness runs in my family and I can very openly talk about the struggles of my mother and her illnesses, most importantly by volunteering as an instructor for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Family-to-Family class. But fully accepting mental illness within myself has been extremely difficult. I used to journal as an adolescent and I saw therapists in the past but nothing stuck and nothing really helped me to feel much better. I hadn’t previously had insurance as an adult and didn’t want to pay for therapy sessions out of pocket, so I really just pushed through the negative feelings. Because of my atypical features of my depression, I never felt like I had a “real problem” because I could still get out of bed every morning and still went to work and still could have fun and laugh when the occasion presented. Plus, I have a psychology background and thought for sure that I’d be able to diagnose myself if I needed to.

But because of my mothers illness, I always told myself that I never wanted to be like her, never end up like her, that I was healthier and more able to take care of myself. Which in some ways is true, but it disabled me from getting help and speaking out before now. I’m a quick study when it’s someone else’s problem but a real slow learner when it comes to myself. Deny, deny, deny. The most debilitating symptoms of my depression are indecisiveness and procrastination, comparisons to others and beating myself up for not living up to my own expectations of what I want my life to be. The grass is always greener so to speak.

How did you overcome this experience?

I recently started seeing a therapist and have been much more active in seeking out connection and ways to be seen through others’ words. I’ve joined a book group, I recreate outside regularly, I volunteer for causes that I’m passionate about. And most importantly, I’m beginning to trust myself, trust the process, not rush myself and not beat myself up for not always knowing the answer or being perfect. I’m trying to lower my expectations (this is very hard), and I’m learning better ways to communicate effectively, whether it’s about my feelings or not reacting negatively to outer stimuli.

Help others by sharing a brief, positive message.

Talk to someone about what you’re feeling. Real human connection is the best therapy.