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Lela’s Story

“Remember who you are, because you are not your illness.”

Share your stigma experience.

I have managed painful anxiety symptoms my whole life. Before school I was a very shy, cautious, and empathetic child. Throughout school I felt out of touch with my peers, and isolated, pushing away social contact by middle school. I matured a little in college, but became even more avoidant when I turned 25 after a traumatic event. At 36, I still struggle with social phobia, depression, and OCD. Unfortunately, people tend to respond negatively to anxious, sad, and awkward individuals. For the most part, I do not attempt to talk about my internal life. I have had several ineffectual counselors, therapists, and doctors, as well as apathy (or cluelessness) from loved ones. It is painful to be dismissed and misunderstood. I am too embarrassed by my symptoms. Finding the right words is half the battle. Where I come from, people don’t talk about mental health, or very much else. It has taken time, money, and perseverance to find a treatment path right for me. I am also an excellent ‘performer’, meaning I hide symptoms very well, to avoid scrutiny. Sometimes, I feel exhausted. It wasn’t until my younger sister matured that I found a kindred spirit. We can talk freely about most things. Self-expression has helped me greatly, as well as finding peers who accept and believe me. I now have employment with a non-profit helping adults with a mental illness. I believe that in the near future, the worst symptoms will be behind me.

How did you overcome this experience?

I am who I am—I will never totally ‘overcome’ this. Also, there is a genetic component. I do attend groups to feel less alone, take medication when needed, maintain a healthy diet, take vitamins, exercise, and get a lot of sleep. Meditation, self-education and advocacy, self-acceptance. I have my hobbies: piano, gardening, and a sweet dog! Self-care daily. Mental health ‘days’ if necessary. Socializing to repair my social life and feel better about people. There are many good ones out there. I still isolate, but in a healthy way. I thrive in solitude. Productivity.

Help others by sharing a brief, positive message.

Accept yourself, your convictions, and quirks. Seek out people, environments, and experiences that are good for you. Treat others as you would like to be treated…mental illness does not make you a bad person. Remember who you are, because you are not your illness.

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