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M’s Story

“Keep going. Live stubbornly, tenaciously. Be like a barnacle: hang on tight.”

Share your stigma experience.

I grew up in an alcoholic family. There was no physical abuse, but plenty of emotional abuse and neglect, coupled with the chaos of alcoholism. I was showing signs of anxiety by the time I was 7 years old, and was in full-blown depression by 9. My family didn’t even notice until I was in my teens and it all started spilling out. They chalked my suicidal tendencies up to “teen-aged moodiness”, said I was “oversensitive”, told me to “snap out of it”, and when I tried to talk to my parents about it, they inevitably made my mental health issues all about themselves. I went to therapy a few times, but my parents always wanted me to quit going because it “looked bad”.

I didn’t manage to get any kind of real help until I was nearly 20 years old. Since then it’s been spotty, mostly due to changes in access to health care: I’ve had years where I had good care, and years where I had none at all. Through it all, there have always been people who just don’t take depression – or most mental health issues – seriously at all, who think “it’s all in your head” means that it’s a fantasy I’m making up, instead of a genuinely malfunctioning brain.

Some of the worst stigma came in my 30s, the one and only time I sought emergency care. I went to the local ED with self-inflicted injuries, in withdrawal from an SSRI, emotionally all over the map, nonfunctional, suicidal. The social worker there said I was “too coherent” to be admitted, that I “needed to get a different perspective” on life, and I “needed a vacation.” I was sent home with no meds, humiliated. I will never seek emergency mental health care again because of that social worker.

These days, I have good care and am doing much better, but there are still places where I’m afraid to speak up – work, in particular. Ironic, as I work in a hospital with a sizable psychiatric care wing and plenty of providers who do understand what mental health issues are and that they’re real. Human Resources, though… I’m not so sure about; and my manager mostly doesn’t get it.

How did you overcome this experience?

I slogged through life and finally got to a point where everything changed. I lost my job, my marriage, all my money, my home, everything but my dogs – and while it was awful, it was exactly what I needed to get me to a great job with great health care benefits. I now have a team of care providers, therapy, medications that work, and a LOT more support than I did before. I will never be cured, but I can live with depression, and I’m thriving now.

Help others by sharing a brief, positive message.

If you can do nothing else, just keep taking one more breath… and then another, and another, and another. Keep going. Live stubbornly, tenaciously. Be like a barnacle: hang on tight. It’s OK to stop & rest for a while. It will be OK.

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