By: Caitlin Cheevers, Guest Blogger
For years I’ve struggled with mental illness. But until recently, we didn’t know exactly what was wrong. I had mood swings, anger problems, and depression, but we just couldn’t quite get at the root of the problem. I tried therapy while I was in high school, but I don’t think I was ready for it. I used it as an outlet to lay the blame on everyone else.
My anger problems? Clearly due to my cheerleading team.
My mood swings? My parents were demanding too much of me.
My depression? My boyfriend had broken up with me.
It wasn’t until recently that I started to take a more internal approach to it and tried to figure out what was causing all of my imbalances. I researched and talked to family members, and finally worked up the courage to talk to my doctor about it.
I told him that I thought I had anxiety and explained the symptoms I was experiencing. Any time I was doing anything stressful, my heart would start beating quickly. My hands would shake. I had a really short temper and if I was interrupted, I would lash out at the closest person.
My doctor had me take a short test where I rated my experience with anxiety symptoms on a scale of 0-3. A 0 means you never experience it. A 3 means you experience it so badly it is debilitating. After you finish, you total up your scores and it gives you a rough idea of how severe your anxiety is. My total score was high above the benchmark for “extreme anxiety.” So I was prescribed some anti-anxiety/anti-depression medication.
Yup. I take medication for my mental illness.
There’s an incredible sigma against mental illness, and even more so against taking medications for a mental illness. As the always-wonderful Jennifer Lawrence pointed out, “People have diabetes or asthma and they have to take medication for it. But as soon as you have to take medication for your mind, there’s this instant stigma.” It shouldn’t be like this.
I’ve decided to try to fight this stigma in my own life by being open about my anxiety. And you know what? I haven’t gotten a negative reaction yet. Just because I have a mental illness doesn’t mean I’m any less of a person.
As soon as I started telling people about my mental illness and about the help I’m seeking for it, people have started telling me about their own struggles with mental illness. Many haven’t gotten help for it, but they want to know how my journey is helping me. If it works for me, they might try it for themselves.
It’s been a rough journey so far. When I started taking my medication, the first week was full of constant tiredness, nausea, and dry mouth. But once my body got used to it, I felt loads better. A few weeks later, I went back to my doctor and took the same test. I scored well within the “little to no anxiety” category. I still have bad days, but now the good days far outnumber them.
I just know that talking about my mental illness has helped me come to terms with it. And possibly helping others in the process? That’s just a bonus.
Let's chat! In addition to advocacy, what are other things we can do to help end the stigma around mental illness? Share your ideas here!
Caitlin Cheevers is the entire marketing department at an office technology dealer in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In her free time, she writes, designs, and publishes her own blog, www.andpossiblydinosaurs.com, where she obsesses over hockey, blogging, graphic design, DIY projects, Africa, feminism, books, travel, coffee, food, and possibly dinosaurs.
image via hchlitss.net