Another woman recently made my day, in a very unexpected way. Over coffee, mental health suddenly became our topoic of conversation. She admitted that she has anxiety and that she takes medication. She also made a point of saying, “I am not ashamed.” She talked openly about her mental health struggles and I felt a huge sigh of relief — and started crying with recognition. She cried, too. This woman is someone I’ve admired from afar who seems to have it all together, someone I haven’t really talked much to before because I can be skittish, quiet, withdrawn, and introverted. To learn that she has some of the same mental health struggles, fears, challenges, thoughts, etc., that I do, well, it was everything to me.
Mental Health — And Me
My own mental health issues get in my way on a regular basis. Anxiety and depression often keep me small; they lie to me and tell me terrible things. I spend way too much time worrying that others are judging me. And so when this fellow mom suggested we meet up, I was surprised and excited. You see, my anxiety is great at keeping me from making new friends. It’s great at keeping me from lots of things, actually.
I don’t mention my mental health issues much because I have been shamed for them and they’ve been used against me, in everyday life as well as in court proceedings. And you know what? That was some serious bullshit. I take thyroid medication, is that a strike against me? Did that come up in court? No. I also struggled with infertility and had to take medication (truckloads of it) to finally get pregnant via a petri dish in a lab. Did that come up in court? No. But look out if you’ve had anxiety or depression, because some people will claim that’s cause for “concern” in divorce litigation (and probably in any litigation, really). As you might imagine, for me, this focus on mental health and my depression as a power play in a divorce action was public shaming and stigma, alive and well, cloaked under the guise of “concern.”
I am the face of mental illness.
I am the face of anxiety,
I am the face of depression.
I am the face of self-harm.
I am the face of an advocate for mental health.
Focusing on mental health is critical to my health and wellbeing and to my family’s health and wellbeing. I take medication, I go to therapy, I take care of myself. My medication is expensive, but necessary, just like the Synthroid I take daily for my thyroid disease. Just like the Lupron, Gonal-f, Clomid, and a million other drugs I can’t remember, but that I took in order to conceive my twins.
So today, I want to pay it forward. I want mental health to be something we can talk about from the rooftops if we want, and not feel ashamed. And if like me, you struggle, I want to do for you what my friend did for me—I want to be there for you. I want you to know that you are not alone, you are not the only one struggling in silence. There is no shame in mental illness, We get loud about mental health matters when someone (usually a celebrity) dies by suicide, but then the voices recede into the background again…until the next death. We need to keep talking about mental health, or the stigma surrounding it will never shift. So, I’ll say it again, really loudly: THERE IS NO SHAME IN MENTAL ILLNESS. We’ve got this.
I am not ashamed any more. I am not my anxiety, I am not my depression. I am so very much more than any of these things, together or individually.
I am Erin, I am a mom, a writer, a survivor, and a warrior. I am also a loud and proud mental health advocate.
And I am here for you. When you are struggling, or worried, or afraid, or find yourself shamed by someone because of a mental health issue, I am here. We are in this together, and together, I am confident we can not only lift one another up, but by working together to keep talking about mental health, we can effect change. What about you? Are you with me?