Why My Mental Illnesses Aren’t ‘Dirty Laundry’

Once while sitting in Starbucks, I overheard part of a conversation that left me speechless. I had some time to kill before picking the kids up from preschool and decided to treat myself. It was mid-morning and I, along with the two women sitting at the table next to me, were the only ones in the coffee shop. So naturally, I pretended to scroll through my Facebook news feed while listening in on their conversation.

“Oh honey, you didn’t tell them she has depression did you? You don’t want your dirty laundry getting out.”

“I did tell them. It’s OK. She’s in therapy and is doing well on her meds.”

“Well I guess as long as you’re taking care of it.”

I was floored by this interaction. How dare she call depression dirty laundry? And she’s taking care of it? Like she takes care of the trash? 

It amazes me with as much progress as our society has made, there’s still such a stigma against mental illness — like it’s something we need to be ashamed of. I used to believe that about myself. I have had several diagnoses that would classify me as mentally ill. I have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anorexia, bulimia, drug addiction and alcoholism.

For a long time, I believed these illnesses were bad and something to be ashamed of. Because my brain didn’t work like other people’s brains, I thought there was something wrong with me. Like someone forgot one of the screws or read the directions backwards.

But I am not a mistake. My brain was designed specifically and perfectly just for me. I don’t suffer from an illness. I have been gifted a fuller, richer, more meaningful life because of the experiences I have had. Each one of these special journeys has provided me with a critical piece to this puzzle called life.

Depression has taught me the depth of the human soul. It has shown me I’m extremely sensitive and delicate. I’m keenly aware of the longing I have for connection. I ache to be seen, to be heard and to be understood. I feel pain more intensely and sorrow more deeply.

Depression is my fire. My drive. It’s what reminds me I need to move, I need to take action and I need to engage with people and with life. That I need to show up.

Anxiety has taught me the power of faith. It has forced me to believe in something bigger than myself. It has revealed to me the complexity of the human brain. It has shown me the crippling effects of self-sufficiency. It continues to remind me there’s always a greater plan at work. That all I need to do is trust the process and keep walking.

Anxiety is my reset button. When I’m caught up in fear and my head is spinning out, anxiety reminds me it’s OK to not know. It’s OK to not have all the answers. I don’t have to be in control. That peace and serenity are waiting for me as soon as I decide to let go.

PTSD has taught me the value of a moment. When my body is triggered and freezes up, I’m able to appreciate the faithfulness of time. I’m forced to slow down. To be still. To wait. If I give myself enough time for my brain to catch up with my body, for my brain to remember I’m here, in this moment, instead of back in the trauma, I’m OK.

PTSD is my lifeline. When all else fails, I’m reminded to just be still. To just hold on. That all I have is this moment and in this moment I’m OK.

My eating disorders have taught me the beauty of self-care. They revealed to me the magnificence of the human body. They remind me my body is a temple that needs to be cared for and properly nourished. I’ve learned that food is energy. Food is not comfort, it’s not a reward, it’s not a punishment. Food is sustenance.

My eating disorder recovery is my hope. It’s my restoration. It’s a testament to the resiliency of the human body. It’s my reminder it’s never too late to make a change. To start over. It’s my perseverance.

Addiction is my mirror. It has shown me who I am and what I’m capable of. It has revealed to me the evil that exist in the world. The ugliness that lives in me. It reminds me I have the power to destroy myself and those around me.

Addiction recovery is my world. It’s my passion. It’s my purpose. It’s proof that grace exists. That mercy triumphs. That love wins. Recovery is beauty from ashes. It’s life after death. It’s courage under fire.

Recovery is my daily reminder that I’m a walking, talking, breathing miracle. 

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