The One Thing That Stopped Me From Getting Treatment for My Mental Illness


Mental illness is a real medical illness. It must not be ignored. It needs to be treated — the sooner, the better.

I wish I would’ve known. It took me 20 years before I reached out for help with my panic attacks.

I know I’m not the only one who has waited so long. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states people who have a mental health condition typically get help eight to 10 years after the first warning signs appear. That’s a huge delay. What was the main reason for me?

Stigma.

I was embarrassed. Even if I thought about telling someone, I didn’t know how to describe my strange and frightening symptoms. I knew I was different and my problem wasn’t considered “normal.” I didn’t want anyone to know. I hid it very well.

My anxiety wasn’t always there. Most of the time, I was fine. I tried to kid myself into thinking it wasn’t a big deal.

My internal monologue wasn’t very kind.

This is stupid. I worry too much. Who cares if once in a while my heart beats too fast and I get lightheaded and dizzy? So what if I feel sick to my stomach, sweaty, shaky and start to black out? I need to be tougher when I think I’m going to faint. I have to calm down when I feel like running out of the place where I’m panicking. Who does that? Get over it.

It might seem like the silliest thing ever that I’m afraid to drive because I’m scared of feeling panicky. People can often get annoyed when they’re stuck in traffic, but I believe few of them are likely to feel like I do. Their hearts probably don’t pound, and they probably don’t need to pull over to calm down.

And why would I ever be worried about going to the grocery store or the mall? Others look perfectly relaxed. What’s wrong with me?

The worst is when I feel disoriented, like I’m living in a dream and things aren’t real, and I’m having an out-of-body experience. That’s creepy. I can’t let myself think that way. This is absolutely ridiculous. I should be able to stop it. Just stop it.

No matter what I do, I can’t let anyone know. They’ll think I’m weird. Am I “crazy”? I don’t think so. But maybe. I doubt a doctor would know how to help. I don’t want to be sent for a bunch of tests. I wonder if I have a brain tumor. I don’t want to scare my family. Whatever. I’m fine. Usually.

When I look back on how I used to talk to myself, it makes me sad. I needed help and should’ve told someone. But I didn’t dream that was an option.

Now I know why I felt like that. Stigma. Growing up, I never heard anyone talk about mental illness. I had no idea my symptoms had an actual name. Panic attacks, panic disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder.

I thought I was alone.

I was shocked when my doctor said I could take medication to help me feel better. I was even more amazed when the antidepressant worked.

The discussion about mental health conditions must continue. The more people talk about these disorders, the less taboo they will be.

It doesn’t matter if the symptoms are mild or severe; there’s help available. There is hope. You’re not alone.

Stigma… Go away.

Image via Thinkstock.

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