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The Importance of Educating Ourselves About the 'Touchy Subject' of Mental Illness

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When we are diagnosed with a mental illness our first thought might be something like, “How long will this last?” or “What can I do or take to get better?” Many professionals in the mental health community will tell you to not immediately read about side effects of medications or symptoms of the illness, which is true.

However, educating yourself on your illness is helpful and can aid in communication with family and friends. When we learn more about our condition, we can learn not only about ourselves but a lot about other people who are experiencing the same thing. This can greatly reduce the feeling of being alone.

I was 12 years old, scared and confused when I was first diagnosed with major depressive disorder. It had been a year in hell leading up to my first psychiatrist appointment, which was the day of my first panic attack. I had just beaten myself up in my head for “not singing well enough” in front of peers. I was in my mother’s car, screaming and crying, absolutely feeling completely defeated. I was embarrassed at myself, not because I cared about the other people, but more so because I let myself down.

My mom told me the next day about panic attacks, and that the horrible experience I had the day before had been one. What is that? For me, it was crying, screaming, my throat feeling like it was closing and my chest feeling like a rock was placed on it all at the same time. It also left me feeling dizzy and lightheaded, with my eyes blurring and my breathing too fast.

Was I abnormal? I had never heard of or encountered anyone doing this before. I assumed it was just me. After reading about them a few months into my therapy, I realized a lot of people experience similar things and a lot were teenagers. Not only did I feel like I had a place to talk to others about the experience, but I also could communicate ways I cope during one and learn from them.

I learned to embrace my flaws in my illness, using them in my favor and helping me learn more about myself every day. Now, it’s just another unique trait about me. Yet, going through four years now of therapy, psychiatry visits and reading online, you begin to develop a lot of knowledge on subjects from medication interactions, to symptoms and even different treatment methods.

This is what we need in our society, to be educated on these “touchy” subjects, to speak out about things people are uncomfortable with or things we keep quiet. With mental illness being such a common problem for so many people, talking about the issues and what others can do to help out can only do good for the community. Whether it’s a loved one who is worried about you or a friend who asked about how your day was, talk to them about it. Mental illness is not scary and it is not something to be ashamed of.

Do not blame yourself. Be proud of yourself. You are unique, and your flaws make you stronger. Nothing can change who you are, and the world should know that too.

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: September 21, 2016
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