Why Sharing My Mental Health Story Sometimes Makes Me Feel Invalidated
I am a survivor of schizoaffective disorder, borderline personality disorder (BPD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), multiple eating disorders, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and fibromyalgia. In recent years, I have seen various professionals to receive my diagnoses and address them, but I have struggled with my mental health for the majority of my life. Despite my struggle with mental illness, however, I have been described by others as “high-functioning.” Unfortunately, in recent years, my mental illnesses have become so severe that I haven’t been able to work and have been taking time to focus on my health.
Following the completion of my master’s degree in social work, which I completed immediately following my bachelor’s degree in science of social work, I experienced a severe mental breakdown that required hospitalization. Since then, I have been in multiple therapy programs and currently see a psychiatrist once every two weeks and my therapist twice a week. During this time, I have become even more passionate about mental health. When I am not in the middle of treatment, I have dedicated my time to writing about my firsthand experiences with mental illness to help fight the stigma surrounding mental illness while also providing support and community for others.
However, while I have found that sharing my story is liberating, in a way, I have also experienced stigma that severely impacts my mental illnesses and my ability to function day-to-day.
The stigma surrounding my experiences with mental illness often leaves me feeling invalidated and misunderstood — particularly when I discuss my experiences with schizoaffective disorder and multiple eating disorders. Schizophrenia, and its related illnesses, are brutally stereotyped in our society. I have found that people tend to have an “image” of what a person with schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia “looks like” based on how the media has portrayed the illness in movies and television. I have also had individuals not believe that I struggle with multiple eating disorders because I live in a larger body, and I don’t fit the “image” of someone with an eating disorder as portrayed by the media. This is extremely frustrating for me. Since I have been labeled as “high-functioning,” numerous people question whether my experiences with chronic mental illness are real. I have also become increasingly scared about telling others that I am on disability because of my mental illnesses as needing disability carries its own stigma. If you don’t look or act a certain way, other people may question your illness, and even overturn your experiences.
While the collective public knowledge of mental health and illness is increasing, there is still so much that needs to be done to increase understanding. Those with invisible illnesses, or those who are considered “high-functioning,” should not have to prove that they have a certain illness to validate their own experiences. Health is so diverse, and while many people may have the same condition, the appearance of the condition can vary widely from person to person. We need to get rid of the idea that compassion and support should only be given to those who fill the public image of someone with a specific disorder and take the time to acknowledge multiplicity in health. Doing so will provide space for everyone to tell their story, and our collective knowledge of health will grow. Understanding and validation are so important for ensuring that we are all cared for, while also allowing us to form strong connections with one another. I believe in the power of each person’s story, and you don’t need outside validation as to what you are experiencing firsthand.
Sharing my experiences has been painful on occasion, and while I am highly triggered by invalidation, my goal is to continue to spread understanding and create a more accepting world for all of us. Please know that if you are also struggling with invalidations, I see you, I validate you, and I invite you to share your story as well. Conflict in the form of invalidation may be painful, but if we look at these involvements as stepping stones in increasing public awareness of the diversity of health conditions, we can find purpose in our pain.
After all, they are called “growing pains” for a reason.
Photo via Dasha Yukhymyuk on Unsplash