They’re ‘crazy’. They’re full of ‘issues’. Someone get them a therapist and keep them away from me. I don’t want to associate myself with those kind of people.
That’s what many people think of when they hear that someone has a ‘mental health disorder’. It’s a social stigma and it needs to end. May is Mental Health Awareness month and I want to share my personal story with you about coming to terms with my mental health disorder.
I was raised in a pretty strict household. The road less traveled always sparked my intrigue, but I could never go down that road while growing up. When someone asked me how I was, I had to say that I was OK (no one wants to hear a complainer, right?). I was pressured to always get straight A’s in school and would be reprimanded if I came home with anything other than that. I needed to get a job that paid top dollar. I was never allowed to have a boyfriend, yet I was supposed to get married. And when I finally got married, that’s when I could move out of my parents’ home, or else I wouldn’t be thought of as ‘lady’ anymore. And when I got married, I should then buy a house, have kids, cook my husband dinner every night, and do all of the chores around the house myself. I should be able to manage all of this with no problem and never with any kind of complaint. In short, I was living a life that was already laid out for me with standards that should never be questioned. I was a programmed robot. And that was my life.
My pressures may have seemed normal to some, but were actually draining to me. Because the standards were held so high above me, I learned that I could never disappoint. I learned that my every move should be a success and that I had no opinion on what I wanted to do- unless, of course, if it was choosing to be either a doctor instead of a lawyer (which, I should point out, wasn’t the outcome to this pre-planned fairytale anyway).
Since I was told how I should live my life, step-by-step, I never had the chance to find and be my true self. I did, though (here’s the grand bonus!), grow to be very critical of my own self. I was raised to be so ‘perfect’ that I never settled for anything less than that. Imagine that. Living a life where everything had to be ‘perfect’. It was hard and unattainable. But I didn’t know the latter part. What do you mean life couldn’t be ‘perfect’? I had no sense of reality.
Life isn’t easy (as you probably know), but when I finally got a taste of liberty and it finally came time to be autonomous, I couldn’t make a decision. I was always very indecisive, over-analyzed everything, and freaked out when I couldn’t come up with what I wanted to do. People would come up to me and say “You are so put together, you are perfect, I wish I had your life.” And while the compliments were great to hear, I could never fully accept them because they didn’t know that I, internally, was struggling. I actually didn’t have it all together. They didn’t know the real me. And it wasn’t until recently that I didn’t even know the real me either.
I grew up so poor- confidence-wise. Approval and direction from others were what I was seeking 24/7. I was nothing but insecure (decisions were so hard, was I making the right choice that would make everyone else happy and keep me ‘perfect’?), had very low self-esteem (I’m not pretty, I was never told that I looked like a model, so I must be ugly), had a super low confidence level (I’m not confident in doing things on my own without direction), and was always worrying about my next move- no matter what it would be- to make sure that it would please others. I couldn’t ‘fail’; that would show weakness and would show that I didn’t know what I was doing.
Standing Up for Myself
With such a pressure to live up to, it’s no wonder that I felt anxious all the time and had mini panic attacks here and there. It’s no wonder that I felt like I was going through crazy turmoil. But, I could never share any of this with anyone because I would be judged. Those times where I felt overwhelmed and felt like I couldn’t breathe were the times that I knew I needed a therapist or something. But how could I ever tell my parents that? What would the family think? No, I couldn’t share that about myself because that meant showing ‘imperfection’. They couldn’t know that. My whole life was about being ‘perfect’; so I had to make sure I kept this ‘perfect’ face on for everyone around me… or else.
And it was skiing back in January in upstate NY that it finally occurred to me: or else what?
What if I let someone see that I’m not perfect? What if I let people know that even those you think may have it all together around you actually don’t? What if there were people out there, like me, that were living with such societal pressures and had no outlet or example, could see that it was OK?
I never allowed myself to fall while skiing; I always avoided it and would tell myself that, if I did fall, I was nothing but a useless failure at life. But it was back in January that I realized that life wasn’t fun anymore, that skiing wasn’t fun. So I did something crazy and I let myself fall. And when I finally did let myself fall back in January, I cried. Not because I hurt myself, but rather because I felt FREE and LIBERATED. Life had a whole new meaning when I let my own guards down… and it felt amazing.
Being My Own Remedy & Finding My True Self
So I started this blog. Because it occurred to me that living a life of not trying to show that I was perfect was so much more liberating and worth living. I never wanted to see myself as someone who had a mental health disorder, because that meant that I wasn’t ‘perfect’, but you know what, I do. And I came to terms with it. I came to terms with the fact that I do freak out under many circumstances and can’t think clearly. I came to terms with that I doneed to face reality, I don’t have all of the answers, I will be judged, and that I will fail. But all of this is OK. Because if I can start to fix this now, my tomorrow will just be so much better and much truer.
As a result of letting myself fall since January? I have definitely started to recover and get stronger with every passing day. It’s amazing how ever since starting this blog, I’ve wanted to find more ways to let myself continue to fall and learn from it. My confidence level and self-esteem have both increased, genuinely, because I feel like my true self. I feel like I’m not hiding anymore. I feel like I can BREATHE. Because when you have panic attacks, you feel like you can’t breathe. And you probably can’t. You’re under so much pressure that you don’t know how to do something as simple as breathe. Freaking out isn’t perfect; it’s deemed as an imperfection. And you can’t handle imperfection. But what if that pressure was alleviated a little at a time with baby steps, once or twice a day, just by standing up for who you really are or what you really believe in?
The amount of responses to my blog have not only been overwhelmingly positive, but also such a such a blessing. There have been so many people that have opened up to me and I thank them. Because it takes a lot of courage to come out to even one person. And by doing so, you are actually showing yourself that you are ready for a change; you can handle the new you that wants to come out. It is with a community that we can get through this. And while at times we may feel like we are alone, we are not. There are so many others like us out there that have said “enough is enough” and are making small changes already – for the better.
So this month, reflect on yourself. If you are afraid of the stigma, don’t be. And if you don’t want to stand up and say that you have a mental health disorder to the public that is OK! But make sure you most definitely say it to yourself. Because that’s what counts the most. If you have your own identity on your side, the rest slowly starts to fall in place.
My name is Loren, I have an anxiety disorder, and I’m not ashamed. Instead, I am so empowered. Try to knock me down, you won’t be able to. Try to tell me what I should do with my life and you won’t be able to either. My confidence level has been building up, authentically, like a strong house, made with TRUE bricks made up of my TRUE self. They are no longer bricks made up of what those around me want. Nope, not anymore.
If you know someone around you that is going through the same things I am/was going through, please share this with them. I may not be a big, popular example of someone with an anxiety disorder, but I am an example nonetheless. I wish I read something similar to what I just wrote years ago. I wish I knew it was OK. Things may have been different today. But we live and learn, right? 🙂
Do some research, read up on Mental Health Awareness Month, and find ways to start feeling better. Drink lots of water, get active, eat well, meditate, and be brave. Remember to be true to yourself because you are great. The better you awaits tomorrow. And he/she starts today. There is nothing wrong with you. Absolutely nothing wrong about the beautiful, strong, no-one-expects-you-to-be-perfect you. Let’s end this stigma. Everyone is human. No one is a programmed robot. Not even you.
Letter from the President of the United States of America on Mental Health Awareness Month
Jimmy Kimmel – Bringing Awareness in This Cute, Funny Video