When I was officially diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at the tender age of 15, I recall feeling an overwhelming sense of isolation. I felt embarrassed and anxious about what people would think of me if they found out I was ‘crazy’. I had struggled to be taken seriously before my diagnosis. “You’ll grow out of it” and “it’s just teenage hormones” were phrases I received regularly, even by health ‘professionals’.
The power of words is so hugely underestimated. We know how much damage the ignorant comments of stigma can cause. Which is why on the flip side, talking about mental health has the power to save lives. Even if it’s a simple “How are you?” – trust me, it makes all the difference.
So many people open up with the hope of being supported and understood, but instead are met with negative reactions, causing the pain of worthlessness and rejection. I’ve experienced this more times than I care to remember, including when I worked for a well-known company and my depression took a steep decline. I had to take a little bit of time off work, and my boss tried to get rid of me because of it. From the moment I opened up about the truth behind my absences, I went from a great employee to a terrible one. I felt so awful. I convinced myself I’d never be able to hold down a job again.
However, I have had positive experiences too. When I was at college, again, my mental health was a growing problem. I was an absence away from being kicked out. I took the plunge and told my tutor everything about my OCD and depression, and how hard is was to juggle everything. The weight of stigma and the fear of judgement sitting heavily on my shoulders. I expected to be ignored. But as I poured out the horrors of my mind, slowly but surely the weight began to lift, and a light of hope shone in the darkness. My tutor was so lovely, and gave me nothing but empathy and support. It was her that kept me in college and got me to the end of my exams. I wasn’t being judged, and the feeling of being accepted for who I am made me accept myself.
My silence imprisoned me for so long, but speaking out about my mental health was the key to set me free.