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Steph Barnes
October 10, 2016 4:37 pm

In honor of World Mental Health Day, we’re highlighting stories from voices that deserve to be heard. These voices remind us that we are not alone. Never alone. #WorldMentalHealthDay

A quick internet search will tell you that an estimated 450 million people are currently suffering from some form of mental disorder. Yes, four hundred and fifty million people and today, I can proudly admit – I am one of them.

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It took me a while to get to this place. (owning and being proud of my mental disorder hasn’t been the easiest thing). Sure, it is as much a part of me as the curls in my hair or the way my words turn to mumbles when I’m tired, but the stigma attached has often prevented me from sharing this part of myself, even with those closest to me.

My mother, she loves me dearly – it’s one of the few things in life I have never doubted. But she doesn’t quite understand mental distress. See, my mother believes in God – “God will and can heal your mind and help you through this.” And while God might be the only answer for some, he wasn’t the answer for me. How do I find the words to explain that to her?

How do I explain the mornings when getting out of bed was the most difficult thing?

Would she understand the moments I had woken up drenched in sweat at the thought of having to face another day, every breath becoming harder than the one before it, my voice lost somewhere under the massive weight planted firmly on my chest? There was absolutely no way she would understand. Mental health has never been something my family took seriously. “Suicide is a selfish act.” “He’s not depressed, just lazy. He needs to try harder,” they’d say.

So, I kept my struggles to myself and I tried harder. I tried to put on a happy face for the people who had given me everything and never once complained.

After a while, that too became exhausting.

I found myself replacing the water in my bottles with vodka because that felt like the only way to “stay sane.”

My inability to control my emotions, constantly upholding the facade, smiling, and insisting I was fine became too much and I starting seeking control. I began to think maybe if I could take the pain into my own hands, refocus, and regain control, then I could save my mother the disappointment of feeling like this was her fault. She’d blame herself, like she had done something wrong. I can’t recall the exact moment it started, but I do remember the day I was pulled out of class because a teacher passing by had seen me creating fresh cuts on my arm with my school pin.

Needless to say, my doctor’s appointment quickly followed.

I was officially diagnosed with depression at 16 years old. As the words left the doctor’s lips, I noticed a pained expression take over my mother’s features. She wasn’t trying to hear this, but she listened. Then later that afternoon, we had a conversation.

I did my best to help her understand that this wasn’t a personal failure for either of us.

We worked through the shame, we stopped trying to assign blame, and we discussed all the misconceptions.

Now, 10 years later, though the faint scars of my past remain, I’m happy to say that we’re better than ever. There are still days the breathing is harder than it needs to be, but the progress we’ve made is amazing. The jokes and the snide comments have been replaced by genuine concern for my well-being and a willingness to help. But for many, the stigma remains.

The Mental Health Foundation’s number one tip when it comes to taking care of your mental health is “talk about your feelings.” I know you probably rolled your eyes at that… I did, too. But talking helps, it really does. There are so many people who truly care about you. There are online communities, and there’s also your family and friends. They might be willing to learn and understand more than you realize. Give it a chance.

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