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NO More Shame #breakthestigma

Catlin Palmer: OCD blog post about the mental health stigma

With May being “Mental Health Awareness” month, I felt it necessary to address the stigma that so many remarkable individuals are forced to live with. I have so much I want to tell people who don’t suffer from a mental illness. What it looks like, what it feels like, how much of your life it dominates. The misunderstanding most of society shares about mental illness pains me. But more important than that, I feel it is even more necessary to talk about stigma. The stigma that surrounds mental health is harsh, isolative, and defeating. It breeds feelings of shame and guilt. Those suffering from mental illness have to deal with this. Every single last sufferer. We all are subject to the pre-determined beliefs society has because of what the stigma stands for and initiates. Individuals suffering from mental illness MUST deal with what the stigma creates. There’s no avoiding or escaping it. If you suffer from a mental illness, you know, without a doubt, what this stigma is all about. The burden we have to carry is often dealt with in isolation, alone, without support. Further, what compounds this issue are the negative emotions the stigma ignites. Shame and guilt become the stigma’s greatest weapons. We become ashamed of who we are with this illness when none of us ever had a choice in the matter. Nobody ever let us decide whether we wanted a mental illness or not.

I can’t tell you what it’s like to be Bipolar or go through the hallucinations Schizophrenia causes. What I can tell you is the torturous intrusive thoughts that dominate my life constantly. Every day, of every single hour, minute, and second, I am on guard. I have to be. If not, it’s the beginning of the end. I start to doubt myself, my abilities, my competence, my character, my accomplishments, my future, etc. And even worse, I start to believe. I begin to actually believe in the intrusive thoughts that flood my mind with constant negativity. Once the floodgates have been breached, I become subject to violent, disturbing, horrific, sacrilegious, taboo events and images. These thoughts dominate my consciousness. When I am on guard, I am able to acknowledge and accept these thoughts without believing in them. Meaning, they still happen, they are still there. It’s just a matter of how much I let the thoughts in. If I am not actively aware and protecting my mind, these thoughts WILL creep in. With each thought becoming more believable than the last.

Dealing with OCD is a vicious battle day in and day out. Anxiety, fatigue, anger, depression. These are all common emotions created from battling OCD. Now, why am I explaining this? Why am I describing the symptoms of OCD? I’m trying to get sympathy, right? If that’s what you think, you’re entirely missing the point. I’m putting it out there for others to relate and better understand. Millions of individuals throughout the world are suffering from OCD. Further, 1 in 5 individuals in the world suffer from a diagnosable illness. Which, by the way, if you do the math, that’s over a billion people in the world. All of these people never got to choose or make a decision in the matter. Many of these individuals will have to face battles most never have to see or could even imagine.

Honestly, it’s infuriating. I can’t stand to think of all the people out there suffering alone. Trying to keep things a secret because of how people might treat you. Because of how your own friends and family might react, or not react. To be judged for something you never chose. It’s straight up not fair, not one single bit. And what’s ironic about it is that people of this population need help the most. Yet, because of this stigma, we are more likely to be ostracized than helped. Why? Simply because people want to assume. They assume they know what it’s like to have a mental illness. Nobody wants to take the time to understand. And that’s just it. All it takes is a little bit of time to understand and then the rest will follow. This lack of understanding from the outside world is a large part of what drives individuals to suicide. If we could go back and ask every single person who has committed suicide, I would guarantee most, if not all, would say that being and feeling alone was a huge contributing factor. Granted, this all originates back to the stigma attached to mental illness. Maybe if there wasn’t such a harsh stigma associated with it, more friends and family members would be educated on how to support an individual who is suffering. They might be more equipped on how to support somebody dealing with something that is indescribable… Once you put yourself in a sufferers’ shoes, the empathy and compassion will come naturally. These are normal human emotions that we are all (well, almost all) are born with.

But this is a blog for individuals suffering from a mental illness. Not for outsiders who don’t have an open mind about understanding mental health. So, this message is for you, for the ones suffering in silence, in the dark. Where they think nobody wants to know or even cares. The ones who think they are alone. Suffering from unimaginable symptoms that nobody could fathom. You think that there’s no way anybody would understand or even want to understand. You assume that you’re the only one dealing with the constant onslaught of horrific, unstoppable, intrusive thoughts. You believe that this is just how it’s going to be and that it will never get better. You think that there is something wrong with you and your character. You believe you don’t deserve good things. You wonder why nobody seems to care. You even start to wonder if you’ll ever be happy. Yet, you’re not alone. Not one single bit. Like I mentioned earlier, roughly 20% of the world is suffering from some type of mental illness. For OCD specifically, the number is about 1 out of every 100 individuals. Even if you live in a tiny town of 12,000 people like I do, I know that there are about 120 others dealing with almost the exact same thing. Now, it would be difficult to locate those individuals and have a discussion about it, but that’s what the internet is for. And that’s why you’re here. This is a safe place. A place where others can talk and relate. A place where people will support and encourage.

There are tons of people on social media and television speaking up more often and candidly about mental illness. I believe this is only the beginning. The beginning of a movement where mental illness is accepted and those suffering are not judged. A new beginning where it’s ok to openly talk about mental illness in the workplace. A movement where people willingly seek out treatment and get unconditional support from loved ones. I envision a future where somebody with a mental illness is appreciated for their uniqueness. A future where the strengths developed from overcoming an illness are rewarded. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of having to hide my illness. Something that isn’t a part of me, but IS me. It’s hard enough managing a mental illness all the while trying to suppress everything about it. I am tired of trying to seem “normal.” I am fed up with fearing what others might think and how I may be judged. They don’t know or understand one single bit, but that’s not my problem. It’s not our problem to worry about. We can’t shrink to fit in society’s box just so they can be comfortable when society doesn’t do a damn thing to make us feel comfortable. We have to grow into our potential by acknowledging and accepting our illness; and if that makes somebody uncomfortable, that is 100% their problem.

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