I have officially decided to do an informative and uplifting series on mental health. While I have desired to do this for quite some time, I find myself particularly compelled to finally go through with it. But first, I can’t ignore the pressing desire to rid myself of my own personal shame, guilt, and need to hide my struggles in regard to the disease.

Why now?

Before I really get into it, I want to clarify that this part isn’t for you, the reader, but for me. I feel too comfortable in “passing,” while not really knowing or understanding the feeling of the necessity to do so in the first place.

Disclosing physical versus mental illnesses

I am diagnosed with bipolar schizoaffective, borderline personality disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, ADHD, panic disorder, dissociative disorder not otherwise specified (DDNOS), and PTSD.

Now, I also suffer from chronic migraines, bursitis, and tendonitis in my hips and shoulders, mild scoliosis, and insomnia. Yet, interestingly enough, to mention those things doesn’t automatically classify me as an atypical human being. Why should I feel shame about my mental struggles, while people encourage me to seek help for my physical ones?

The gift of being high-functioning

Honestly, I always considered myself lucky. Despite the continuous struggles I faced, I could always function enough to satisfy the public eye, and from a very young age, I excelled in academics.

However, because of that I often find myself incapable of being taken seriously, particularly by my doctors, when day-to-day activities become such a burden that I simply do not want to face them. I have gone through long stretches of time without showering or brushing my teeth than I care to admit, days where getting out of bed felt like a huge accomplishment, periods of anxiety and depression so severe I couldn’t eat or sleep or even breathe properly.

For weeks at a time I became accustomed to only being able to get a good breath every minute and a half; I was shocked and embarrassed to find out after being taken to the hospital that what I had assumed was a reemergence of asthma I struggled with as a child was really anxiety.

At one point there were only a handful of people who are aware of my condition.

Without fail, the response is always: “What? You? But you’re so happy all of the time. And you do well in school and have friends and participate in extra-curricular activities, etc. etc.” Which is true, and I can’t begin to express my gratitude at that. But it just goes to show that anyone can be suffering, regardless of how they may appear at any particular moment in time. While I do tend to sport a more-often-than-not genuine smile on my face I also go to great lengths to hide having more scar tissue than skin on the underside of my left arm and on my inner thighs. A problem that, throughout the years, became so severe that in a terrifying progression of events I lost a large portion of feeling on my arm.

Overcoming the stereotypes and stigma

I want to rid myself of the shame. I want to ignore the overwhelming feeling of not being normal, of being less than my peers because society wants me to believe that a diagnosis of Mental illness makes me inferior. I want to know better.

At the same time, I couldn’t help but pause and wonder if admitting that I struggled with suicidal thoughts and attempts would take this confession too far. I still prefer to pretend that I never sat with bottles of prescription pills and alcohol, or with my collection of knives gently tracing the cool metal across my raised scars contemplating the relief of the end. I don’t want to think about the times my foot felt like lead on my Pontiac’s accelerator while I wondered what would happen if I slammed into a concrete wall at speeds surpassing 100 mph.

But now more than ever I must accept that my instinctual need to hide only aids in reinforcing the horrible stigma that brings inexplicable pain to those who share my secret struggles.

The truth: anyone can be mentally ill; just as anyone can have heart disease, or diabetes, or asthma, or arthritis, or cancer. People do not decide to be sick, and no one should feel ashamed if they are.

I want to raise awareness to the reality of mental illness. I want to squash the disgusting stereotypes that drag those who already suffer even lower.

My inspiration?

When it comes down to it: my heart belongs to people. Always has. People are so important to me and I can’t even begin to express the love and passion I feel for humans.

I have always been so critical of my outward appearance of and of myself, and eventually – while definitely still a work in progress – I know I must offer myself the same love, acceptance, and forgiveness that I so freely give out to others. Why shouldn’t I consider myself as important as everyone else? I think everyone should embark on that journey!

To be ill and to be weak are not the same. And the time of believing and perpetuating that stereotype passed long ago. The fields of science and medicine are far too advanced for society to continue to accept and reiterate the continuously disproved myths of mental health.

So today, or tonight rather, as I write this, I say “no more.” Today, we must reach out and help those who are in need; today, we must inform both others and ourselves about the truth; today, we must fight for people who experience such shame, anguish, and pain for a condition they have no control over. Today, because tomorrow may be too late.