This year during Mental Illness Awareness Week, friends were writing posts about their battles on Facebook, inspiring me to write one of my own. When we’re honest about our fight, it can only serve to help break the stigma.
I have battled Generalized Anxiety Disorder officially for 3 years, but have been fighting it for as long as I can remember. Today I was asked to think back on the last time that I was NOT worried about something and I said, “I don’t know… maybe when I was 3 or 4?” Untempered worry has been my reality for my entire life.
It seems all too fitting that Mental Illness Awareness Week would be the week that I finally nailed down the cause of my autoimmune disease symptoms after 18+ months of trying to figure out what was wrong. Except the part where they told me that I don’t have an autoimmune disease. 18 months of suggestions that it could be MS, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s, Colitis, Hashimoto’s, etc. etc. etc. 18 months of feeling like there was no hope to figure out was wrong. 18 months of fear, frustration, anger, sadness and pain.
After a particularly bad day when I had hoped to finally figure out what I was facing, I reached out to Kate and essentially just said “help me.” And she did. Immediately. And thoughtfully and openly and honestly. She directed me to a therapist, made sure I was safe and was there for me to lean on when it felt like all hope for a healthy life was lost. That support put me down the road where I find myself today.
This week, I got the news that sometimes when food intolerances and untreated depression go hand in hand, they appear like an autoimmune disease. And 18 months of waiting and hoping came to a crashing halt in that moment. After blood tests, thyroid tests, MRIs, colonoscopies, etc., I finally had my diagnosis and the whole set of feelings that come along with it.
Suddenly the jokes of the issues all being in my head were becoming my reality. My mind had made me physically sick for the better part of two years. There’s relief in knowing what is wrong and how to attack it, but frustration and sadness and anger in knowing how different these last 18 months could have been. Instead of a reality where my body was my prison, I now face the challenge of breaking out of the prison in my mind.
Thankfully, I face it knowing that my family and friends are amazing and supportive and that I can lean on them. I face it after a conversation with my boss in which I was told to do what I need to do and that they have my back. I only wish it was the same for everyone else in the same position.
This Mental Illness Awareness Week, just know that you are not alone. No one needs to fight this battle on their own. If you need to send someone a “help me,” message, I’m here to pay it forward.
It’s time to be #stigmafree.