Descriptions · Disability

The Stigma Hurts Us All

          When I was ten years old, I started feeling depressed and having suicidal thoughts.  I was frustrated because my disability, Transverse Myelitis, had impacted my life so much that I felt like I wasn’t “normal” anymore.  Since I was so young, I didn’t completely understand the magnitude of this situation; I thought there wasn’t anything wrong with wanting to die since I was so sad.  But as I matured, I realized that I was so wrong—it wasn’t normal to feel this way, but I didn’t know how to fix it.  All I knew was the last thing I wanted to do was tell someone.

          The obvious person to share my emotions with would’ve been my mom.  We have an extremely close relationship, and I know she loves me more than anything else in the world.  But I didn’t tell her anything. Although I wanted her to know how much emotional pain I was in, I couldn’t ever bring myself to say, “I’m depressed and have considered killing myself,” out loud.  I feared she would worry too much about me and that she wouldn’t know how to help me, because an announcement like that is a lot of weight to put on a mom’s shoulders. I thought she might think of me differently or not understand.    

          It’s a problem that I was only comfortable (and even still a little hesitant) sharing that I was depressed and suicidal after I recovered.  When a family member or friend of mine asks to read my article in the latest issue of J-14, I still get nervous when they come across the section that discusses my mental health.  It’s so, so wrong that I have to feel this way—why should I be ashamed of something I couldn’t help?  Something I didn’t want to be a part of me just as much as my family didn’t? The thought of being judged is scary, especially when it’s over something you can’t help.  There’s such a strong stigma surrounding mental illness—so strong that it stops people from speaking out. The stigma hurts us all. Without the stigma, fewer families and friends would be grieving, and a lot more people would be alive.  If people treated mental illness like they do physical illness, fewer lives would’ve been lost, and more people would be willing to speak out. It’s incredibly worrying that, even though I know my mom loves me with her entire being, I was still too scared to speak out because of people’s ignorance.  I just hope that my choosing to speak out about my past depression and suicidal thoughts in various magazines, articles, blog posts, and dances I’ve choreographed and letting myself be vulnerable makes a difference. Being vulnerable isn’t easy by any means, but the stigma will slowly be defeated the more those of us share our feelings.  It’s time the stigma comes to an end and the anxiety over speaking out is lifted off our shoulders.