by: Eman Alawadh
What do you do when you catch a cold or suffer from stomach flu? Do you try to hide your symptoms, afraid of being judged? Do you choose to avoid treatment? Do you fear that talking about it with a loved one will make you seem weak? I’m guessing not.
When we’re physically ill, most of us choose the logical route and seek medical attention to prevent prolonged suffering. We take medication or follow routines that minimize or prevent our pain from recurring in the future.
So why then, do we as a society refuse to react to mental illness in the same way? Why is it that the vast majority of people shy away from seeking treatment and the rest of society sits back judging and shaming those who manage to muster up the courage to seek help?
The media has long since portrayed mental illness in a dangerous light. People who experience mental illness are portrayed as being stereotypical, negative, weak, broken and simply wrong. The stereotypes surrounding mentally ill individuals are highlighted as incompetent, dangerous, different and disheveled. Most mental illness challenges are described as being severe, giving people the impression that people with mental illnesses cannot recover.
Is any of that true? I think not.
We heard about the famous Kate Spade’s unfortunate suicide recently. She was anything but incompetent or disheveled. People who suffer from mental illnesses don’t always have the obvious sign on their forehead. People who suffer from mental illnesses look just like us, because they are just like us.
There’s a huge stigma around speaking up about mental health struggles which is why many people don’t recognize the signs, or are unaware of their own struggle because they don’t understand what mental illness can look like. So many people are suffering in silence on their own, not sure what the problem is, or afraid to reach out. Can you imagine how debilitating that is?
I hadn’t spoken up before about my own personal experience because of the exact same fears most people who go through mental health challenges face; we fear being judged. We fear being seen as weak, broken or ungrateful. We fear being treated differently. Truth is, we’re not so different. Most researchers report that almost everyone goes through some sort of mental health struggle at one point in their lives; the difference is that the severity and nature of these struggles vary greatly.
I will never understand why every organ in our body is allowed to get support and sympathy when it is ill, but our brain is not.
I would be sitting with a group of people and feel totally zoned out, unable to connect with most or all of the people around me. I would be walking down the hall at work and suddenly become overwhelmed, my hands would shake and sweat, my eyes would pull out of focus and I would lock myself in my office or in a bathroom, and pray to God no-one would notice, and that I wouldn’t throw up. It took me a while to get real with myself and realize that I didn’t have to suffer anymore!
I walked through the door of a clinic, still ashamed and fearful, but managed to speak to a specialist. That’s when I realized I was suffering from panic attacks. It wasn’t as simple as it sounds. I must have scheduled several times before I actually made it through the door, and even then, it took me a while to open up and come to terms with what was actually causing my panic.
The more I got to learn about mental health, the more I was able to cope with my anxiety and my depression. My suffering was not permanent – my panic attacks went away when I faced the problem. The longer you avoid treatment, the longer you suffer, and the harder it is to make your way back to a healthy stable lifestyle.
I realized that my anger and fear after having my first child was also a mental health struggle – one that is more common than you would believe. Post partum depression affects 1 in 7 mothers, each at a different level. It’s partly due to chemical changes in the brain after a woman delivers and also due to the emotional rollercoaster you go through overnight in welcoming a new dependant in your life.
Recognizing something like post partum depression as an illness can help you or a loved one seek help and cope with your life. I remember feeling ashamed for not wanting to hold my baby. I remember being told I was ungrateful for crying so much after having a child I struggled to conceive. I wish I’d been told instead that it was okay; that I was not a bad mother and that I would get through it.
Because of my personal experience, I teamed up with Birth Kuwait and founded a support circle for women going through the emotional struggle of infertility. They also have great support for women with post partum depression and infant loss. There are so many resources now available in Kuwait. Find the right one for you and reach out. You are not alone. You do not need to suffer alone. In fact, you do not need to suffer at all. Seeking treatment does not make a person weak. As a person who went through it myself, I can tell you it takes great courage to admit that you have a problem and to knock on all the doors that can help you be yourself again. In doing so, you are taking back control over your life. And unless you take care of yourself, you cannot take care of anyone else.
If you or a loved one feel you may be struggling, seek help. And seek it in the right place. There is a dangerous rise of uncertified individuals who are advising people who belong in a professional’s office. Finding the right person to help you through your struggle is very important.
You or a person around you could be going through a stressful time and the first step to treatment is to recognize the symptoms and reach out. Take the time to educate yourself about the signs of mental illness – a depressed person does not always look sad. In fact, they rarely do.
If you are not sure how to help a loved one, ask a professional. Please do not ever ask someone who is struggling to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘look at the bright side’. They can’t help it. Tell them that you care and that they are not alone. A person’s worth is not determined by their need for help.
Self care is how you take your power back, and remember always that healing is not linear. People who go through any healing process have ups and downs and that’s normal. Go through what you need to go through and if the people around you don’t understand your journey, that’s okay. They don’t need to, it’s not for them.
Your pain doesn’t need to be permanent. Your struggle doesn’t need to go on forever.
‘These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.’ – Najwa Zebian< Back