Medicated: Fighting the stigma of mental illness

writer Ash Thomas, Editor in Chief

Let’s talk about the word crazy. I asked a few students what it is, and they think to be crazy means to be “insane,” or to be a “wild psycho.” Typically, the word is used in everyday conversation, regarding sports, shows, music, things we oversee or overhear, and is sometimes even used to describe people. But let’s get one thing straight: to be crazy is one thing, to be mentally ill is another.

Once upon a time, even I was called crazy.

I have been living with mental illness for the past four years. It started around the age of 12, when I was fresh out of a hostile situation and ready to move on with my life. Unfortunately, it was easier said than done. I began to notice how stressed I was all of the time, over the silliest things and nothing. And then suddenly I wasn’t just stressed, I was anxious. There’s another word we throw around casually, without realizing the actual meaning behind it. To be anxious isn’t just to be worried over homework or home life, but to feel a constant, crushing weight on your shoulders about anything and everything that there could ever possibly be to worry about. These feelings were often accompanied by panic attacks, full-strung breakdowns of tears and yelling over absolutely nothing. That was the biggest problem. If I’m stressed, I can do what I need to get done, whatever it is that I’m stressing over; but if I’m anxious, it seemed for a while that I was screwed.

About two years ago I decided to give up the pride that I had been holding onto so dearly, and I went to the doctor to get help. I had been seeing a therapist for years before, regarding the situation I mentioned earlier, so I wasn’t completely ignorant regarding mental illness and therapy. More than anything at that point I just wanted to get better.

Long story short, I left the doctor’s office that day with a prescription in one hand and some hope in the other. I had been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD, and was on a daily pill to help control it. Over the next few months I noticed a massive, positive difference in how I felt and the way I reacted to different situations, but I still found myself embarrassed by the fact that I had to rely on medication to keep from having a nervous breakdown in the middle of the hallway.

Still, I wasn’t done with my journey to get better. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way they need to, and my medication and doctor were two of those things. My doctor couldn’t get things done and my medication stopped working out of the blue. I went into a tailspin. Thankfully I was referred to a better doctor than the one I had had before. She literally wrote the book on anxiety and what it is actually composed of, and informed me that the reason for my particular anxiety was the constantly lowering levels of the serotonin, the happy hormone, that was being produced by my body. For whatever reason, my brain was mad at me. She warned me that if the levels slipped too low I would become depressed.

She predicted the future. My new medication didn’t work either, but that’s alright, it happens. I was more upset with the timing than anything, because I wasn’t better from my previous bout of medicine mishaps and I slipped into a depression. Luckily the story gets better right away, but it took several medications to do so. I now take three different medications to help manage my anxiety and depression, but I’m no longer scared to talk about it, because there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

Over the years I learned that my condition wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, because I wasn’t the only one who had it. For some reason, my brain doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to, but how many of us teens actually have perfectly functioning brains at every moment of every day?

That’s the problem with the stigma of mental illness: not talking about it only makes it worse. The best thing people can do for people struggling with mental illness is to stay informed and actually talk about it. If you know what you’re talking about, it won’t hurt anyone, but it can help to spread awareness about how normal and common it actually is, and maybe it will even help save someone. If you’re mentally ill, you’re not crazy, you’re not insane, you’re not a mess and you will get through it. Whether it takes a little therapy or an on-hold doctor and five different medications, it will get better. This is just a chapter of your life, but I promise if you try, your story will have a happy ending.