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Friday, November 4, 2016

What Your Mother Didn’t Tell You About: Mental Illness

So you’ve heard me rant about privilege, periods, and violence, but today I feel like discussing something a little closer to home: mental illness. It’s something that so many of us, myself included, struggle with, yet it gets little to no visibility. It’s stigmatized, feared, and silenced. Too often do we make generalizations about mental illness instead of actually drawing personal experiences from those who suffer from them. Prior to developing a Panic Disorder I actually had no idea there was such a wide variety of mental illnesses alongside a plethora of symptoms. I’ve learned so many things about mental illness following my diagnosis.

First, a traumatic experience doesn’t have to occur for your development of a mental illness to be triggered. As for myself, I believe that being informed about an event that happened to a friend of mine is what triggered my anxiety disorder. Of course, genetic predisposition and environmental factors could have played a role, but I am sharing this because it is completely valid if you are triggered by things that may seem minuscule to others. Second, you don’t have to know what’s going on in your brain, why it’s happening, or anything of the sort. So many times after sharing my diagnosis with others I was asked “Well why are you anxious?” or “What happened?” and just about 100 other questions that I did not have the answer to. More times than not you won’t have the answers to these questions, and that is okay. Again, whether you’ve experienced trauma or not, your feelings are still valid. One controversial issue in the realm of mental illness is medication. Personally, my experience with medication was an unpleasant one, which eventually deterred me from experimenting with more. With that being said, if medication helps you accomplish daily tasks and you have the means to get it, then take it without remorse. I found that many people used fear tactics on me when I shared that I was interested in trying medication, and this is not okay. We all have different ways of coping with mental illness, and if taking medication is yours, so be it.

Speaking of coping, I thought it might be helpful to share what I’ve found to be therapeutic when experiencing a panic attack. Number one has to go to podcasts. Finding a podcast that really sparked my interest and listening to it while driving, or pretty much anywhere if i’m feeling anxious has proven to be so helpful for me. I prefer them to music because I feel compelled to actually focus on what they are saying rather than my symptoms. My personal favorite podcast is titled "Coffee with Chrachel” and follows a hilarious couple with two lovely cats who are getting accustomed to living in Seattle. They discuss everything from video games, to coffee, to sex positivity and I love it. But really, what helps me the most is simply talking to people. Confiding in a trusted friend or partner about how you’re feeling, expressing to them that you don’t mind being checked up on, or even just sitting in silence with them has changed my life for the better. Most of all, I want you to know that you’re not alone in this fight. Of all the things I've learned on this journey, the most important one is that it’s okay to not be okay.

Sierra Caraveo
Trans Program Intern

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