Stigma Fighters: Maria S.

It was March 8, 1982, the greatest day in history…the day I was born. It was a blizzardy, blustery night, with blinding snowfall, crazy winds, and chaotic natural danger. This was what I was born into; who knew it would be a metaphor for my mind the rest of my life?

Allow me to preface the rest of this piece by saying I grew up a cheerful kid and have many happy memories from my childhood. I did not deal with abuse or trauma. Aside from my parents not getting along, life was pretty normal and happy.

I was always the academic, the top of my class, class president, band president–basically, every nerdy job in school, I occupied. I was voted in grade school as “Most Likely to Succeed,” and my classmates predicted I’d grow up to be a nun or the president, which I find completely laughable now; I don’t think a nun would have the foul mouth I have. In retrospect, however, I see why they thought these things. I was ALWAYS pleasing everyone from my parents, to my friends, to my teachers. I wanted so badly for everyone else to be happy that I soon lost sight of my own identity. I now wonder if I purposefully lost my identity in a crusade to avoid confronting my demons.

I remember always being a worrisome kid, thinking about things that shouldn’t concern a little one. In first grade, I distinctly recall needlessly spinning a scenario in my head about my parents’ finances. What if my parents lost all their money? Then we’d lose our house, and then we would be homeless, and then we would starve, and then we would die. Why was I thinking like this? There was absolutely no reason or evidence to support this line of thinking, yet I, as a 6 year old, decided to send myself into a dizzying panic about this impossibility.

There was another time in elementary school when I thought I was going to die. I took a bite of my sandwich, and I neglected to meticulously chew it into the tiniest bits possible before I swallowed. I was not choking, nor was I having trouble breathing or talking. It wasn’t even traveling slowly down my esophagus. Nevertheless, because I hadn’t chewed it through to my normal standards, I thought I was going to die. I went to the nurse’s office and everything. Why they didn’t raise a red flag back then, I’ll never know…

The OCD and anxiety I had felt those early years had lain fairly dormant until middle school hit. That’s when my mind kicked into high gear, and the overwhelming anxiety truly began. I became absolutely obsessed with praying and trying to be perfect in order to ensure protection for my loved ones. I was convinced that if I didn’t do anything wrong, not only would I save myself from going to hell, but I would also protect my loved ones from any harm in the world. I thought that if I fucked up, I or someone I loved would be punished for it. I compulsively prayed to keep the devil away. I knew this wasn’t normal behavior or thinking, and I was deeply ashamed of it. I spoke to my mom about it, and she comforted me the best way she knew how. I just wish that at that point, she would’ve taken me to a therapist. At that time though, therapy was never an option in my family. No one ever spoke of doing such a thing. Therapy?!? Gasp! You’d be considered a fucking nut job if you needed THERAPY!

The thing was that I felt I was a fucking nut job and continued to be one for a long time wasting precious energy and years of my life feeling lost, crazy, alone, and incredibly confused. During college, I had gone through a few bouts of deep depression. My dad helped me the best way he knew how, and it took the heaviest darkness away, but still no therapy was in the cards for me at that point. It wasn’t until I had a hard-core breakdown in my mid-twenties, during which I sobbed until I puked continuously and simply wanted to die, that I finally went to therapy.

Therapy saved my life. When I first started going, I told no one about it, not even my closest friends. I feared the sting of the stigma that surrounded mental illness. I was very soon diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Through weekly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and medication, I was able to start managing my issues and start to understand my life and discover myself.

I had won the huge war that had raged within me by confronting my issues. However, I am, by no means, cured of any of these disorders; in fact, I fight smaller battles against them every day, now equipped with the tools to do so. Because I had waited so long to seek treatment, my mood disorders are aggressive. The neuro pathways in my brain have been trained to follow the worries, obsessions, and negative thoughts habitually. It’s hard to retrain the brain and carve new pathways after so many years. This is the reason I so strongly desire the disappearance of the stigma associated with mental health issues.

The stigma silences people unnecessarily into years and possibly lifetimes of misery. I, after many years of silence, am proud not to be silent anymore. I have been incredibly open with my friends, family, and perfect strangers about what I deal with mentally and emotionally, despite any possible judgment or backlash. The more I speak, the more strength I gain. I have found that through sharing my struggles, my treatments, and my thoughts, that others become more willing to share theirs as well. I’ve realized that my early days of feeling alone and isolated were all for naught; there’s a whole world of beautiful, not-so-crazy crazy people out there who are my kindred spirits.

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Maria Senise, (name to change in a few short months because she is marrying the luckiest man alive), is a 32 year old mental health blogger who is also a certified language arts teacher and licensed cosmetologist. She’s realized her true path is writing, and once this school year is done, she will be self-employed following this most gratifying pursuit. She is obsessed with cats, especially her own Moo, Lord of the Rings, and anything fantasy-related. You can follow her blog Head Above Water :: Life with Mood Disorders at http://lifewithmooddisorders.blogspot.com, follow her Facebook page Head Above Water : Life with Mood Disorders athttps://www.facebook.com/HeadAboveWaterLifewithMoodDisorders, or find her on Twitter @MariaCMeow.

  • http://www.IndigoBridges.com/ Catherine Simmons

    Maria, this quote stands out to me as being so true! ‘I have found that through sharing my struggles, my treatments, and my thoughts, that others become more willing to share theirs as well’. I believe it’s a key message to get out there. Everyone is either directly or indirectly touched by mental health issues and having a safe space to talk about experiences is invaluable.