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October 05, 2017

Mental Health: How Honesty Can Break Us Out of Isolation - Ana Agarrat

world mental health day blogEarlier this year, a meta-analysis study revealed incredible results about the impact of social isolation and the feelings of loneliness. Put simply, loneliness is just as fatal as smoking or obesity. This accounts for the physical and psychological effects of loneliness.
 
My journey into loneliness
 
I remember wishing for the courage to end my suffering every night as I fell asleep. I was convinced that my family would be better off without the constant disappointment that was my life. I was as certain as a person could be that suicide was my best and only option. And I was only eleven years old.
 
Mental health was not discussed in a constructive way until I was twenty-two. At that time, I was more focused on perfecting and pursuing my undergraduate degree. I did not have any energy to contemplate my brain chemistry or core values. Furthermore, my success in school was evidence that my anxiety and depression were “under control.”
 
Maintaining control also meant playing a role. I ignored my emotions and fabricated a smile that would present me as a capable and competent adult to the world. However, my intentions were constantly undermined by the voice within me – a constant reminder that I was not smart enough, not strong enough and I would never amount to anything.
 
This mask finally cracked in graduate school. Afraid that no one would accept the flawed person I was beneath the fake smile, I isolated myself. I was overwhelmed by my internal voice; without anyone else to help me fact-check, I clung to it as truth.
 
Mental illness kept me isolated
 
During the deepest darkness of my depression, I could be in a room of people and still feel terrifyingly alone. The invisibility of mental illness removed my ability to be truly seen or heard. I felt as though no one really knew me. If I let them know the real me, I feared that they would no longer want to know me. This paradox left me isolated. And: this loneliness was of my own making.
 
Reaching out for help did not seem courageous. I convinced myself that bringing anyone else into my story of depression was weakness and that was to be avoided at all costs. The thought of burdening another person with my pain seemed inhumane. So, I remained alone in the dark for years.
 
Then, a light turned on in the room. And, I started to notice that there were several other people sitting in the dark with me.
 
Getting help for mental illness
 
I began to see a psychiatrist in an effort to get answers for the mood swings that prevented me from performing well in my classes. After years of her encouragement, I started intensive treatment in a group therapy setting at Insight Behavioral Center (a partner of Eating Recovery Center).
 
During group therapy, I realized that we were all there together, honestly sharing our life story through the lens of mental health.
 
In treatment, I listened to the painful stories of others and found the courage to share my own. I understood that my internal voice could be fact-checked by external evidence. I realized that my isolation and avoidance were in direct opposition to the life of connection that I desired to have.
 
The group was great. But, this was not the kind of group where you could publicly announce your membership. The stigma of mental illness prevented us from discussing the benefits of therapy with others outside the safety of the treatment facility doors.
 
Think about it: Life would be so much more real and honest if we could just express our vulnerabilities and struggles more openly! But, unfortunately, we don’t. And, even after therapy, I continue to feel the pressure to appear strong and put-together.
 
Talking about mental health in some settings reveals private information that could jeopardize our credibility at work or in a social group. By society’s standard, you are either mentally healthy and productive or you are mentally ill and a burden.
 
Well, I refuse to exist in this binary.
 
We can make a difference on World Mental Health Day
 
On World Mental Health Day, October 10th, I hope that we can all begin the journey towards reducing the stigma of mental illness and engaging each other in true connection. For me, it starts with simple steps like these:
 
  • Removing the adjectives “crazy,” “insane,” and “psycho,” from my vocabulary; I have found more suitable descriptors: “overwhelming,” “terrifying,” and “speechless”
  • Talking about going to my therapist’s office as though it were a grocery store – because honestly, I should not have to lie about going to therapy; (and maybe, it will encourage others to speak openly about it, too)
  • Feeling confident to share the parts of my story with people who have earned my trust
  • Being respectful of my boundaries and checking in with myself when I need to
  • Talking about mental health and self-care when the topics arise, because you do not have to have a mental illness diagnosis to care about mental health
 
For so long, I was convinced that I was alone in the painful darkness of my depression. I had no idea how many others were with me until I decided to use my voice and tell others about what I was experiencing. And, I will continue to use my voice and share my story to let others know that they are not alone.
 
Ana Agarrat is a Recovery Ambassador Council Member at Eating Recovery Center. Ana believes that every story has the potential to positively impact the life of another. This is why she is committed to sharing her recovery journey and encouraging others to do the same. She is excited to continue working with the Recovery Ambassador Council to bring hope to others on the path of recovery. Learn more about Ana here.
 
 
 
 
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