Written by Erin Talbot.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I struggled for so long on my own before I asked for help. Growing up nobody ever taught me about mental health so I believed I was defective for a long time. I started having panic attacks at age 10 or 11. They were so severe that I dropped out of middle school and isolated myself for a long time. I was ashamed of feeling the way I did, and the longer I spent in isolation, the harder it was to relate to people around me, let alone ask for help. I didn’t want to be a burden or to seem like an “attention-seeker” so I struggled silently and started cutting myself to cope with my symptoms. I could put on a happy face when needed and said I was “ok” when anyone asked, but inside I was anything but “ok”.
I spent a decade trying to cope on my own through a traumatic and unstable home life. Things were so chaotic that I did not want to add to the problem, and eventually I moved out at age 16 and supported myself from then on. I finally made some friends, but I also developed a dangerous drug problem and put myself in a lot of unsafe situations. When I was 21 my friend brought me to the ER because I was suicidal. The next day I was in a state-funded detox and rehab center.
Being at the detox was my first time talking to a professional about my problems and I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I wish I could say everything was easy after that, but my addiction was hard to manage and I have continued to struggle up until this very day. The difference between me then and me now is that I’m no longer ashamed of my symptoms. I’ve accepted that I have a mental illness and I know how to manage my symptoms now. I wish that, when I was 10, someone had told me that my panic attacks were nothing to be ashamed of and I could have gotten treatment then, just like I would have for a physical illness. However, I am also grateful for the experience I had because it’s given me the gift of empathy. People tend to judge what they don’t understand; my struggle has given me a broader understanding of the human experience, and as a result the people in my life know they can talk to me without feeling ashamed or judged.
If you are feeling ashamed of something you are going through, just know you are not alone. You can talk to someone you trust, be it a friend, mental health professional, on-line forum, or even your journal. You are not defective.