Personal openness about mental illness helps break barriers, encourage health

I started writing this a couple of weeks ago and have struggled with deciding if I should publish it, but breaking down the stigma associated with mental health illnesses is important to me.

Not many people know this, but I have a seizure disorder. While seizures are not mental illnesses, the stigma still applies. My symptoms started over two years ago, but I didn’t tell anyone for about two months.

Each of my seizure episodes start with an intense feeling of déjà vu. After the initial déjà vu, I zone out and feel anxious; I also experience stomach aches, a tingling sensation in my head and my face feels warm. The episodes last only a couple of seconds, but are disorienting and make me extremely tired afterward.

When I realized the episodes were happening more frequently and the symptoms were getting worse, I finally told my parents. They were very supportive and said they wished I would have told them sooner.

I went to a neurologist who diagnosed me with complex partial seizures and prescribed medication. I went from having 13 episodes in a two-week span to eight in seven weeks. The medication helped me feel drastically better and I was able to focus better in school. I didn’t realize how badly I felt until I started to feel normal again.

I shouldn’t have let it get so bad; I should have opened up to my parents sooner. But I was afraid people wouldn’t understand and just think I was being dramatic. It’s weird to tell someone you get déjà vu all the time.

I also think many people have a hard time understanding things they can’t see. With many forms of seizures, there are visible convulsions, so it is obvious something is wrong. However, only I know when I am having a seizure.

I had a predisposition for seizures because my dad had epilepsy when he was my age, but I also discovered that anxiety can trigger them. I had finished my first year at SVSU and dealt with the loneliness of being a transfer student and other personal issues.

I’m normally a person who opens up to my close friends and family, but I kept a lot to myself. However, now that I am more comfortable talking about my seizures, I wonder why much of our society looks down on discussing our anxieties, disorders and mental illnesses.

I work as a tutor at the Writing Center and had a seizure while I was tutoring a student; however, I hadn’t told my bosses or co-workers about my seizures. After finally opening up to my boss and one of my co-workers a few months after the episode, my co-worker and I began researching tutors with mental illnesses. We found that many tutors do have symptoms of mental illnesses or have been diagnosed with one or more.

Recently, we presented our findings at a Writing Center conference. After our presentation, another tutor shared with me that she has the same symptoms and asked how I was diagnosed. I had never met another person with my same symptoms, let alone another tutor.

Even though I still get anxious sharing my experiences, talking with her showed me how important it is to open up about disorders and mental illnesses. Maybe she will go to a doctor because I shared my story.

It’s hard for me to understand why there is a stigma surrounding disorders and mental illnesses.

We need to start helping each other and talking to one another about these topics. Most likely, if you open up to someone else, they have experienced something similar or are close with someone who has.

I know the anxiety that comes with disclosing something others may misunderstand, but it’s an important first step in breaking down the stigma. I hope we can continue to make progress with breaking the stigma, so I will be open about my experiences in the hopes that it may help someone else.

This entry was posted on Monday, December 1st, 2014 and is filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Comments are closed.