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Breaking Stigma Step by Step

From the Edge of Death to Igniting Change in Mental Health

My eyes were heavy as I slowly began to open them. The burning sensation got stronger and stronger, but I had no idea where it was coming from. Was this hell? I must be in hell. Nothing could be as painful as this besides hanging out with Lucifer in his crib knowing you got rejected at the pearly white gates.

But I wasn’t in hell and I definitely didn’t have VIP access to God. That burn was actually the nurse pulling the catheter out downstairs. It wasn’t a swift pull either, but methodically slow as if she took pleasure in punishing her patients like Hannibal and his victims. I was wide-awake now (thanks nurse masochist) and began to notice my surroundings. Drab, dull, and dreary – the tell-tale signs of a hospital. How I got there, I had no idea.

As the morphine started to wear off and my senses came to, my heart sank into a deep pit. I began remembering bits and pieces of everything: My family in the room crying, tears pouring down my mother’s face. Groups of friends praying I’d open my eyes, even just for a tiny moment. The team of doctors and nursing constantly coming in and out of the unit monitoring every wire and attachment hooked up to me and machines preserving my life. Beep beep beep. I then realized that because I was alive, I failed.

And the guilt of the world began to crush me even further.

You would hope after being in a coma in the ICU and flirting on the very edge of death and coming back, a valuable lesson was learned. Yeah, trying to kill yourself – not a good idea. But there is no rhyme or reason to madness. My brain was broken and I had absolutely no idea why. I was outed as “insane” and I was ashamed. That flickering light of hope with the idea I’d ever lead a “normal” life blew out a long ago. So one month later, I attempted again.

Thankfully, I wasn’t successful. There was no drama the second time and quite a few less people showed up to show support. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, you’re a dumbass. And I was. But it wasn’t my fault, I swear. At least I think it wasn’t.

Four years prior, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder – a mental illness that left untreated, has serious ramifications. Once you get any kind of DSM (the mental health bible) diagnosis though, things change. You can’t be that nice kid down the street who likes cars and can inhale three burritos in one sitting. You’re the “crazy” one, no matter what good you’ve done. Nobel Prize? You’re still crazy! So I did what many people do with mental illness, I hid it from everyone I could.

Eventually, my cover was eventually blown though. I was good for so damn long too, with a steady job, a mortgage, and good social circle. Infiltrating the “normies” – looking like and, for the most part, acting as one of them by playing the part of “well-adjusted” deserved an Oscar. But it was a ruse, all of it an act I mastered over time that even I would fall victim of its deception.

I was sick.

I take that back. I am sick. I live with a very serious mental illness that messes with my moods. No, it doesn’t make me batshit crazy or Captain Insane-o, but I do have more extreme ups and downs than other people. You know what sucks about living with mental illness though? It’s not the diagnosis or the symptoms or even the hospitalizations. Not even the emergency psych unit with their hard plastic chair-beds and their lukewarm milk.

It’s stigma.

It’s not being able to tell your best friend the things you’re really going through and having a hard time with. It’s wondering if you’ll ever be able to get a job if HR ever does a screening of your health history. It’s getting rejected by someone because you wanted to be honest about living with mental illness. It’s bullshit.

No one deserves to be judged,
especially for something
they can’t control.

No one deserves to be judged, especially for something they can’t control. Mental illnesses are biologically based in the largest, most important organ in our bodies – the brain. Just because these illnesses are invisible, does not mean they’re imaginary. There are so many of us living with mental illness who put on masks like for a masquerade ball every single day and are forced to live this lie, to create an illusion that things are okay when in actuality the opposite’s true.

What started out as an outlet for me to talk about my struggles with mental illness, addiction, and suicide prevention, Break Yo Stigma has grown on social media and now aims to shed the misconceptions of mental health on a larger platform at breakyostigma.org. It took me years to have the courage to open up, but I know I’m not alone and I’m doing everything I can to make sure the mental health community sees it too.

By sharing our passions, creative work, dreams and visions through our stories, we’ll  show the world that we’re artists and doctors and musicians, not crazy. Not psycho or insane either – just completely misunderstood. We have to change that.

The first step? Break yo stigma.

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