As far as we've come in terms of destigmatizing mental illnesses, we still have a lot of work to do, especially when it comes to recognizing just how invisible mental health problems can be.
While mental health problems can manifest themselves in a variety of ways, many of those who suffer can feel pressured to apologize to others for their illnesses — and they shouldn't have to.
Jessica Ellis, a parenting blogger who suffers from anxiety and who has struggled with postnatal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, wrote a post on Facebook on Tuesday opening up about her invisible symptoms, and why we need to stop apologizing for mental health issues.
Ellis posted an old photo that she came across, in which she is on vacation with her daughter, and seems to be smiling and happy.
"I loved being with my daughter and husband," she wrote. "But I was far from happy and definitely not having the best time."
As happy as her friends thought she looked, Ellis said that she was in the depths of her anxiety when the photo was taken, and had never felt more vulnerable.
"After a year of being really unwell with postnatal depression and PTSD I was starting to recover but anxiety still had a firm grip of me," she explained. "When this picture was taken anxiety was gripping on to me tighter than it ever had."
"Anxiety disorder is an invisible illness," she wrote. "If that photo showed my arm in a cast and sling it would be pretty obvious that I was in pain and uncomfortable in some way. If you photograph anxiety it doesn't show up in the picture."
Ellis tells Refinery29 that she was first diagnosed with anxiety at age 17, and for the most part, it doesn't affect her everyday life anymore. However, she says, she can be triggered by "waves" and big life changes.
Not only was she "putting a front on," she was also constantly apologizing to the people around her for what she was going through.
"I apologized a lot for being anxious," she wrote. "I said sorry for having panic attacks. I apologized to the people around me as felt that my anxiety was stopping us from doing normal things. I was sorry that I was being someone who was frustrating to be around."
Though Ellis wrote that she was fortunate enough to have patient people around her, she now realizes that you shouldn't have to apologize for being mentally ill. And dismantling the stigma about mental illness goes beyond merely acknowledging that they exist. It's also about recognizing that people suffer in a variety of ways, and there's no checkbox of symptoms that someone will follow — and not making them feel bad for how they struggle.
"It's not a choice, sometimes it's just our normal," she wrote. "And it's perfectly normal to talk about it."
"Mental well-being needs to be seen in the same light as physical well-being, they are both equally important and work hand in hand," she tells us. "We all have a responsibility to show compassion and kindness to others and those that haven't personally experienced any mental illness can still make a huge difference in ending the stigmas attached to it and keeping this conversation going."
If you are experiencing anxiety and are in need of crisis support, please call the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.
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