Millennials and Anxiety

I was on the phone with my mom yesterday when I brought up one of my cousins and how she too struggles with severe anxiety. Hers is so severe that she has had to drive herself to the ER because of panic attacks. Then my mom mentioned two other cousins who suffer from anxiety. My mom and I joked about how so many of us had anxiety and said that if she had mentioned having a headache or being nervous about something, she would be told, “You’re too young to have headaches or be nervous.” Basically, she and her seven other siblings would’ve been brushed off or told to suck it up. Not because her parents were mean or anything, that was just how it was back then. Because of this, my mom’s generation didn’t talk about feelings. I guess they bottled it all up or coped in other ways.

I had joked about it, but it got me thinking: why are so many Millennials (those born 1981 to 1996) so anxious? Why do (most) of us feel free to share their feelings and struggles when our own parents were taught not to? Do we overthink things? Am I overthinking this blog?

I don’t think so, lol.

Fun fact: Anxiety wasn’t even officially recognized as a condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until 1980, so I get why there’s resistance among older generations to acknowledge it as a real disorder/disease, but it now affects more than 40 million Americans — it’s a serious and widespread disorder.

The American Psychological Association reports that 12 percent of Millennials have officially been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder—almost twice the percentage of Boomers who have been similarly diagnosed. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association also released a report in 2018 that showed that diagnoses of mental disorders had risen dramatically by 33 percent since 2013, and millennials make up 47 percent of that figure. 

“Millennials have seen two major economic collapses, higher rates of divorce among their parents, a skyrocketing student loan crisis and a widening gap between the rich and the poor,” according to culture critic Kalev Rudolph.

Byrdie.com says, “While every generation tends to believe that they lived through the hardest times, the spike in anxiety levels among millennials shows that they are indeed going through more periods of stress than generations before them.”

When talking to one of my besties, she mentioned that watching the shuttle explode in Kindergarten changed her, as well as watching the Twin Towers fall in high school. Understandably, it takes a toll. Some people may roll their eyes at what I’m saying because people say that Millennials are weak and spoiled. And while I personally can’t dispute the spoiled part, I can dispute the weak part. So many of us were taught to keep things inside and not be vulnerable, but also many of us have embraced being vulnerable and authentic in what we feel and struggle with. That’s not a weakness — it takes a very strong person to share her struggle and be open about what she’s going through.

It wasn’t easy for me to “come clean” about my major depression, anxiety disorder, eating disorder, personality disorder and suicidal thoughts. It wasn’t easy, because the stigma of depression and (other mental disorders) is still very prevalent in the U.S. That stigma is what kept me quiet during my struggles, which only made it worse. It’s lonely when you’re fighting a disease you can’t talk about with anyone. And now, people congratulate and sing my praises because I do share so much — and I’m beyond grateful for that. But it shouldn’t be that way — everyone suffering with depression or another mental disorder should feel supported and free to share their experiences.

So, no — Millennials aren’t weak, and Boomers/Gen Xers aren’t stronger for keeping their problems to themselves. I acknowledge that those generations were taught to “suck it up” and keep it to themselves. That’s what they knew and how they coped. I don’t mean to sound condescending, but they didn’t know any better.

But now, we know better — we’ve evolved…not as much as I’d like, but we’re getting there.

It’s not a coincidence that so many of my female first cousins suffer from severe anxiety. Obviously, there’s a genetic component but what else is at play? Personally, my parents never told me to suck it up or not to be honest about my mental disorders. But somewhere along the way — and I suspect it’s the true for my cousins — we were taught to aspire to a certain image (i.e. being skinny). I know this to be true because I’m not the only one in my family with an eating disorder. Also, that ideal didn’t include admitting to mental illness, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, etc. I suspect that’s why I stayed quiet about my issues so long. I can’t speak for my wonderful cousins.

It’s nice to know that I’m not some genetic anomaly (although that could be debatable), because it can be so lonely to fight anxiety alone. I’m in good company — my cousins are all successful, kind, empathetic, loving women who fight just as hard as I do on a daily basis. I so badly want us to come together, share our experiences and support each other.

That’s the hallmark of our generation — strength and empathy.

Not So Fun Times in Texas

We live in Corpus Christi in South Texas. Because we’re a South Texas coastal town, we don’t see much cold weather. Not like we have this past week. Temps have been well below freezing, then it rained. Ice was on the roads and pipes burst, making our water undrinkable. We haven’t had any power since Monday at 4 a.m. It’s actually like this in most of the state. And it’s been a complete shit show.

Mentally, I was doing OK, despite having been locked in my house with my kids all week with nothing to do. Despite not being able to go anywhere. Despite having power in only parts of the house (which is better than most, believe it or not). That was all until yesterday. Yesterday morning, I found myself losing my temper more with the kids and generally was in a pissed off mood. Then I got word that there would be no school for the rest of the week, which I expected but dreaded. My kids have been fighting all week long, and I just have no more to give today.

This week has just been shitty for millions of Texans. As I was talking to a friend about it, she said something along the lines of, “I am not good in these situations where nothing is routine or normal at all.”

And, boy did I feel that.

I too am a creature of habit. I get bent out of shape when even the slightest thing is off about my routine. I don’t like the unexpected. Hell, I don’t even like surprises most of the time, even if they’re good. When the pandemic hit last year, I thought I was going to lose my mind every single day. And yes, I did eventually adapt and we started a new routine. But with this shit this week, I have not adapted. I don’t enjoy sponge baths, I don’t enjoy having to entertain my two small children every minute of the day and I don’t enjoy being trapped inside the house (we can’t even take a car ride because of the icy roads). But this isn’t because I’m a creature of habit — this is because of debilitating anxiety.

My anxiety (a product of Generalized Anxiety Disorder) is more than a little nervousness about some things — it exhausts me, it makes me think worst-case scenarios about anything and everything about my life and it gives me panic attacks. That’s normal for me, in normal situations. In situations such as the one we’re in now, it’s so much worse. Little things, like repetitive noises and messes, send me over the edge. It’s hard to calm down once I’m already triggered, and it’s really hard to keep my composure in front of the kids, which I do attempt. It affects me mentally and physically. I’m exhausted and very tense. I’m so tired and frustrated, that I said “fucking” in front of the kids and my mother in law. My kids have definitely expanded their vocab this week.

I know it’s temporary and will all be over soon, but it doesn’t change how I feel. Some things are just harder for people with anxiety. I don’t wish it on anyone.

I had such high hopes for this week, because it’s my birthday week. Now, I’ll be lucky if they get the power back on by Saturday, lol. But I do know that it will all be OK soon. School will start back up Monday, and things will get back to normal. I’ll appreciate the structure and routine so much more than I did before.

If you have a loved one with anxiety, ask how you can support them. Avoid statements like, “calm down” or “don’t worry.” I always feel misunderstood and brushed off when my anxiety is met with statements like that. An anxiety disorder can be quite debilitating and should be considered serious. I have friends who have had a panic attack and had to go to the ER it was so bad.

I hope you are all warm and safe. If you’re not, I’m saying prayers for you.

Stay in the light, my friends.

I’ve Gained 26 Pounds

Last Friday I had an ECT treatment. I hadn’t been there in four weeks, so they asked to weight me (to calculate how much anesthesia I get). Usually, I avoid the scale. The number shouldn’t matter to me, but it does. Big time. I looked down after I stepped on the scale, and I was shocked. I’ve gained 26 pounds since the pandemic — 26 POUNDS! I’m almost 200 pounds, which I swore to myself I’d never be again. I mean, who has weight loss surgery and doesn’t lose the weight? Me, apparently.

I have all the reasons in the world to lose weight and be healthy, mainly my kids. I want them to see me be healthy so that they can be healthy. I want to lose the weight because I want to live a long time. It would benefit my mental health greatly if I maintained a healthy lifestyle. But I don’t.

Even after my ECT, while feeling happy and more stable, I had the intense urge to overeat and binge. And I did. The ECT is supposed to reset my brain. Last week, I was so depressed and even had suicidal ideation, so I needed the ECT. But the ECT can only take me so far. I’m responsible for making health decisions for myself. And I need to hold myself accountable. At some point, I have to make the effort to be healthy without expecting something or someone else to help me.

I don’t know what drives me to overeat or binge. It sort of makes sense when there’s conflict in my life, and I feel the need to be comforted by food. But right now, there’s no conflict in my life. There’s no logical reason for me to shove food in my face. It bothers me so much that I don’t know why I binge, and I’m not sure it would even help if I did know. It’s just frustrating. And I know it’s a hard time because of the pandemic, but we’re not getting back to any kind of “normal” I know any time soon. So, it has to be now. I have to make changes now. But honestly, I don’t know if I will. I don’t know what it will take.

I bought a treadmill that will be delivered this week. I bought a food journal to help me track my water and meals. I have a brand new pair of running shoes to use for exercise. Conditions are favorable for change. My brain, my stubborn brain, is the only thing holding me back. Even now, as I’m typing this, I want to eat, to be comforted. To lose myself in the taste and texture of something delicious. I fear my urge to escape the real world will be permanent, as it manifests in other ways, too like abusing my anxiety meds. And again, I don’t know why or what I’m trying to escape. I have a great life — better than most — and I’m so grateful for everyone in my life and everything I have. So, I really can’t tell you why I want to escape.

At one time, I thought it was emotional pain that was holding back — trauma from my past. But I feel like I’ve dealt with that. I’ve talked to my therapist about it extensively. I wrote a blog about it that I will never share. I got if off my chest, but still the pain resides. At least, I think so. Why else would I be trying to fill this unrelenting void?

I so want to be able to wake up in the morning and not immediately think about what I’m going to eat. To plan my next meal, as I’m licking off my current meal’s crumbs from my lips. I live meal to meal, snack to snack, and I hate it.

I hope this week I can make changes to my daily life and incorporate healthy habits. I pray for strength and guidance. I pray for what feels like a miracle.

Next week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It may not seem like a big deal, but there are 30 million Americans who suffer with an eating disorder. There are so many people suffering right now, who are suffering more because of the pandemic. Only 1/3 of people receive help for their eating disorder. Eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with nearly one person dying every hour as a direct result of their eating disorder.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please know that you are not alone. It’s a challenging time for us, but it’ll be OK.

We will be OK.

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

I’m proud of myself this week. I had to move up my ECT (to this past Friday) because I quickly became depressed after the last one, which was four weeks ago. I hate getting them, but I knew I needed it. I went into survival mode last week (and had to cancel plans) and made it to Friday.

I was more nervous about this one, but I don’t know why. When we got to Laurel Ridge, I started pacing in the waiting room. Luckily, there was only one girl ahead of me, so I didn’t wait long. But when a bed was available, the nurses couldn’t get my IV in. This made me incredibly nervous. I was afraid that they would do a bad job with the IV, then I wouldn’t get all the anesthesia I needed. I know that’s not likely, but that was the thought racing around my head. One of my favorite nurses finally got it, but to be honest I had shed some nervous tears. I tried to chat about my kids to take the focus off, and it helped.

When I went into the room, everyone was really nice and accommodating because of my anxiety and I had a good seizure — 72 seconds long. I was told the shorter the seizure, the better, but looking at my records, all my seizures are kinda long, over a minute. One was two minutes long — after that seizure, I was doing very well and was able to go nine weeks without an ECT. So, who knows. I am keeping a notebook where I’m documenting my symptoms a week leading up to an ECT and immediately after. I think it would be helpful to find patterns or correlations.

Enough about that. My birthday is this coming Saturday, so I’m looking forward to that.

That’s really all I got for now. Y’all have a good week, and stay in the light.

Cancelled Plans and Spoons

I’ve had to cancel plans with three different friends this week. I HATE cancelling plans — it makes me feel so guilty, because I feel like I’m letting my loved ones down. I know I can’t help it — and my friends are very understanding — but I still feel guilty and less of a friend.

At least now I can tell them the truth — I’m too depressed to leave the house. Before I went to The Menninger Clinic, I didn’t tell the truth, and I probably seemed like such a flake who didn’t care about spending time with her friends. But now, I’m honest. I said that I was having intrusive thoughts about suicide (not suicidal thoughts per se) and I just didn’t have the energy. I call it survival mode. You see, I’m getting an ECT treatment on Friday, so I just have to make it until then. The ECT should reset my stupid brain and maybe I won’t be so depressed and fatigued. I’m hoping that I won’t have as many migraines after this treatment, too. For some reason, my migraines have ramped up the past few weeks, and it’s been really annoying. I hate being limited by my illnesses, and on that note, I’m reminded of an article I read about the Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino, who suffers with lupus. She writes about the physical and mental toll an invisible, chronic illness can take. And I relate.

While describing what it’s like to have a chronic illness, Miserandino grabbed spoons and used them to represent finite units of energy. Healthline.com writes this of Miserandino’s theory, “Energy, for many of us with chronic illness, is limited and depends on many factors including stress levels, how we’re sleeping, and pain. Miserandino then walked her friend through the friend’s normal day, taking spoons, or energy, away from the friend as the discussion went on. By the end of the day, her friend wasn’t able to do as much as she wanted. When she realized Miserandino went through this every single day, her friend started crying. She understood, then, how precious time was for people like Miserandino, and how few ‘spoons’ she had the luxury of spending.”

I feel this in my soul. Especially right now. I have to save every waking minute in order to do what is absolutely necessary, what I deem necessary, at least. This includes taking care of the kids and all their needs. This, to me, comes first. My remaining energy, if you can call it that, goes to taking care of myself. Many people would argue that it should be reversed, and I don’t totally disagree, but this is how it is right now. I hope to change it, because I know you can’t pour from an empty cup, and if I don’t start taking better care of myself, my cup will stay empty. I’m working on that, too.

It dawned on me this week that I could probably space out the ECTs more if I just put in the hard work of self care. I don’t mean getting a massage every week, although that would be nice right now, but I mean taking my medicine as I should, taking breaks and eating healthier. And actually sitting and exploring my emotions instead of burying them then stuffing my face. That happens a lot, almost every day. I also would like to increase my therapy sessions to twice a week — I have a lot to do, lol.

That’s OK though. I’m worth the work; I just need to remember that every single day.

Thank you to my friends who were so gracious about me. cancelling on them. I love y’all and appreciate your support.

Imaginary Brakes

Sometimes my anxiety runs rampant. I catch myself moving my foot as if I’m slamming the brakes in a car. I guess I want time to come to a screeching halt, as if I’m in the driver’s seat. But I’m not. It’s the out of control feeling I can’t stand. And though I have anxiety every day, Sundays are the worst, as documented here.

I’ve always hated Sundays from the time I was little, I guess because I NEVER wanted to go to school, especially on Mondays. I used to get a feeling of dread when I got older, too when I had a full-time job. The Sunday Night Blues or Case of the Sundays was always present, no matter what age or circumstance I faced.

And today, even though I don’t work outside the home, I feel it. The threat of responsibility looming is just too much to take and I feel the tightness in my chest and butterflies in my belly. It makes no sense to me — I don’t have anything unusual happening this week, nothing to be all doom and gloom about. But it’s there. At least, it’s consistent.

I try really hard to have a “countdown” methodology about anything — like countdown to Christmas, to the weekend, to my birthday, etc. So, as much as I’d like to look ahead to Valentine’s or my birthday, I need to be here, now. I look ahead at this week’s events, but that’s as much as I’ll let myself look.

It may sound silly, but as depressed as I am and how often, I get wrapped up in looking ahead and squander the perfectly good time I already have. I don’t want that. I don’t know how much time I have where I’m lucid and not depressed. I need to make hay when the sun shines, as my daddy says.

I still feel a nagging feeling in my belly, and I realize that I have an ECT treatment Friday. I wasn’t supposed to have it until March 5, but last week I felt the all-too-familiar signs of a depressive episode, so I moved my appointment up to stop it in its tracks. And even though I know it will make me better, I still get anxious and scared. Even though the past couple treatments have been pleasant. Even though…

Just thinking about it, I have a white-hot feeling pass from my head to my toes. It’s adrenaline, I think. And fear. I feel my foot try and stomp on the imaginary brakes and start to sweat.

Ugh, I’m not a stupid person. I should be able to address my fear and anxiety with the logic that I mentioned. Tears are threatening. I’m scared.

But come Friday, I will joke with the nurses. I will ask my favorite nurse to hold my hand while they put me under anesthesia. I will wake up 15 to 20 minutes later, not even knowing whether I’ve had the treatment. I’ll irritate David by (unknowingly) asking him the same questions over and over on the way home. I’ll get Chick Fil A on the two-hour drive and fall asleep until we reach home. I will be a better version of myself, a more patient and loving one. I’ll be free (for now) of self hatred and self judgement. And if that’s not the case, I’ll go back weeks later and repeat the same thing, always hoping to get the best version of Heather I can get, born out of fear and an induced seizure.

Whatever version, I know it will be a pretty perfect version of myself….just with amnesia and neurons that are unruly af. And hey, maybe the Sunday Night Blues will disappear for awhile. But I won’t countdown until they do. That, I refuse.

Buried Secrets

I’ve lived with what I thought was a shameful secret for two decades. I buried it deep inside me, so deep I never thought I’d never have to deal with it again. But it turns out shameful secrets will come to surface no matter what.

I binged for years, shoving food in my mouth trying to keep it down. I swallowed pill after pill trying to escape from the reality where that secret lived. I got tattoos and piercings, hoping that that pain would distract me from the pain inside me. The needles are nothing compared to emotional pain.

Alas, none of it worked.

It wasn’t long before I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and anxiety. I kept my mouth shut about that, too until I could no longer hold it in because I was abusing my anxiety meds and it was too hard to get out of bed, despite my growing list of responsibilities. I ended up at a psychiatric facility, which confirmed that I had major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, binge eating disorder and avoidant personality disorder. It cost tens of thousands of dollars for me to stay there six week and get back on the straight and narrow. Or close enough, anyway.

And one day, after a binge session and tons of guilt, I started to think: maybe I’m bingeing because I’m punishing myself. Punishing myself for what happened to me. Punishing myself for never truly confronting my demons. Punishing myself for being a kid and not knowing any better. And that’s silly. Because I was just a kid. I didn’t know better. If the same had happened to one of my kids, I would never let them partake in the blame game, because it simply wouldn’t be true.

Maybe I should forgive myself for whatever role I thought I played. I should forgive myself. I forgive myself. I forgive myself. I forgive myself. It was not my fault. No matter what my brain tells me, it wasn’t my fault.

However, it is my fault if I don’t change my behavior and keep hurting myself to forget or escape. I am needed here, with my family, and hurting myself only hurts them. That’s my fault. It’s my fault if I don’t forgive myself. If I don’t do the work to forgive. I’ve spent two decades ignoring this bullshit, so I know it won’t happen overnight, but I can take the steps to forgive myself now. Starting today.

Starting now.

My life is so good. There’s no reason to escape it, through any means I might’ve relied on in the past. I need to be here now. I need to show myself love, because my kids are watching, and God do I want them to love the shit out of themselves. My way — my past ways — are no longer the way to go.

The thing about secrets is that they feed on shame. I was feeding it with my bingeing and abusing meds, but I don’t need to feed it anymore. I’m done feeling shame over it. At least I’m trying to be. I’m not giving this thing any more life than I have. It’s dying now. It will soon be dead.

If you have a buried secret, please forgive yourself. Love yourself. Do the work and work it out. Forgive yourself and live the life you are meant to live.

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

Y’all. Last week was ROUGH, likely due to me confronting some past trauma and not just shoving it in a drawer somewhere in my messy, complicated brain. Again, personal growth is so annoying.

While I do feel better having faced my demons, I can tell it’s still bothering me a bit because of my binge eating and thought patterns. Either that or I’m just so used to used to “crisis mode” that I don’t know how to get out. And that’s OK for a little while but it’s no way to live everyday life.

This week I’m going to try and get back to my intuitive eating skills, because I think they’re so helpful and make me feel better about myself. Last week, I just chucked everything I’ve learned out the window and purposely overeat and/or binged.

I’m also going to do some thinking on where I want this blog to go and what I want people to get out of it, so I can take it to the next level.

All in all, I’m ready to get out of crisis mode and be mindful in everything I do. I know I can do it. It’s never too late to learn how to live your life in a healthy way. And even though it feels like I start all over every week and don’t make strides, I know I’m a million times better than last year. And the year before that. Progress is hard to see sometimes.

I hope y’all have a great week. Stay in the light, my friends.

I Don’t Care About “Bumming” You Out

Recently, I was told I posted too much about depression — that I was “bumming” people out. This comment not only infuriated me, but it hurt my feelings. How often do people like me — the chronically ill, depressed and others suffering with a mental disorder — deal with some inane comment like that. A comment that’s meant to shame and only discourage people’s truths.

I’m sorry, not sorry that I’m “bumming” people out. People need to know what it’s like to have a mental disorder. I’m done being told to “chin up,” “get some fresh air,” and “exercise” to cure my depression. That’s not helpful.

When you’re depressed and anxious, you can’t “pull yourself up by the bootstraps.” In my case, when I’m going through a depressive episode, all I feel is pain. I get bone tired that no amount of sleep can alleviate. In my head, all I hear are criticisms of myself, how I’m a loser and unworthy. That nobody loves me. That I should kill myself. And the guilt — it’s overpowering. I feel guilty that I’m a depressed mom and that I have limitations that other moms don’t have. I feel guilty because I can’t control how I feel. I feel flawed, defective because growing up I came to understand that depression was something you could wish away with fresh air and sunshine. That strong people didn’t get depressed.

So, that makes me weak, right? That’s the stigma of depression talking.

I know better now. There’s nothing weak about me, or anyone who suffers with a mental disorder.

As I write this — and I’m not even experiencing a depressive episode — I’m purposely overeating, doing anything that will make the pain I feel go away. Overall, I’m doing great right now, but the thing about depression is that it lurks, always waiting for an opportunity to blanket my brain in doubt, fear and pain. And it’s so lonely. Not everyone understands and there are so many misconceptions about depression. My brain, my own brain, tells me to isolate from friends and family, making me even lonelier and in despair.

Luckily, I was able to go to a very good psychiatric hospital where specialists properly diagnosed me, prescribed the right medication and started me on electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). I’m so sick that doctors have to pass electric currents through my brain to trigger a seizure, resetting my brain. I have to do treatments every six to eight weeks, along with weekly therapy, just to feel almost normal.

My diagnoses are as follows:
Persistant depressive disorder (dysthymia)
Major depressive disorder, recurrent episode, severe
Generalized anxiety disorder
Binge eating disorder
Avoidant Personality Disorder
Opioid use disorder, moderate
Sedative, hypnotic or anxiolytic use disorder, moderate

I’m one of the lucky ones because I can afford a high-dollar hospital and therapy. There are people who can’t. There are people who are suffering in silence, all because some people feel uncomfortable and “get bummed out” talking about mental illness. It’s bullshit. No one — and I do mean no one — should ever suffer in silence. There’s nothing embarrassing about struggling with depression. It’s not a weakness. It’s the same as having any other disease or disorder. So many people put on a happy face in order to hide their illness, and that too is bullshit. And that can be so dangerous if that person has suicidal ideation. People literally die because they don’t feel free to share how they’re feeling. The CDC reports that more than 48,000 people die each year by suicide. That number is surely to rise because of the pandemic.

It has to stop. I’m done being embarrassed by the fact that my brain is wired differently. I’m tired of feeling weak, when in reality I fight for my life every day. I’m strong as hell. I’m scrappy and I have grit. I’m proud of who I’ve become. And I will certainly NOT stop talking about depression or other mental disorders. I don’t give a fuck who I’m bumming out, because I’m also giving a voice to those who can’t quite find theirs yet.

I’m free from the embarrassment and guilt. I’m done with caring what other people think — the weight of their opinions is far too heavy. I will continue to lend my voice because I want others to be free too.

Please let us be free.

The Personality Disorder I Didn’t Know I Had

In 2019 I went to a psychiatric hospital (The Menninger Clinic) after battling suicidal thoughts, abusing my anxiety meds and hitting a low I didn’t know was possible. For six weeks, I was away from my family, which is almost as painful as fighting depression and anxiety.

While I was there, I was assigned a psychiatrist, social worker, therapist and a psychologist. I underwent many psychiatric tests and was taken off all my psychiatric medications. It was rough.

I knew I had major depressive disorder, because I’ve struggled with depression for almost two decades. I knew I had anxiety, because of the crippling panic attacks and intrusive thoughts – thoughts telling me I should kill myself or that my family was going to die.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the diagnosis of Avoidant Personality Disorder. I had never even heard of it. Avoidant Personality Disorder, which affects about 1 percent of the general population, is described as having feelings of extreme social inhibition, inadequacy and sensitivity to negative criticism or rejection. It’s more than being shy or awkward in social situations (which I am). It makes it hard for those suffering with the disorder to interact with others and maintain relationships. It’s also common for “us” to avoid work or school, mostly because of extreme low self-esteem.

It was hard hearing this new diagnosis. For one, I already felt saddled by depression and anxiety. I wasn’t fond of the idea that I had this disorder, another albatross around my neck. And yet, I couldn’t deny it. Reading about the disorder was like reading from my memoir; I knew the symptoms and behavior well. I’ve always been social awkward. I avoided school like the plague, and later when I worked, I avoided that, too. I haven’t worked outside the home since 2013.

There was no denying the diagnosis. And, even though I’d probably been dealing with it since adolescence, I felt more broken because my many flaws were well documented and it was “official.”

But that’s bullshit. I was broken but not because of the diagnosis. I was broken because I had kept my struggles to myself and hadn’t reached out until it was almost too late. I was stifled by the stigma that surrounds depression and other mental disorders. The stigma and keeping my struggles to myself almost killed me.

Having depression, anxiety, a personality disorder and binge eating disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. That’s what I have – not who I am.

Now, I blog about my troubles and speak freely to others about anything and everything mental health related. I’m no longer afraid of being judged. The weight of others’ opinions is far too heavy to bear.

Now, I’m free.

Reject the stigma. Be proud of the fighter that you are. Seek help if you need it. By doing so, we help eradicate the judgement and stigma. Be free with me.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, go to the nearest emergency room or call a trusted friend. You are not alone.