The worst stigma is my own. (Mental Illness Recovery)

This is a tough post to write. Stigma is a sensitive topic; when it comes from yourself, it is associated with embarrassment and shame. Living with a mental illness is not easy and I don’t know any different. Medication is a game-changer but not a cure-all. Even when your symptoms go away you are left with a label. 

Stress exacerbates symptoms. So what do you do? Do you stay home and take it easy or do you see what the world has to offer? Either option is going to cost you. 

I have taken lithium for years.

In my early twenties, I tried several mood stabilizers with little success. I was still pretty new to the game having only been in recovery for a couple of years. My psychiatrist suggested lithium and it was definitely a drug I had heard of before – something I associated with “crazy” people. The routine bloodwork sounded scary as well. This was serious. As much as I was scared of being labeled “crazy” I also really wanted relief, so I reluctantly tried the medication.

Starting lithium came with some mental anguish, but now I’ve been on the med for many years and I take it every day without thinking twice about it. It really works for me. The stress I felt trying lithium was meaningless and counterproductive. 

I was treated for anorexia at 200 pounds.

This was more recent. I’ve struggled with eating disorders since the sixth grade. Last fall I felt myself slipping fast. I was very sick and I hit a point of no return around Thanksgiving. I knew I needed treatment. It was so difficult to reach out to treatment centers because I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously. I was overweight but also starving myself. I thought I would never get the treatment I needed, but thankfully when I called for help, people listened. 

It’s embarrassing to talk about having symptoms of anorexia when you look like me, but when I was admitted to the treatment center I saw people of all sizes. I thought I wouldn’t get the help I needed, but I was wrong. 

I was also treated for avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) and rumination disorder which I find much easier to talk about. 

I’m still very embarrassed about struggling with anorexia. The truth is eating disorders affect people of all sizes. I’m still coming to terms with that.

I still believe that no one will take me seriously.

Worrying about being taken seriously is a common theme in my life. I’m sure people see me as “crazy”. I’m open about my experiences which probably makes it worse, right?

I know my mental illness doesn’t define me, but it does explain a lot about why I do the things I do. I’m always trying to prove myself, mostly by taking on more and more projects. I want to tell the world, “look what I can do!” I feel that with having a mental illness that’s necessary.

But what if it’s not? What if no one actually cares if I have a mental illness?

My Pledge to Myself

My recovery will be a lifelong process. There are so many outside forces at play when you have a mental illness but the important conversations happen between you and your doctor. I let the world get to me and internalize negativity. My pledge to myself is to keep an open mind when it comes to treatment and mental health in general. This is my life and no matter how “crazy” I think I look my health is important. 

Can anyone relate? What stigma holds you back?


  1. Harold A Maio says

    You are correct, when we internalize a prejudice (a more accurate reference than “stigma”) and employ it against ourselves, that prejudice controls us, just as when we internalize a prejudice and employ it against someone else.

    Harold A Maio

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