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  • Esty Rosenfeld

Breaking the Silence: Destigmatizing Medical Conditions

About this new series:

Living with a chronic or life threatening illness brings a whole host of challenges. Oftentimes, these challenges can be invisible. This makes it harder for others to be compassionate and helpful. People who experience medical issues can feel like their life is out of their control, which can make it really difficult for them to reach out for help.

The goal of this series is to raise awareness about medical conditions through storytelling and through information. Knowledge is power. Hearing and understanding people’s experiences can help you be better equipped to respond the next time you encounter someone with a medical condition.

It will hopefully make you more aware and sensitive towards others struggling. This can even be in the simplest form of avoiding the generalization and misuse of medical conditions. Doing so diminishes, undermines and devalues what individuals with those conditions experience. For example, using expressions like you’re retarded, I’m depressed, I’m so OCD can be hurtful to those who have medical retardation, depression or OCD.

I have chosen to start the series covering an individual who struggles with anxiety and depression because of its rising relevancy due to the pandemic. According to a study from the Univerity of Toronto, unemployment in combination with the isolation may cause a spike in suicide deaths.



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Baby I was born this way

As a child, I was always very quiet and shy. I am, by nature, a thinker and an observer. I process the things going on around me differently than other people. People would always ask me why aren’t you smiling? and why are you so serious? As a young child, you don’t necessarily have worries in your life. Everything is simplistic. You become more knowledgeable and aware of the world around you as you reach adolescence. I always knew I was different and it was hard for me to understand that in my naive mind. Looking back, there were definitely signs of depression. It was always a part of me which makes it a big struggle. It didn't appear, it was always there.

The Diagnosis

Around 12, it became more prominent in my life. I don’t know what triggered the flare-up but I felt a sudden emotional awareness. I didn’t know how to react to it or deal with it. I began to see what I liked and disliked in my life. I was under a lot of emotional stress in school. People were not nice to me and bullied me. They treated me differently. My mother is more towards the aggressive side and would constantly take it out on me. It sort of brought out these emotions that I was feeling inside that I didn’t know how to, or want to, identify. It was really painful. Emotional pain is not logical and there are no words to describe or explain it. It’s something I had to work on and fight with.

As time progressed and the situation got worse, I started taking it out on myself. I was around 14 when I started cutting. It was only a matter of time that someone would found out and told my parents. When they found out they took me to a therapist and a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with anxiety and depression. My official diagnosis wasn’t a shock to me because I was expecting it. But at this point in my life, I didn’t want to accept the help that was given to me.

My parents didn’t take my diagnosis well. They are also more close-minded. After a while they seem to have come to terms with it or they are just quiet. They sometimes make remarks that make me realize they don’t see the connection between mental illness and my actions. It’s hard to see sometimes. They wonder why I am in a bad mood but I am feeling depressed that day.

People around my age are more comfortable with it. I am not embarrassed of it. I think it’s something that is difficult and hard but it makes you a better person. My friends never really cared because this is just a part of me, it's who I am. The environment around us has improved to become more accepting and aware of mental health issues.

Winds of Change

My first therapist was terrible. She would yell at me and she would hold religion over my head. I didn’t feel comfortable opening up to my next therapist. I never clicked with them. I wasn’t ready or comfortable enough to share. If you don’t feel comfortable changing there’s nothing to do. It took a good few years until I found someone who I felt comfortable with. It was such a relief for me. I didn’t want to be this way. I wanted to better myself and change. I needed help to feel comfortable enough to help myself.

Those few years of finally making change were the most difficult but necessary years of my life. I wouldn't be able to be a functioning human being without going through that process. I’d be depressed and sleeping the whole day. It would make me not want to do anything and have no energy. I was a person I didn’t want to be. I experienced it and hated it. It made me feel bad about myself and it was such a low part of my life. Working on myself, no matter how difficult it was, was necessary. It made me the person I am today. Sometimes I have low points but because I did all that work, so I know how to bring myself out of it. I know how to not stay locked down. It’s okay to be sad and down for a few days as long as you know how to get yourself out of it. Some days you just don’t feel like doing anything. That’s okay but you, ultimately, need to get back up again.

Perfectly Imperfect

The number one thing I want people to know that there's nothing wrong with you. It’s not a bad thing. You shouldn’t be afraid of it. It’s just something you have and learn to live with. It has no reflection on who you are. You need to realize it isn’t a problem with you and that it is just something that you have. If you think there’s something wrong with you, you take it out on yourself. Coming to realize that makes it easier to deal with. It’s like being born with a birthmark on your hand or an allergy, it’s just a part of you.

Another important thing to realize is that sometimes you just need to reach out. I wanted to do everything myself. When I realized that it was ok to be vulnerable and ask for help, it made my healing process much smoother.

The name and all identifying details have been withheld for privacy.

If you'd like to share your story, email with 'breaking the silence' as the subject line.

The following information concerning depression, anxiety and self harm have been taken from the CDC, the National Institute of Mental Health and the Centre for Suicide Prevention for the Canadian Mental Health Association.

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