Opinion

Why I talk about mental illness when stigma tells me I shouldn’t

Are you sure you want to do this? That’s a question I’ve been asked repeatedly.

But it started off as a question I asked myself. Sitting on my bathroom floor with a blade in my hand or in my bed next to a bottle of pills. Are you sure you want to do this?

For the first seven years I asked myself this question, the answer was no. Yes, I wanted to do this, but no I was not sure. Then at 19, I reached rock bottom and it became an undoubted yes. Yes, I am sure. I am sure that I hurt more than I can handle. I am sure that this is my only option. I am sure I want to take my life.

I was admitted to the inpatient psychiatric unit as a voluntary patient. As the nurse was getting ready to take me to the ward, she asked, “Are you sure you want to do this?” No, I was not sure. My brain was screaming at me to say no. But the nurse didn’t ask my illness what it wanted. She asked me. And while me and my illness had almost completely morphed into one being, a little bit of me was left. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Yes. I want to be admitted.

While me and my illness had almost completely morphed into one being, a little bit of me was left.

My will to live was non-existent. Seeing the state I was in, the doctor suggested I try electroconvulsive therapy, ECT. I was willing to try. I knew I wasn’t going to be allowed to leave the hospital any time soon in my current condition and ECT required no effort from me –perfect since I had no effort to give. We were ready to begin, and I’m asked, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Mental illness said no, but Rachel said yes. I had nothing to lose.

After three sessions, the staff noticed a change in me. I continued with the treatment and continued to improve. I kept a journal at this time and the tone of my entries started to change. I was by no means cured but my will to live had returned. The question, “Are you sure you want to do this?” re-entered my mind. But now the “this” I was referring to wasn’t dying but fighting. Yes. I am sure. I am sure I want to beat this.

The next nine months were extremely difficult. Every day I asked myself “Are you sure you want to do this?” Much of the time the answer was no. Fighting was too hard. I couldn’t do this. But somehow, I kept going. Somehow, I made it through. For the first time in maybe 10 years, I felt good. It was strange. I didn’t know how to be happy. I had struggled in silence for most of my life but felt a newfound pride in what I had just survived. I wanted to share my story.

For the first time in maybe 10 years, I felt good.

I told my Mom that in a couple of weeks, on the one-year anniversary of my discharge, I was going to share my story on Instagram. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked. I had never been more sure. “Wait until you are settled in a career” was her response. Her concern was valid.

Then I saw Dr. Jake (Jake Goodman) disclose his history with mental illness. In his post he said, “As a doctor training to be a psychiatrist, most in the field would advise me to not post this. Some would view it as a risk for my career.” I had heard the same thing and my career hadn’t even begun. I asked myself again, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Yes, I am.

When I started high school, I was sure I wasn’t going to live to graduate. When I reached rock bottom at 19, I was sure I wasn’t going to make it to 20. Now, at 21, I am sure there is nothing I want to do more than create change. To use my story to advocate for kids getting lost in the mental-health care system. To become a doctor and treat mental-health patients as they deserve to be treated.

I know there is stigma surrounding the illness that nearly took my life. I know that even though I have come out the other side, it will be hard for people to look beyond my past. But we will never break the stigma by continuing to give into it.

So, you ask if I am sure I want to share my story? Yes. I am sure I want to do this.

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Rachel Lebovic

Contributor

Rachel Lebovic is a Toronto native and an undergraduate student on the pre-med track at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., studying neuroscience and behavioural biology.

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