For as long as I can remember, I have been “okay” according to society’s definition. Yet, I’ve experienced everything from the fear of sleeping as a young child, to the onset of terrifying obsessive thoughts as an adolescent, to the ever-worsening panic attacks and paralyzing anxiety throughout my high school and college years. This all culminated in two debilitating dissociative episodes as an adult. To this day, I have no recollection of two lost weekends – the first in summer 2004 and the second in fall 2007.
Looking back now, from my 49-year-old adult and better-equipped perspective, I can see all the triggers and related physical and emotional manifestations. I continue working to manage my mental illness on a day-to-day basis, no different from how a Type 1 diabetic manages that disease.
For some reason, I did everything to hide my “not okay-ness” from the world. After years of therapy and a highly effective regime of medications, there were still times that I chose the path of least resistance, the same path that far too many people choose: to suffer in silence. For decades I outwardly displayed a facade, that of a usually smiling, highly functioning, type-A successful overachiever. I had, subconsciously or not, chosen to accept society’s stigma rather than embrace my own vulnerability.
If I’m being brutally honest, for the first 33 years of my life, I knew deep down that something wasn’t right. That all began to change in the fall of 2004. With the help of my adoring wife and treasured therapist Dr. K, I finally began to find my voice. The memory of Dr. K brings a smile to my face as his kind and gentle demeanor never wavered, even when faced with a spiraling NYC finance executive.
The voice I found was so loud and powerful, that it led me to recognize my heart, own my feelings and truly take care of myself. I resigned from my 18-year corporate career in September 2011 to move west. My wife, two cats and I headed to the snow-capped mountains of Colorado where my full healing process could finally unfold and where I founded and co-host the mental health podcast From Survivor to Thriver.
I write this as both a reminder and, in many ways, a plea for all of us to recognize that there is no stigma in experiencing trauma, depression and anxiety and in allowing those emotions to flow freely. Mental illness can impact anyone at any time. In no way does it discriminate due to one’s socioeconomic status or physical strength and vitality. As a long-time sufferer of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety, I know all too well how repressed feelings can suddenly, and often at the most inconvenient times, burst to the surface like a tsunami with nary a care for what or who is directly in its path.
It is with this in mind that I ask you to become your own advocate. Reach out to friends, family, loved ones and, in some cases, licensed mental health professionals, to talk about how you’re feeling in the face of uncertainty. Please, take the time to be introspective as you, too, may have pushed on in the face of uncertain times and, consciously or not, didn’t hit the pause button to address what you were truly feeling.
Stigma says we shouldn’t talk openly about these things. I say we should! Stigma also says we shouldn’t stand high upon the mountain top, vulnerable and transparent, for the entire world to see. I say we must!
Together, let’s work to break the stigma of mental illness and remind one another that it’s perfectly okay to not always be okay. Collectively, and with a bit of patience, we’ll get through this, I promise.