Breaking the Stigma

Published on: October 07, 2018

Mental health is for everyone, and a large percentage of the population faces mental health challenges. One mom shares her own experience and insights in order to help break the stigma.

By Jinae Higashino

There is an enormous stigma surrounding mental health issues. For anyone suffering from mental or neurological disorders, the thought of seeking help can feel insurmountable. Understandably, people don’t want to be labeled or stereotyped negatively. No one wants to be pitied or to feel invalidated by those who don’t understand. Furthermore, there is always the fear of major repercussions in one’s personal and professional life.

Afraid to share their struggles, many end up suffering in silence, tragically not receiving the support they need. Yet according to WHO (the World Health Organization), one in four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders in their lives.

Those who are suffering often feel they can’t talk about it and end up feeling alone, when actually, it’s a pervasive reality for many.

As a way of contributing towards breaking down this stigma, I’ve started to share more openly with others about my own struggles. I hope with time more people with mental health challenges are able to acknowledge and face their circumstances, and hopefully, realize that they are not alone. The more that people can be honest and open, the less prejudice and negative stereotyping can flourish. Below are some of my battles.

My battles

I have aphantasia, also known as mind-blindness. If you asked me to close my eyes and visualize my daughters’ faces, I couldn’t do it. But I can feel their essence in my bones, the fire in my older daughter’s being which brings forth her passionate exuberance and her uncompromising perseverance. With my younger daughter, I can feel the gentleness of her spirit fill me with calm and ease, the vibrational frequency of her soul set to the tune of unicorns and cotton candy.

I have read books voraciously ever since I was able to read, and my mind seems to have compensated for the lack of visuals by heightening other channels of perception.  One such channel seems to be emotional intensity, which can be both a blessing and a curse. In reading stories, I would largely describe my experience as a vivid emotional journey. In terms of daily life, I deeply empathize with others, yet can be destabilized by my susceptibility towards absorbing other people’s emotional states.

Whenever I feel myself starting to get destabilized, I know I need to take a step back and focus fully on my mental health.

I’ve suffered from ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) my whole life but only became aware of it once I became a mom and no longer had the time and space to compensate for it. Despite doing well academically, there had been a pervasive sense that the spinning plates I was trying to keep up were precariously about to fall and shatter at any given moment.

Unlike the name would suggest, ADD is less a shortage of attention as it is a hyperactive attention that pays attention to everything. With the commotion and lack of downtime that life with young children entails, my system easily gets overwhelmed. As a result, I need to strategize ways to conserve energy and avoid overstimulation.

In high school I was anorexic. I’ve also suffered from adjustment disorder several times from various life stressors. Depression and anxiety are occasional and unwelcome visitors, vying for control despite my efforts to evade them. I think too much, feel too deeply and intake too much to be optimally functional in this world.

Yet, persist I must. As a mom with two young developing children depending upon me, I am acutely aware that my well-being is necessary for them to thrive.

I share these things with you because I genuinely believe they are nothing to be ashamed of. These are simply my realities, the challenges I have to cope with and factor into how I manage and approach life. In managing these challenges, self-care is not a luxury but an absolute necessity. Whenever I feel myself starting to get destabilized, I know I need to take a step back and focus fully on my mental health.

A new dynamic: Becoming a parent

Becoming a parent brought a whole different dynamic to managing these challenges. Parenting is many things, but one thing is that it is not is easy. Something about the nature of it is incredibly raw and confronting, bringing to surface every unresolved issue we’ve ever dealt with. If not proactively tackled, unaddressed issues will grow exponentially, spilling over into our relationships and overall life. Becoming a parent is a huge life change and one that many people have a hard time transitioning to.

For them, I’ve come to better terms with my shortcomings and limitations. When I felt unable to cope, I finally started seeking the help I needed, knowing they were depending on me. I’ve realized the best example I can set for them is to honor my flawed self and to have compassion for my imperfections.

While parenting brings many challenges, it also gives so much new meaning and purpose in life. In loving my children, I’ve learned how to better accept and love myself.

I want to give my children the sense that their value is not tied to their achievements or in doing everything right. Instead, it is in their essence and their humanity. It is in their smiles, the quirky things that make them who they are, in their love for others, their willingness to stumble and make mistakes and to learn and grow from them. It is in their unique inner flame, the things that make them joyful and free and fully alive.

It is not in perfection but it is in authenticity. I hope they can feel comfortable in their own skin and accept themselves, shortcomings and all. I know I’ll need to continually work on doing the same for myself, so they can see an example of self-acceptance and a healthy self-regard to help steer them in the right direction.

Opening up to break the stigma

As I’ve been more open with my struggles, I’ve also found many people are more open about their own with me. Some face mental health battles themselves, others have children who have varying conditions that they are struggling to understand and support.

I’ve been surprised by just how many wonderful people I know who face daunting personal challenges. I’ve also been deeply moved by their bravery and resilience in working through trauma recovery, managing difficult conditions or dedicating themselves to supporting their children with their unique needs and challenges.

The recent high profile suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are a stark reminder that humanity is vulnerable, and even the most capable or successful amongst us is susceptible. In reality, countless brilliant, successful and inspiring people have been affected by mental health challenges.

Mental illness isn’t a personal failure and it isn’t something to be ashamed of. Rather than fearing mental health issues, we need to start recognizing it as a completely normal occurrence. There is nothing wrong with seeking help when things get tough, and it is truly one of the bravest things to seek help when it’s needed. Mental health is a vital part of life and well being, and the sooner we can break the stigma, the better!

 

About the Author

Jinae is from the US, an experienced EFL teacher with a background in child development. She is currently a BAMBI magazine assistant editor, and served as playgroup co-leader for several different BAMBI playgroups. Jinae, her husband and 2 daughters have been living in Bangkok for 3 years. In the future she plans to pursue her passion in psychology and become a certified counselor.


The views expressed in the articles in this magazine are not necessarily those of BAMBI committee members and we assume no responsibility for them or their effects.

BAMBI News welcomes volunteer contributors to our magazine. Please contact editor@bambiweb.org.

 

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