"I struggle with mental illness." These are five words that, for many people, remain tucked away out of fear of judgment and shame. Mental illness is one of the most misunderstood, yet most prevalent diseases. There aren’t always physical symptoms, and there isn’t always logic or reason behind a diagnosis. I am sharing my story to help de-stigmatize mental illness and to let others who are struggling know – you are not alone.
My mental health journey can be attributed to a series of stressful and traumatic experiences from a young age as well as my brain chemistry. While internalizing these experiences, helping to take care of my family and trying to navigate the social and academic pressures that present themselves in high school, I began to blame myself for all of the chaos I faced. When I began to reach my rock bottom, I reached out to my school guidance counselors who directed me to the right resources.
Over the years, I’ve been diagnosed with and treated for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), depression, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), agoraphobia and Type III panic disorder. Today I am pleased to share that I have most of these conditions in a highly manageable state. My mental health professionals have shared with me that I am currently in a state of post-traumatic growth. I celebrate each day I feel good in my own skin. My growth has made me more empathetic and understanding, which has allowed for the creation of deep and meaningful connections with both co-workers and customers throughout my career.
I’ve learned a lot along my healing journey. First, healing is not linear and there is no end point when it comes to health (mental or physical). Second, my mental illness does not define me. It is not my fault, nor is it an excuse. It is my responsibility to choose how I show up every day. Finally, I’ve learned that mental and physical health do impact one another and that managing both requires a lot of flexibility, trial and error. Sometimes medicine works. Sometimes therapy works. Sometimes eating better, getting more sleep and going on a hike with my dog works. Sometimes I need to reach out to someone in my support system. Sometimes it’s a combination of all of these things.
Sometimes there are days when nothing works. This is when I must accept where I am and choose to love myself anyway. I do not believe that mental illness makes me weak, nor do I want to be treated differently because of it. In fact, I sometimes view my diagnoses as my superpowers. My ADHD, for example, has prompted me to create detailed lists to track my work at L3Harris. I turned this process into an internal excellence program to obtain a certification!
While I have come a long way, I recognize that my fear of judgement and shame is something I might always carry with me. Regardless, I hope that sharing my truth doesn’t cloud how others view me. Deep down, I know that I belong here, I matter and I am enough. The following quote from Astrid Alauda hangs from my rearview mirror as a daily reminder of this: “Don’t let your mind bully your body into believing it must carry the burden of its worries.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, there is no shame in opening up about it or asking for help. It’s safe to talk about these experiences with trusted people in your life, perhaps even some of your colleagues at L3Harris. Pursue resources that resonate with you and your healing journey. This doesn’t make you less-than. And above all, choose love. Love for yourself and for the world around you. You are so very worth it.