Fighting Stigma on the Home Field

By Sharon BabuMay 5, 2014

Admitting you struggle with mental illness is difficult for anyone. It definitely is for me. It’s terrifying, paralyzing, and just plain awful. I’ve struggled with depression for many years; it’s been less than a couple years since I could say this out loud though. Not just because of my fear, but because of my family’s cultural background.

I was born and raised in California, but my parents moved here from India in their twenties, a few years after getting married. They’ve raised me and my older brother with strong values and morals and always tried their best to support us. Naturally though, we disagree on many things, usually having to do with their upbringing in India. It’s been the cause of many of our arguments. One of the many topics our family avoided was mental illness. I didn’t have much knowledge on the subject; honestly, I’m not even sure if I identified depression as a mental illness back then.

Freshmen year was when I began struggling more noticeably. One day on the way home from school, my mom asked me why I was acting so weird. I was just so tired of hiding everything and ended up blurting out that I thought I was depressed. Three years later, I still remember her reaction vividly. She screamed at me, saying I didn’t know what I was talking about. That so many people were struggling in the world, and I should never ever say something like that again.

I was pretty angry with her, but it did teach me to keep my mouth shut. I assumed that everyone else would react similarly and I was on my own. I didn’t stop to consider that my mom had acted that way due to her culture. I didn’t know that her brother struggled with schizophrenia while growing up. I didn’t know that in India they had mistakenly labeled his schizophrenia as depression, and that was still what my mom thought it was. I just didn’t know.

I showed no signs of what my mom had learned to call depression. I barely had any noticeable signs to her, other than moodiness and a desire to isolate myself from everyone and everything. But even though it wasn’t really my mom’s fault, it didn’t stop the stigma from affecting me. I labeled myself as an ungrateful, weak freak. Nothing awful in my life had happened, yet I was so miserable.

After an unsuccessful suicide attempt many months later, my parents could no longer deny that something was wrong with me. It took them about a year to come to terms with the fact that this could be a lifelong struggle for me. That year included much treatment and hours of grueling family therapy. They still struggle with the concept of mental illness at times; so do I. But I try my best to not be scared of the stigma anymore. People judge what they don’t know, and I’m OK with that. I’m OK with not being OK. I’m OK with the fact that I do need people. 

This thing we call stigma is what holds so many of us back from getting help. And it comes from anywhere: culture, society, family. Actually, I think the hardest stigma to get past is the one that comes from within you. Even now, I have days, even weeks, where I judge myself so harshly for something I can’t control. But I come out of it eventually, and I always will.

The other day I was watching Wreck It Ralph, and one of the characters, Vanellope, seemed to apply to this concept of being different and stigmatized. She was a glitch in the computer programming, and everyone ostracized her for it. The part that really got to me was when one of the bullies says, “You’re a glitch, and that’s all you’ll ever be!” Sometimes, that’s how I feel. I feel like I’m just this depressed girl who can’t do anything meaningful, because how can I? I’m just some screw-up who can’t handle anything. But in the end, Vanellope is revealed to be much more than a glitch—she’s actually the princess of her world, as well as a champion. And her “glitching” makes her that much more powerful.

We’re obviously not in a Disney movie, and we don’t have picture-perfect happy endings in the sunset. Our roots, our cultures, and our surroundings can be a heavy weight upon us sometimes. But you can still be happy and loved. You can still fight—fight the stigma, and fight for yourself. As I write this, I’m afraid. I’m afraid of being judged, and I’m afraid of voicing what’s been such a private matter for me the past few years—but if one person identifies with this, then that’s OK. The more you know and the more you understand, the less you’ll be afraid.

Leave a Reply

Comments (12)

  1. Geralynn

    I realized a few days ago i’m starting to backslide into a dark place…I can’t tell you how badly i NEEDED the wreck it ralph analogy or really your entire story this morning. I’m going to make an appointment. Because you’re right, we need to fight for ourselves. Thank you 🙂

    Reply  |  
  2. Ilyse

    I have suffered from depression and anxiety for over 15 years. It took me until the past 7 years to share this with more and more friends. It’s not easy but so worth the support I have received. I hope you are having a similar experience. Thank you for sharing your story!!!

    Reply  |  
  3. Fellow fighter

    Sharon I want to encourage you to keep fighting the stigma within yourself. Depression is real and it affects us greatly, that does not makes us weak or unworthy. I too have struggled with it for almost six year but couldn’t accept it for what it was or even say the word depression out loud until a year and a half ago.Don’t let the stigma stop you from sharing. Yes some people will still judge you, you can’t control that, but there will be people who don’t judge. People who accept you for who you are with all your struggles and love you. Those people will make all the difference in your journey of healing.

    Reply  |  
  4. Tina

    I think you area very brave and strong person. I have people in my life that I love so very much that struggle with depression and anxiety. I do everything I can to support them and I always will. Keep your head held high and know that you are loved by your family and friends. You area winner.

    Reply  |  
  5. Julie Kraft

    Thank you so much for sharing your story – I loved reading every word and related to so many of the feelings you shared! Your words are powerful because they come from a place of true understanding. Your willingness to be real, vulnerable and authentic is inspiring and rare to find these days. There are so many people who are struggling in silence and hiding behind masks because of the fear of being judged or viewed as weak or ‘less than’- your story will undoubtedly help others to know that they are not alone and that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of. I wore a mask for 15 years before being properly diagnosed with bipolar II. Even after my diagnosis, I felt ashamed and embarrassed because of the stigma attached to bipolarity- (that we are all crazy maniacs running naked down the freeway!) and I too had to get past my own harsh judgement of myself. I finally mustered up the courage to ‘out’ myself to my family, friends and the world ( GULP) a few weeks ago in a video about my journey – my greatest hope in doing so was to open minds, shatter stigmas and help others – the outpouring of support that I have received from others has overwhelmed me! I hope that you too will experience the same love and acceptance from all those who hear your story. You are stronger than you will ever know for sharing it and never ever underestimate the impact your words can have! Thanks again for sharing such a private part of yourself!

    Reply  |  
  6. Jeniffer

    This hits SO close to home for me! Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply  |  
  7. L

    I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you sharing your story. I am in my late 20’s and have struggled with depression at least since high school. Your story reminds me that I am not alone and that we all need each other. Thank you for sharing

    Reply  |  
  8. Summer

    Thank you so much for sharing. I had a similar issue accepting my depression. I put such high standards and expectations on myself that it was and still is sometimes hard for me to accept that I need help from others. I know how hard it is to open up so thank you for sharing with us.

    Reply  |  
  9. Valerie

    Hey love!
    You are so smart, kind, loving, and brave. I love you so much. You have gone through so much and have made so much progress in these last couple years. I know there are some hard days still but you can get through them. I believe in you. You are doing such an amazing thing by sharing your story with others. You are such an inspiration to me and to many others! Keep up the good work hun! 🙂

    Reply  |  
  10. Elizabeth

    Thank you for sharing your story… you are definitely not alone in your fight. And reading your story reminds me that I’m not alone, either. The more I open up and am honest with the people around me about what I’m going through, and the more opportunities I take to spread awareness and educate those around me, the more hopeful I begin to feel. Two-thirds of those struggling with depression never seek help–and suicide is the third leading cause of death in 10-24 year olds. The most common barrier between someone struggling and the help they need is that stigma. Fighting the stigma–erasing the stigma–it really can save lives. And by opening up and sharing your story, you’re helping to do just that. Wishing you strength, and grateful for that you’ve demonstrated here.

    Reply  |  
  11. Maritza

    Thank you, for sharing! I know a lot of us benefit from your story because it reminds us that through our struggle we are not alone. Especially, when it comes to stigma upon mental illness.
    Stay strong, you’re amazing!

    Reply  |  
  12. Rebecca

    I relate to this so much, thank you so much for writing this. Mental illnesses are an avoided topic at my house as well, the few times I’ve brought it up brought no good results but this gives me hope. “I labeled myself as an ungrateful, weak freak. Nothing awful in my life had happened, yet I was so miserable.” This really resonates with me so much, I always felt like I didn’t have a right to be depressed when so many people had it much worse. You’re such a strong person, thank you for sharing

    Reply  |  
Get Email Updates

Sign up for our newsletter to hear updates from our team and how you can help share the message of hope and help.