More Than a Diagnosis

By Marianne PanoMay 28, 2019

I used to wonder a lot about depression and suicidal ideation. For instance, being depressed doesn’t mean you’re suicidal, but if you’re suicidal, then how are you not depressed? And yet, I never felt valid enough to call what I was feeling depression. It didn’t fit. All of the stories I had heard and read about detailed the lives of people with depression as those who couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, were prescribed antidepressants and went to therapy. Thus, I decided I couldn’t be depressed, because I could get out of bed, I didn’t need medication, and I enjoyed socializing.

I was 11 when I realized I was suicidal. Even then, I knew I was suicidal before I knew I was depressed. I’d go to school, have something frustrating happen—anything—go home and vent about it in my diary, cry, sleep, wake up the next morning and repeat. I didn’t think I had it as bad as everyone else seemed to, so I never spoke up. But in my freshman year of high school, I broke down in the middle of my honors biology class and finally went to the counseling office and admitted I thought about killing myself.

For about a month after, I saw a counselor. One day, though, on a car ride home following a session, one of my parents yelled about the fact that I was seemingly more comfortable talking to a stranger than to them. My guilt ballooned and I stopped going. I pretended it was just “a phase” and everyone bought it.

I understood why they were frustrated. Part of their reaction derived from our Asian culture: family is the first priority, oftentimes followed by education and religion, albeit not necessarily in that order. I could see the reasons for their upset, but still, it hurt. And yet, just as they had, I ultimately blamed myself for not finding the courage to talk to them.

It wasn’t until the next year that I made the decision to return to therapy on my own terms. I met with a licensed therapist through a school program during the day without needing my parents’ permission. For an hour each week, I spilled the thoughts in my head. Eventually, we reached the topic of stigma.

Stigma was not a new word to me. But it was never more than just a word—until my therapist brought it up. And just like that, everything clicked.

The logic, in my head, goes as follows: Stigma sets the societal precedent. Stigma equates to misconceptions. To break the stigma surrounding mental health, you have to talk about mental health. But you shouldn’t have to talk about your mental health in the first place, because it’s your business, and you shouldn’t have to prove anything.

But society needs justification. We don’t believe anything without proof, without testimony. We uphold stigma because, in order to break it, you have to use it.

So although I may not want to talk about my mental health, I am because I can, and maybe because I have to.

I used to be so intrinsically opposed to telling other people about my mental health out of fear that it would define me. I worried it would spiral my being into a character that wasn’t me, that was labeled strictly by her struggles. But I won’t let that deter me any more than it already has.

I have anxiety and depression. I’ve struggled with suicidal ideation. But I’ve learned that I am more than a diagnosis, and I don’t have to pick between labels—I can be battling anxiety while still graduating high school with recognition for academic excellence. I can deal with depression while still being social and not reclusive. I do not need to be tiptoed around; I am not a ticking time bomb. I’m a person. People aren’t one-dimensional, and the sooner I feel I can be treated like everyone else despite my struggles, the better.

It’s the refusal to acknowledge the spectrum of mental health that hurts more than anything else. But by talking about it, I hope others realize they are more than their struggles, too, and in turn, break the stigma around mental health.

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Comments (8)

  1. Katze

    I don’t even have a diagnosis, because I don’t have the time – or the strength – to get professional help. My friends do their best. And I’m not as far in as some people I know.
    But I can’t stop the dark thoughts – I literally have no control over them and it’s terrifying. And I don’t want to bother my friends or make their busy and stressful days worse. The world doesn’t revolve around me. I have no idea how to get out. I don’t live in the States, and the Stigma is strong is western Europe. I’m stuck.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Hi Katze,

      First, we just want to say that we’re grateful for honesty and willingness to be vulnerable with us. We understand that you might not want to tell your friends or reach out for help because you feel it would be a burden, but we need you to know that there are people who want to help and support you. The struggles you’re facing are difficult and we don’t want you to face them alone because you don’t have to. We hope you can find the energy and time to email our team at [email protected]. It would be an honor to offer you some encouragement and connect you to help.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  2. Ethan Hall

    Hi Marianne,
    I am grateful for your whole post. But your fifth paragraph really grabbed my attention.

    Do you remember the name or details of “… a school program during the day without needing my parents’ permission?” I sponsor a support network at a public high school in Florida. I value strategies that lead to awareness & help in situations with adversarial parents.


    Reply  |  
  3. Heather

    You are so awesome and brave to talk about mental health issues I have bipolar 1 disorder and I have faced the struggle with stigma my entire life I tend to not talk about it with most people because of the judgement and also getting to hear from family and friends how I’m just lazy staying home and getting paid for my desire to not work (if I was able to work I would I used to be more on the manic side and worked 2 full time jobs until I had to have a hysterectomy in 2004 which caused everything to spiral out of control I was 30 at the time) The last time I tried to work was in 2011 I had the job for 3 whole months and I was at work maybe half of it I am more than my diagnosis unfortunately I rapid cycle constantly between mania and depression and also mixed episodes

    Reply  |  
  4. Robbin Melton

    I recently had a very serious health scare which has manifested into depression and anxiety, and PTSD. I am on a blood thinner, so I’ve been thinking about how easy it would be to let myself be injured so I could just bleed out.
    I sought help…thank god my city has psychiatric urgent care. I’m now in group therapy via a weeklong outpatient program, and I talked to a psychiatrist today. So grateful help is out there because I was losing my mind.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Hi Robin,

      We are so, so glad that you have found help to support you through this difficult time in your life. The thoughts you were and may continue to experience are overwhelming, but we want you to know that you are not alone in how you feel, and you are absolutely worthy of the help you’re receiving. If you ever need to talk, you can email our team at [email protected].

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  5. Jules

    I started to read the excerpts on IG to my husband and he asked them why do I want to talk about it. So I came to read the rest. I don’t mind going to therapy but I’ve tried to talk about mental health issues to try to break the stigma. But have lost friends bc of sharing. I don’t tell others about it now.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Hi Jules,

      We hope you know that you are always welcome to talk about your mental health journey here and with us. We’re sorry to know that some of your friendships have suffered due to your honesty when it comes to mental illness, but we need you to know that we are inspired by your vulnerability.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
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