Today it is my pleasure to welcome guest blogger Elizabeth Gramby. She’s a West Virginia native, cooking/food enthusiast and mental health advocate. Elizabeth began her journey writing early on as a way to find hope in dark places. Her writing took off when her daughter experienced a major depressive episode which almost took her life and landed her at an inpatient facility. This was a catalyst for Libbi to increase her passion for helping others, especially moms, through writing. Her goal is to fill gaps so her readers are able to find light, breath and hope while supporting their loved ones through their mental health journey.
It’s funny, as I look back, I never really thought about stigma until my daughter was diagnosed with a mental illness. Probably just like you I had heard of mental illnesses, often not in a kind way. Usually in a sarcastic or adjective way. I had an aunt that had a mental illness but it wasn’t really talked about much.
You may have the same story in your family. Now, I realize that stigma is the reason families don’t talk about it and it’s the reason that people diagnosed with a mental illness often isolate themselves and feel shame. Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” And it’s real, but the mark isn’t on us, its in them.
I read an article that said “The stigmatized individual is “reduced in our minds from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one” (Goffman E. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Simon & Schuster; New York: 1963). It’s so true.
Many may see people suffering from a mental illness that way, they may see my daughter that way. They couldn’t be more wrong. Stigma is why families keep it under wraps, it’s why some blogs are written anonymously. But it’s also why I have decided to come forward, to speak out and to tell you that my name is Elizabeth Gramby and my daughter has a mental illness. We have decided to be open and honest, to take a step towards advocacy, to let you know that we are not ashamed and you shouldn’t be either.
Just like a pancreas can malfunction, a brain can too, yet the resulting disease is perceived differently, therefore the person is as well.
My daughter has Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder but those are her diagnoses, not her identity. She does not bear a mark of disgrace, she is not tainted or to be discounted. Quite the opposite.
My daughter IS smart, witty, kind, creative and beautiful. My daughter is NOT anxiety.
Her anxiety makes her FEEL petrified, weak, depressed, embarrassed and angry but those things do not define her. I think that so often we talk about our feelings in a way that describes who we are. That we inadvertently label ourselves and determine our course, often in the wrong direction. Im #sad #weak #worthless, we are not how we feel, we are so much more.
I am no expert on Anxiety and Panic Disorder, I am not an expert on different kinds of eating disorders. I am, however, a mother helping my daughter overcome these things and let me tell ya, it’s no walk in the park.
I won’t go into a drawn out, detailed account of her struggles here as not to bore you, but for background I will say that she is 23 years old and the very first signs of this storm happened her freshman year of college. We didn’t realize at the time what was looming, we attributed it to stress and adjusting to college life. Christmas break of her sophomore year we realized that this wasn’t something that she could just manage until it passed, it wasn’t passing, it was getting worse. So off to the doctor we went and 3 medical withdraws from classes, 9 medications, 2 psychiatrists, 4 therapists and 2 hospital stays later, here we are.
As a mom, I feel helpless, but I’m not. I’m doing what I can, providing some guidance, support and all the understanding I can muster, I’m trying to be her rational voice when she can’t find hers. If I’m really honest, I feel angry. My girl has so much to offer, so much life, humor, talent and compassion yet at times she feels afraid to come out of her bedroom, afraid to eat, just…afraid.
What if we told anxiety to take a flying leap and gave it the middle finger on the way down?
What if we felt all the feels, but were defined by God? Looked through our state of mind and pressed into our knowledge, stopped being overwhelmed by our emotions and started focusing on God’s overwhelming love and peace.
What if we felt sad, but were joyful in the knowledge of Psalm 126:6? Hopeful in knowing that though we may be weeping, our tears will water the most valuable of seeds that will harvest laughter, excitement and love if we don’t give up.
What if we felt weak and took pleasure in it, boasted in it as in 2 Corinthians so that we may then feel the power of Christ rest in us and revel in HIS strength.
What if we felt worthless but prevailed as valuable, fruitful and worthy children of God?
Let’s try it shall we?
Let’s stand side by side, be open and honest about what’s happening and how we feel. Let’s work together to remind our loved ones of who they are while working through how they feel. Let’s keep the truth alive in their lives while they battle with the lies that their disorders tell them. We are not helpless or alone and they are not defined by their diagnosis.
I don’t know your situation, your diagnosis or your name, but I do know your fear. I believe that if we work together, through advocacy, honesty and education, we can fight against the stigmatic way that people see us and against the negative way we talk to and label ourselves. Remember that the stigma isn’t on us or our loved ones, it’s in those who don’t understand. We don’t carry it or wear it, they perceive it blindly.
I’m proud of my daughter and the fighter that she has become.
Let’s fight this fight together.