From the time my children were young, they knew I suffered from anxiety and depression. I didn’t feel it was something I needed to hide. I spoke openly to my friends and family. When my daughter presented with Selective Mutism at 2 and a half, I was very matter of fact with friends and family as well. I started a Selective Mutism support group and was surprised and saddened when parents in attendance spoke of “not wanting anyone to know.” They were ashamed. But mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. STIGMA
I worked as an early childhood educator for 10 years and made my bosses and coworkers aware that I had mental health issues. I was told in no uncertain terms that this wasn’t to be spoken of in the work environment, especially since I was on medication. They looked at it as my dirty little secret.
Something that I was afflicted with, I was about to be silenced for. I never felt ashamed, yet suddenly, if the parents knew, I was told they would pull their child out of our school. I needed my job, so I kept quiet. If I felt I was heading to depression’s pit of darkness, I knew I needed to walk that path alone. Yet, if this were a visible illness, support would have been offered.
Ultimately, a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia (widespread body pain) and type 2 Diabetes, also invisible, made the physical aspects of my job increasingly difficult. I felt there was no choice but to leave my job. I had never been a quitter. But suddenly, I was faced with being unemployed for the first time in my life, and further isolated by my illnesses. My body was betraying me. I looked in the mirror, and the once confident, vibrant woman who loved her job working with children was unrecognizable. I had lost myself, my passion, and my smile.
A year and a half later, I found my footing. Though the black dog of depression visits from time to time, I’ve come to terms with the fact that much like the sun casts a shadow, my chronic illnesses are here to stay.
Working side by side with my daughter as mental health coaches at The Selectively Silent Child, we connect with families affected by anxiety disorders, specifically Selective Mutism. I’ve come full circle: my experiences with mental illness allow me to empathize with and create coping strategies for others. I’m reconnecting with my passion for teaching in a way I never thought I could.
I have a support team and a “toolbox” of resources and strategies I’ve cultivated to help me manage my anxiety and depression, so that mental illness can never control me again.
By supporting platforms like The Dialogue Projects, people with mental illness are refusing to suffer in silence with a “dirty little secret”.