A Painful Realization: The Negative Stigma Still Surrounding Mental Health

I’ve been labeled many things during my 21 years: a female, a daughter, a sister, a niece, a cousin, a relative, a student, a friend, an athlete, an employee, and the list goes on…

But I reject being labeled as a victim of the negative mental health stigma.

I was brave enough to seek treatment for my mental health. Every waking second, I work to recover successfully. This is the most challenging path I have ever walked; it demands my constant energy and attention. Why does my bravery to speak up beget discrimination?

I’m incredibly fortunate to have received top-notch care, and to have overwhelming outside support in my journey to overcoming depression and anxiety. Perhaps this has made me naïve for having a very small part of me believe that I would never experience being stereotyped based solely on my decision to seek help.

It’s been a couple of weeks now since the following incident occurred. Since then, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of how to phrase this in a way that wouldn’t come across as purely emotional – which is ironic in a way because something that’s been really important to me in my recovery is not caring so much what other people think.

While I’m disappointed in myself that I allowed this single incident to halt the progress I’ve made with my blog, I won’t tolerate myself dwelling on the negative. What’s done is done; all that I can change now is how I choose to move forward. I hit a roadblock, and I will continue on.

*****NOTE: I will be pursuing a formal complaint with her office, as well as with any other official channels I am able to find. *****

I had finished with program for the day, and was getting ready to drive to the scheduled blood-work appointment that my IOP doctor requested I have done so he could review it before my discharge date in 2 days.

Approaching my car, I noticed that the large car next to me was parked awfully close to mine. After getting in my car, I determined that I could still see just enough to get out of the parking spot safely. After leaving the parking lot, I was driving down the street when I suddenly noticed that I couldn’t see out of my right rearview mirror. I adjusted it while at a red light, but a minute later, realized that I shouldn’t have had to adjust it so much…

It dawned on me that the mirror had actually been pushed inwards, so I pulled into a parking lot to manually adjust it. It was then that I observed scratches on the outside of the mirror, and also on the passenger side door that hadn’t been there before.

A decision had to be made: either I make my scheduled appointment, or I drive back to the parking lot to see if the offending car was still there. I called my mom for an executive decision, and she said that “body-work is expensive” so I should definitely go back.

So, I drove back and sure enough, the vehicle was still there. After taking some pictures, I went to the front desk and told the receptionist what had happened, and suddenly a woman whom I had never seen before began sharply defending the other car saying that I “couldn’t possibly be sure”, etc. etc. (acting emotionally defensive as if it was her own car)

I told her that, in fact, I was 100% confident that it’s the same car that had parked next to me because I remembered it was a maroon, large SUV-type vehicle. Also, it was in the same area that I had parked originally, PLUS I could see now that it was visibly parked over the parking line, which backed up my earlier thought of “wow, that car is super close to mine…”

Begrudgingly, this unknown woman walked with me to my car (which I had parked a couple of spots over from the offending car) so I could show her the damage to my car, and also to show her the offending car.

She made a few notations on a pad of paper, including the license plate, and walked me back inside. She directed me to a small room, where she said I could wait as they tried to locate the owner. I heard the announcements over the loudspeaker as they asked the owner to come to the front desk.

Maybe 15 minutes later, the woman comes back and says that they located the owner, and that they deny hitting my car. She said that there’s really nothing else they can do, but I was welcome to go outside and call the police to file a report if I wanted. I told her I needed to call my mom and see what she thinks first. She said that was fine, and that she just needs to know what I decide do. She told me I could find her at the reception desk near the small room.

My mom said that I should file a report with the police for our insurance, and she found a non-emergency number for the local PD. She said to just call and ask if it’s even worth them coming out for. So, I then went to find this unknown woman to tell her that I’d be filing a police report. I went outside, called the number, and soon an officer arrived. I explained to him what had happened and we started to walk over to my car. We had just rounded the corner of the building when a disheveled blonde woman hurried up to us.

In my mind, I thought, “this must be the owner of the car, she looks okay”, but a second later, she introduced herself as the car’s owner’s attorney. “Why does this person need an attorney?” I immediately thought, “and how did she get her so damn fast??”

I was caught off guard, but as the three of us approach my car, and I collected myself and began to explain what I believed to have happened. The attorney (who I will now refer to as L.F.) immediately began attacking “my story” and speaking to me in a very derogatory manner. I’d never had a personal encounter with a lawyer before, so to say I was flustered would be an understatement. At one point during the conversation, L.F. tried to “rub-out” the deep scratch by licking her finger.

After a few minutes, L.F. took the officer aside and began speaking with him in a hushed tone. I moved closer in hopes of being a part of the conversation, but all I could make out was “in treatment”. The officer announced that he needed to go to his car to get a piece of paper. I asked him if I should go with him, or what he wanted me to do. He said that it was up to me, but by now, L.F. had out a notebook and was drawing a diagram of my car. I decided that I should probably stay with my car since a stranger is poking at it.

I called my mom, and was becoming increasingly upset with this L.F.’s words and actions. I was confused and scared. At this point, she was walking around the complete other side of my car that had not been damaged by “her client”. My mom tried calming me down over the phone and reminded me that there are some horrible, awful people in the world and that I obviously had just met one of them.

What had started out as me trying to handle a new situation on my own was quickly turning into a nightmare that I desperately wanted to end. Eventually, another male officer approached us. I gathered that L.F. met him earlier in the day because she asked him how the “patient was doing and if they were breathing better”. A couple of minutes went by, and the original officer walked back over. At this point, the second officer and L.F. were speaking on the same-level as equals.

I suddenly felt as though I was being treated as if I was just some kid in therapy, throwing wild accusations around and wasting everyone else’s time.

One of the officers handed me a card with a case number written on it, as well as his badge number. I asked if that was all, and he said yes. L.F. flashed her notebook at the officers and asked if they wanted a copy of her notes. They said that that wouldn’t be necessary. She turned to me, and proceeded to “let me know” that (DIRECT QUOTE) “A car-wash at Pepboys is only $7…” I cut her off mid-sentence and informed her that I don’t need to go to Pepboys because, in fact, a carwash would NOT fix the issue.

As the officers and L.F. were walking away, she turned around and said one short sentence to me-something that I never dreamed someone (let alone a professional) would even think to say to another person… (DIRECT QUOTE)

Good luck with therapy, you need it!

I felt my face get hot; it was like someone just punched me in the stomach. The shock was immediate, and I walked silently to my car and sat in the driver’s seat. I watched cautiously as L.F. and the officers left my field of vision before calling my mom a final time to let her know what just happened. I recognized that I wasn’t in any shape to drive.

A big part of me knew that I really needed to go back inside and ask to see my therapist. The only thing stopping me was the overwhelming, sudden shame that I felt. I thought, “If I go back inside visibly upset and seeking my therapist, isn’t that just solidifying everything she just said?” I swallowed the little pride I had and made the difficult decision to go back inside. As I approached the door, I saw that one of the officers was actually still in his unmarked car.

I didn’t care whether or not he saw me go back inside: I needed help.

I desperately asked the familiar receptionist if either of my therapists were available, and frantically mumbled that it was kind-of an emergency. The last thing that L.F. had said to me suddenly spilled out, and I watched the receptionist’s eyes widen as she realized this situation required EVERYONE. She came out behind the desk and led me to another small room (we pass the rude receptionist who I just gave a look of disdain-as if to say “look what you did”) and she stayed with me until people started pouring in one by one. I then spoke with the office manager, two therapists, and three other people of who I have no idea of their positions.

After I stopped hyperventilating and caught my breath, my body flooded with intense anger. I was told initially that L.F. was probably not an attorney because “people aren’t always who they say they are”, to which I asked, “then how was this able to happen?” and was answered with, “…because people have free-will”.

It was then determined that L.F. may actually be an attorney, and also a patient there. That was when the intense anger came into play. I was furious, fuming in fact. “Why was this woman allowed to use her position of authority to diminish me as a person?” I wanted answers.

I also wanted revenge-I wanted L.F. held accountable for her hateful words. I was advised to pity her, because she “obviously has many deeply rooted issues”, and I’m “lucky that I’m in such a positive place to not let this ‘incident’ de-rail my continued progress.”

I’d love nothing more than to smear L.F.’s name across the Internet and to serve her up as the martyr for the huge issue of the mental health stigma. But that’s not who I intrinsically am-I have never sought to intentionally hurt another individual.

Along the years, I’ve come to understand that everyone has their own struggle, and it’s not up to anyone else to judge them for it. Who are we to judge? Have you yourself never sinned? While I’m not a religious person, I’ve recently become more spiritual and those words have always resonated with me.

L.F. perfectly embodies everything still wrong with the way people view mental health in today’s society. It’s the fear of meeting people like her, that many others are afraid to seek treatment (which would make their suffering “public”). For many, the fear of having this horrible stigma attached to them for life is enough to keep their struggle silent.

Seeking treatment is what everyone should be pushing for! Why should people getting help for an illness be shamed? Don’t we want the world to be happy? People should want other people to feel positive. While treatment can take many forms, as it’s very individualized, and any source of treatment is a positive.

This woman had assumed that I would cower before her; that I would allow her to win; that her position of authority entitled her to belittle another person; that I would just let this go — but I can’t.

L.F. opened my eyes to a new cause that needs my support, a cause where I can make a difference if even for one person. This isn’t just about me-it’s about making sure she (and others) isn’t permitted to do this to another person. What if it had been my second day of treatment, rather than my second to last? What if I didn’t have the support to help me though the stinging words? What if I suicide was still on my mind? What if I took those words as truth? What if?

There’s no way to know how much further a person can be pushed before they break. It’s scary that this happened outside my safe-place treatment center…there was no thought into how her actions and words would affect me. L.F. had no way to know if those words would send me over the edge. Luckily, she does not have my blood on her hands, nor will she ever.

Little did this woman know, I am so much stronger now than ever been before. I will not back down; I will not stand to be labeled “less-than”; I am not my depression and anxiety; I am Emmy-and I’m here to stay: this is my journey.



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