“Why we’re so afraid” – Visalia Times

Since the death of Robin Williams, I’ve noticed on social media a new-found awareness of mental health. Before his death, I rarely saw any posts or articles concerning mental illness. In a way, it’s heartwarming and reassuring to see people taking this seriously. But at the same time, it took the death of an amazing man to bring this issue to light.

For as long as I can remember, there’s been this stigma surrounding mental illness. Someone acts inappropriately, and they are almost immediately labeled. “Oh, sure, Jenny’s cute but she’s psycho, stay away from her.”

The truth is that there is not a single person out there who is completely sane, or can say that they don’t know anyone who has gone through some form of mental illness. It may be depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc., but the fact remains that all of us, at least at some point of our lives, has experienced these feelings. The only difference is that some of us can’t control these feelings.

It has nothing to do with being weak, which is what we’re taught.

So you’re sad? Okay, get happy then.

So you’re anxious? Take some deep breaths, focus on the positive, you’ll feel better.

If you can’t do that, then you’re just not being strong enough.

This attitude that society has, that we’ve been taught, is why tragedies like Mr. Williams’ happen. No one wants to be the crazy person. No one wants to admit that they can’t control themselves. No one wants to be looked at out of the corner of eyes and whispered about.

So I’m taking a stand to say that I am that crazy woman.

I have dealt with depression and anxiety my entire life. I can’t blame a traumatic childhood. While it’s true my parents divorced when I was young, my mom remarried a man who always viewed me as his own. I wasn’t beaten or verbally abused. Sure, I was teased, but what kid isn’t at some point?

My crazy is part of me, like my brown eyes or the way I snort when I laugh. It always has been and always will be.

What makes me different is that I got help. Granted, it took a broken leg, a trip to the emergency room, and then a five-day stay in Kaweah Mental Health to get that help, but I got it.

Why did it take those extremes, you might ask? Because I was afraid of being the crazy girl. I was afraid of admitting that I couldn’t control myself. I was afraid of asking for help, for admitting that I was weak. And then I reached the point where I gave up and didn’t care because I was so tired, so exhausted of feeling the way I was feeling. I imagine that was the point Mr. Williams had reached Tuesday morning. It’s a lonely, dark place to be in and sometimes, you see no way out.

So where was this awareness when I was struggling? Why was I so afraid of being who I am and admitting I was drowning?

I’m not writing this to tell my story. I’m writing this because there are others out there, like me, who are afraid to ask for help. Who are afraid, period.

Mental illness does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, it can still find you. As a society and a community, we should be embracing each other, supporting each other, instead of passing on that fear. Because that’s where our attitude comes from — we’re afraid of mental illness because we don’t understand it completely. But by supporting the Mental Health Association, or by just listening to someone, we can start to understand it better. We can maybe start changing things.

So I’m the crazy woman. And I always will be. And without the love and support of amazing family and friends, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this. And hopefully someone will read this and realize that they’re not alone.

I’m here.

Nichole Barnett

Tulare