How Mental Health Stigmas Inspired Me

People often ask my motivations for starting NoStigmas. Of course, losing my father to suicide when I was six has a lot to do with it. Living with anxiety and depression are also part of the equation. But it was a single phrase that showed me the reality of mental health stigmas.

Once upon a time, I was VP of Sales for a growing computer hardware company. I earned a generous living, had a nice car and a lofted condo in River North, Chicago. But I was miserable. Two or three meals a day were eaten at my desk, workouts were nonexistent and I was on a mind-numbing pharmaceutical cocktail. I had an ulcer, my anxiety was out of control and my depression was so bad that sometimes I just couldn’t get out of bed.

But it was when my sales numbers started to slip that things really came to a head. The owner assumed that I just didn’t care or had one foot out the door. My well-rehearsed excuses were no longer effective. After four years of working together, it was finally time to tell him the truth. I admitted that I’d lived with debilitating anxiety attacks since high school and that my depression was hindering me from functioning at a base level, let alone performing to the best of my ability.

What an incredible sense of relief! I hadn’t realized the weight I was living under having to hide the biggest thing in my life. For the first time in forever I had hope. I knew I would make it though the darkness if I just had a little support..

He said, “It sounds to me like you just have a weak constitution, Jake.”

He said, “It sounds to me like you just have a weak constitution, Jake.” A weak constitution. Meaning that my very makeup was flawed. This man who I had considered a friend and a mentor had just cut me down to nothing in one fell swoop.

I realized two things that day:

  1. People really didn’t understand mental illness.
    2. He was an ***hole and I needed to quit that job ASAP.

Since then, I’ve made it my mission to help dispel the negative stigmas surrounding mental health issues. Along the way I’ve learned how to have wellness in lieu of anxiety and depression. I’ve also had the opportunity to help many people find their own powerful path to living well with mental illness. It’s all proven, beyond a doubt, that chemistry does not equal character and my constitution is anything but flawed.

Chemistry is Not Equal to Character

I recently took my girlfriend camping in the Los Padres National Forest. The hike-in camp was about five miles down from Peak Reyes at 7,000 ft. As dusk approached we realized we had missed the camp and needed to double-time it back two miles up a 500′ gain with our 40 lb packs. With hunters and bears plentiful, the old familiar panic attack came creeping up. But instead of resorting to my old tactics of swallowing it down or becoming angry, we talked it out. It’s amazing what a little positive support can provide. We made it to camp just as the sun set. This photo from that trip continues to remind me that, despite anxiety and depression, progress is possible.

2 Comments on “How Mental Health Stigmas Inspired Me

  1. Great post, Jake. You’re a good writer and I appreciate the NoStigmas mission. I too have struggled with depression/anxiety over the years, and oddly, your sales job experience sounds very similar to one I just endured. Fortunately, my company allowed me to move into a role better aligned to my skills, but I can only imagine the blow it was to hear the insensitive words of your “friend” when you’re already down. Glad you used the experience for good and that you’ve learned coping skills to help keep you steady. Keep writing!! Thanks again for sharing.

    • Well, I may not be 17 anymore, but I do know what it’s like to have stsers, depression and anxiety hit you all at once, and I do know how hard it can be. I also do not want any medication.All these things run in my family and sadly enough, most of them have become dependent on the medication. I have promised myself that I would never let that happen to me.Sometimes I break out into these horrible moods one minute, the next I’m crying my eyes out, and the next I just want to be left alone. That is no way for any person to live. You need support from loved ones to help out a little. We all need some help sometimes and the first step at helping depression in wanting to get better. I have chosen away to help myself, but I also ask others around me to be patient with me, it is a long process. I have been dealing with this in my life for years now, but slowly it is getting better.I realize this is a long answer, but I know a lot about this topic, and it saddens me to know that too many people suffer from this illness. In some cases, people need medication due to the chemical imbalance. Some just need learn that they have the power to overcome this. That is what I’m choosing to do, and so far I’m getting there.You are 17 years old and life can get better or much much worse. Always think to yourself, you are much greater then the stsers, the pain, and the worries that you deal with everyday. School can be tough on people, but always know you can only do so much to please people. Try pleasing yourself, worry about yourself.Take one day at a time and just know that the horrible day will not last forever, and try not to bring your worries to the next days, that is the past and there is nothing you can do to change that.

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