Shine the Light. End the Stigma

For Everyone Who Keeps Asking
"What's Wrong?"

I’m sorry.

I know those two words seem so small, and they are. They are nothing more than seven simple letters, but I don’t know where else to start. So I’ll start with:  I’m sorry.

There are things I’m not sorry for, things I can’t be sorry for. I’m not sorry for my illnesses. They are beyond my control. Over the decades, I’ve learned I do have complete control over certain things in my life: my calendar, my choice of events to attend, and who is included in my inner circle.

To those of you who (hopefully) never have to personally deal with physical struggles such as fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, and/or mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder – sincere blessings to you. Chances are, you don’t have to look very far to find someone close to you who struggles daily with some kind of chronic condition.

When we don’t talk about these things, we contribute to the stigma which exists worldwide. I’m not suggesting sharing your most personal life details with everyone you meet at the grocery store, but please… talk to someone; preferably a qualified professional. Keeping it all bottled inside will destroy you and the lives of those around you.

So, here we are to talk about some things. Over the past few years, my health has been in decline, specifically more over the recent few months. Quite honestly, the specific details and diagnoses aren’t the point. If you’re close to me, you already know. Raging fibromyalgia, migraines, chronic fatigue, yada, yada. If you haven’t seen me attend many events, it’s likely because I am laid flat out in bed (or couch) surrounded by heating blankets, heating pads, prescription and over-the-counter meds, FDA approved and non-approved treatments… To say I’m trying everything would be an understatement.

And although a physical disorder is “easier” to explain, emotional and mental health disorders seldom get discussed, and rarely honestly. Maybe your family didn’t talk about “these things” when you were growing up. Maybe you’re a parent now and think you’re sparing your child by not having honest conversations about feelings and pain. I can’t say, I can only speak for myself and my own life experiences.

I will say that I’m sorry for the years I’ve wasted feeling sorry for myself. I’m sorry for the years I’ve tried to hide my depression, migraines, anxiety, to keep those things secret.

That very secrecy has been our undoing. I’ve pushed friends and family away, though they never knew why, or even noticed. You may not have even realized the canceled plans, birthday parties I failed to attend and social gatherings I forced myself to go to. It wasn’t your fault.

You thought I was a buzzkill (and I was), but what hurts me the most — what I’m most sorry for — is that you thought I was too good for you, too good for “child-like” games. But that was never the case. The truth is I want to be happy. I want nothing more than to laugh beside you and enjoy myself the way you do, but there’s a disconnect somewhere and I can’t. Sure, there are moments of happiness and joy, but most of my life is about just getting by. So instead of pretending, I pulled away — from you and from life.

I’m sorry for not being present, for not celebrating in your successes and joys. Please know I wanted to but sometimes the pain held me back — sometimes emotional pain, sometimes physical pain, usually both.

Please don’t mistake what I’m saying for an attempt for your sympathy, I am not interested in anyone feeling sorry for me. My weakness is muscular, my strength is spiritual. I learned early in life to fight and fight hard, and that has served me well. I was blessed with grandparents who knew the value of hard work, strong faith, generosity and the importance of family. Those are values I carry on with my own children and grandchildren, through the struggles. That’s what family means to me.

To my patient loving husband, who had no idea what he was signing on for, I am so very sorry. I’m sorry for the times my temper has been short, and you’ve been the recipient of my rage. Anger has been the most unexpected symptom of this ride. When I was younger, my depression was marked by melancholy. But as the years passed, the symptoms shifted. While sadness still infuses most days, it’s the anger I cannot ignore. It’s the anger that scares me. My volatile words cut you and my blind and unforgiving rage injures you.

And I am truly sorry. I also pray that every single woman out there finds a man like this. The kind who steps up.

It’s embarrassing and scary to admit you need help, to admit you are not OK. You know once you let your secret out you’ll have no choice but to follow through with therapy. You’ll have to talk to friends and family about your illness, even when you don’t want to. You know you can’t close the curtains and hide anymore, and that thought is terrifying.

Sometimes we “find the light” and make it out. I have before; in fact, I have survived electroconvulsive shock therapy [ECT] treatments that stole an entire year from my memory. My children were 4, 7 and 8 at the time and needed their mom. Fuck you, ECT. You didn’t beat me.

I know better than to believe I’m better. Depression is a lifelong disease, and my depression will return. There is nothing I can do to stop it. The only thing I can control is how I handle it when it does. And for me, handling it means not hiding from it; handling it means drawing back the shades and doing my part to end the stigma.

So to everyone entangled in this mess with me, I’m sorry. I never wanted to hurt you or drag you through this 20+ year nightmare. I love you for standing by me, and hope you still can, but I also understand if you need to step back — if you need to walk away. Please know I will love you all the same.

God takes the darkest moments from our past and turns them into the most beautiful stories of our lives. 

Adapted and inspired from Kimberly Zapata


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