I was twenty-three, living in London all by myself when my mind began to feel the inside of a carnival funhouse. It felt...creepy. Distorted. Unpredictable. The darkest part of any State Fair.
Something very traumatic happened to me right around that time, and it kicked off a series of soul-crushing panic attacks. I’d secretly struggled with anxiety and depression as a teenager, but the darkness had swelled to new heights. My body vibrated with anxiety all the time. When the train on my daily commute to work would take off, I felt my heart take off with it.
I alienated my friends and stopped returning my family’s calls.
One evening I had a nightmare that contained a very graphic image of an injured animal. The image disturbed me to my core and I couldn’t get it out of my head. No matter how hard I tried to lose myself in my favorite books and movies, the image taunted me and was all I could fixate on. My skin felt like it was crawling so ferociously, it would render me nothing but raw nerve. I felt imprisoned by my brain. I felt betrayed by my brain.
I was embarrassed. So I kept quiet. I swallowed my secret like it was a multivitamin and prayed I’d heal.
Except secrets are nothing like multivitamins. Multivitamins make you healthy. Secrets make you sick. Sick with one of the most harrowing diseases of all: Shame.
If you don’t treat your mental illness, it magnifies. Ignoring those demons you’re too ashamed to confront, only feeds them.
One morning when I couldn’t take it anymore -- when the pain became so great it transcended my shame -- I reached out for help. A family friend took me to a wonderful doctor who prescribed me a low dose of antidepressant and set me up with a fabulous therapist. I learned that my fixation with this disturbing image was a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, in which those affected are bombarded by intrusive thoughts or images. Having a professional explain what was going on in my brain, along with my therapist’s vehement assurance that none of the trauma I’d endured was my fault; that was the most freeing experience of my life. Nothing shackles you like shame.
That was ten years ago. And while life isn’t always a rainbow-sprinkled-sundae, I no longer feel the weight of my secrets, crushing my limbs, making it impossible for me to move through the world. I still take care of my mental health every day. I take medication. I see a talk therapist.
But most pressingly; I no longer allow the societal stigma surrounding mental health silence my truth anymore. Speaking up about what was really going on inside my head, saved my life. And the most beautiful, unexpected part of seeking treatment was this: When I confronted the “demons” that tormented me so, they became less frightening to me. The demon loses his power the moment you say: “I’m not ashamed of you and I will not be silent about my mental health.” In fact, once you call him out he skittle away in fear. Just like every other bully.
This blog article was contributed by Zara Barrie. Zara is a millennial writer who has been pouring her heart out on the internet for over a decade. After studying at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts, she became the Assistant Director of Planned Parenthood’s internationally recognized “SOURCE Teen Theatre,” one of the most esteemed youth outreach programs in the nation. At SOURCE Zara wrote and directed original plays tackling provocative issues that directly responded to the needs of high-risk youth; such as teen pregnancy, depression, opiate addiction, and sexual trauma. Zara and her army of teen actors traveled around the country and performed everywhere from detention centers to second-chance schools, to global conferences.
At 26, she became the Senior Sex and Dating Writer at the popular digital publication Elite Daily. Her first essay went viral and she quickly became one of the most popular writers on the site, notorious for writing candid first-person essays about sexual identity, mental health and the unexpected nuances of the party girl lifestyle. At Elite Daily Zara independently drove one million unique page views to the site per month, created their first-ever “Queer Culture” vertical, and worked tirelessly to develop an intimate relationship with her following. She starred in, produced and wrote a popular webseries “Lez Get You Laid: Sex and Dating Advice To Men From A Lesbian” and hosted a weekly live advice talk show for publication (each garnering over a million views!).