This woman explains the frustration of having to prove her mental illnesses are real.

This story was originally published on The Mighty.

“Huh. Must be a women thing” was said with a dismissive shrug and a grin.  This was my supervisor’s response when I tried to explain how my brain works differently with its multiple anxiety disorders.

The problem was apparently not with my brain chemistry, but with my ovaries. Give me a fainting couch and some smelling salts because here comes the female hysteria.


It wasn’t the first or last time someone dismissed my disorders, though it was the first time someone attributed it to a gender problem.

I’ve been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and panic disorder. They first appeared in my life around the age of 4, and they have been my constant companions ever since.

Unfortunately, because my illnesses are mental, I’ve had to deal with people who think they aren’t real.

I’ve had more conversations than I want to defending the fact that disordered anxiety exists.

“But everybody gets anxious” is the most common refrain. It’s like telling someone with depression that you’ve “been sad, too.” Cell growth happens, and when cell growth becomes disordered, it’s cancer. Nobody argues against that because you can show it on an X-ray or MRI or point to a visible tumor. But there is a certain group of people who believe because they’ve never experienced mental illness and there are no medical tests for it that it couldn’t possibly be real. It’s made­-up, a cry for attention, or just plain weakness.

Image via iStock.

I used to get into long discussions with these people, trying to put them in my shoes and make them see how my brain works. I’ve described vividly the sensations of a panic attack or the deep need to unplug all of my appliances before going to bed because if I don’t an electrical fire will start in the walls and my house will collapse around me while I sleep (obviously). I would endure a painful back-and-forth that invariably ended with them refusing to accept anything other than what they had experienced themselves.

What makes me respond so fiercely to these people is the fact that I used to question the validity of my own experiences — not so much whether I had anxiety, but whether it “counted.”

Because my illness was not physical, I felt as if I didn’t have a right to claim illness or seek treatment or take care of myself. After all, I managed. I survived. I eked out successes in school and life.

But I fought tooth and nail to do so. I fought the obsessions that made me afraid to do anything and the anxiety that left me deeply depressed on more than one occasion. Everything was a struggle in ways it wasn’t for other people.

Eventually, I reached a point where I realized these illnesses were “real enough” for treatment. Their effects were intense and overwhelming, and I deserved to be taken care of. I deserved to name what wracked my mind with fear and even migrated to my body in the way anxiety can.

I can’t see my illness on an X-ray, but it is real and powerful.

After one particularly frustrating conversation about the validity of my illness, I asked myself why I bothered — why I spent so much time and energy to get these people to admit I have these disorders. I realized I was sick of convincing people and sick of their questions making me question myself (yes, I even get anxiety about my anxiety). I don’t owe anybody an explanation.

It was then that I decided my experience is enough; my diagnoses from professionals in the psychiatric field are enough. I won’t lower myself to try to convince strangers, or even friends, that what’s going on in my brain isn’t just a character failing on my part. I’m done debating whether I get to call myself ill and whether I need to be treated.

If someone comes at me with honest curiosity and a desire to learn, I’m open to talking. I’m not ashamed of my disorders, and I think being open about my struggles will help with the stigma of mental illness. But usually if someone questions my disorders, it’s an accusation. Prove it, they’re saying.

I won’t do that again. My word should be proof enough. Among the many things I’m doing to take care of myself, I refuse to argu​e about my disorders anymore. I have no doubt taking those arguments off the table will make me healthier. I finally learned not to question myself. I will no longer allow others to question me either.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less