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.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
True

In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

Keep Reading Show less
True

When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."