Working to end the stigma and discrimination of mental illness.

Lauren P’s Story

The Ascent

One, two, three, four, walk to the right, then left, a straight line. We have all heard that saying as kids when walking on the sidewalk, “don’t step on the crack, or you will break your mother’s back!”  I have taken that quote seriously, a little too seriously, in life.  My mind floods with “you must step over the crack, or something really bad will happen to me or my mom...” Suddenly just as I am working on pushing that thought out of my mind, someone coughs nearby, and sniffles slightly. I think to myself, “I am going to get sick, I am going to get sick, I know I will get sick.”  Shortly after, I ask my mother the question I have asked her for years. “Mom? Can you tell me I will be okay?” Her response is always the same, though I know I need to hear it. “Yes, you will be okay,” she says and I feel better. My name is Lauren, and I have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The symptoms of my OCD started around age seven, though I was not officially diagnosed with the disorder until age sixteen. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a very complicated illness to diagnose. There is a lot of “criteria” that a person must have to be diagnosed with the disorder. These can include but are not limited to: checking or rechecking actions, excessive counting, extreme fear of germs, and repeatedly washing one’s hands to ward off infection or sickness.

As a young child, I was always afraid of people getting me sick. The fear of infection and repetitive thinking eventually led to depression, which lowered my self-esteem and my ability to think positively about life. I led myself to the school counselor’s office, to tell her about my struggles with this sadness.   This conversation would later lead me into a long journey of testing, diagnosis, intensive treatment programs, and medication to help with the moods and repetitive thinking. The journey was strenuous, and there were times I thought the climb was not worth me feeling happy. However, in the end I knew I would be proud of myself for making it up the mountain in one piece.   

Have you ever climbed a mountain that took all your strength and left you completely out of breath by the time you reached the top? I have climbed several mountains, huffing and puffing, for nearly my entire life. Somehow though, I always make my goal of reaching the top. Today, I am stronger because of the help my doctors, family, and friends have provided for me.  Strength and hope are two very important qualities that I possess in order to keep “climbing the mountains” in my life. 

Recently, I have been doing work with two organizations that are very close to my heart, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and BringChange2Mind (BC2M). NAMI strives to provide resources such as support groups and educational discussions to those in the community living with mental illness. Glenn Close, who has a sister living with bipolar disorder, founded the other organization, BringChange2Mind. BC2M is dedicated toward eradicating the stigma and discrimination that those with mental illness face by providing education tools, treatment options, and support to the general public.  Many people are afraid to come forward saying they have a mental illness because of the discrimination or stigma that often goes along with it. Often times, people with mental illness are labeled as “crazy” by the general public because of the stigma, or lack of proper education on mental illness.

This past summer, I contacted both organizations and became a team captain for a walk held by NAMI in the fall in Cleveland. BringChange2Mind sponsors the team I lead, and all proceeds will be split evenly between the two organizations and go toward helping people who are living with mental illness.  I am honored to say that my Cleveland BringChange2Mind team, thus far, has raised about fourteen hundred dollars, and has the largest number of walkers in the entire country.

Through all of my struggles I have learned that being self-aware is the true key to my living a happy life. Thomas Hobbes once said, “One learns more by studying oneself, particularly the feelings that influence our thoughts and motivate our actions.” It took a great amount of strength and self-awareness to accept that I did not like how I was feeling on the inside. I wanted to be happy. My parents initially had no knowledge of my depression, or later my OCD.  I was overwhelmed with the thought of their finding out for fear of their being upset with me.  Later, I learned that my parents, along with friends, and doctors are my biggest supporters.  

So onward up the mountain I climb. I can feel the brisk, cold air against my face. I am covered in warm clothing, protected from head to foot, and I am reminded that through all our struggles, we must endure and push forward. One more step, and I will have reached the summit. The rest of the group gathers behind me, and as I turn, I see the faces of my supporters. They have cheered me on from the beginning of the journey, my ascent up the mountain.