A guest blog by Miriam Ruff


I have a panic disorder. One minute I’m fine, and the next something happens – I often don’t see whatever’s coming that sets it off – and the fear abruptly rises to a level that paralyzes me. Literally. I can’t move, I can’t breathe. Then I become hysterical. If someone is there with me, or if I’m out in public, it’s so much worse. Unless they know about the disorder, they have no idea why I’m frozen or why I suddenly start yelling at them or crying apparently out of the blue. They think I’m high-strung or rude or just plain unbalanced, when what I’m really seeking to do is to find balance, find the solution, that will let me be myself again.


Admitting this here, in such a public forum, is difficult – almost humiliating. Why? Stigma. For many people, the term “mental illness” evokes images of raving lunatics, mass murderers, and patients abandoned and drooling in inhumane asylums. Popular culture has reinforced those ideas with movies like “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “12 Monkeys,” and tales of horrendous procedures like frontal lobotomies. Most mental illness, though, is nothing like that. It is primarily a war fought within different parts of ourselves that is caused by genetic and physiological factors over which we have no control. However, these factors can be treated as with any other, physical, disease. Unfortunately, stigma is usually stronger than reality, and the more people buy into it, the less likely the mentally ill are going to try to seek the help they need.


In many ways, admitting to a mental illness is like “coming out of the closet.” “Coming out” has become synonymous with the LGBTQ community, and I do not, with this post, wish to diminish the fight the members of that group are waging to be accepted in our society. “Coming out,” though, can be equally applied to anyone who suffers from mental illness because of the misconceptions most people hold and the disdainful way they view people with any type of mental weakness, as if it makes us somehow less than we should be.


Though I am on the inside looking out, I, too, have bought into the stigma for most of my life. I felt like damaged goods. I thought that if anyone knew what lurked inside, they would deem me crazy and lock me up. This idea must be challenged. In order to treat the problem, we must first be willing to admit there is one. Yes, we fear the fear, and we fear the repercussions taking such a bold step may have for us. “Coming out” is extremely hard to do, but it is an appropriate and necessary step toward validating who we really are and reclaiming our otherwise lost lives.


Huge thanks from PoetsIN to our friend and fellow writer, Miriam Ruff.

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