Raleigh, NC USA
“When I had my first panic attack 8 years ago, I was terrified. And, strangely enough, it was not the panic attack that scared me—it was the downstream effect, the thought that people would find out about this and judge me, treat me differently, abandon me.
I later learned that this was called stigma, and that it would affect me in different ways over the course of my illness. I would be afraid to ask for the help that I needed, for fear of people finding out about my mental illness.
I had a 'friend' try to get me kicked out of my university, because I was 'a danger to myself and others.' I was denied the opportunity to study abroad because the program considered me a liability, despite my psychiatrist and parents saying otherwise. I had enough of it, and as I started speaking out about the reality of my mental illnesses, I realized something- People were only able to judge me, treat me differently, deny me opportunity because of my mental illness if I let them.
The ability to let stigma affect me was entirely in my control, and the minute I decided I was not going to put up with it anymore, the second I decided to fight back, I took the power away from others and empowered myself.
Today, I am not confident and successful despite my mental illnesses, I am confident and successful because of them. Your mental illness, and the associated stigmas, define you only as long as you let it.
Join me in taking control for yourself, and see how empowering it can be."
Pooja Mehta is the Founder of "Project: I Define Me" and a Minority Mental Health Advocate