Deconstructing Stigma: Express Your Feelings

Editor’s note: Deconstructing Stigma: A Change in Thought Can Change a Life is a public awareness campaign developed by McLean Hospital to spark conversation not only about behavioral and mental health but also about the stigma that surrounds it. The campaign features compelling stories from people across the United States who have been affected by mental illness, including Sean’s story below.

McLean Hospital Guest Blogger, Sean S.

I had my first panic attack at age 13. My mom was losing her battle with cancer, I was being picked on at school, and my grades were falling.

I would go home with math homework, but I had to write the number four 75 times before I could do anything else. That doesn’t equate to getting homework done.

In my mind, having any negative thought while performing a basic task meant a member of my family would be harmed or I would harm them.

Sean with his Deconstructing Stigma portrait at the exhibit at Boston Logan Airport
Sean with his Deconstructing Stigma portrait at the exhibit at Boston Logan Airport

Forcing my head to be free of anything bad meant an hour of flipping a light switch on and off before I could leave a room, or so many attempts at putting my pants on that my shins suffered permanent scars. As I grew into my 20s, I would mask my obsessive worries with denial and avoidance by way of binge drinking.

I decided I would escape on the weekends with my friends, and during the week, I wasn’t going to live—I was just going to exist.

In 2010, my illness became so debilitating I spent the next two years terrified to move from my living room chair. With my father’s help, I began treatment in Ohio. Finally, at age 32, I had a diagnosis—obsessive compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. My condition was so advanced, doctors referred me to an intensive OCD treatment program in Massachusetts.

It was a monumental success. I still struggle some days. But I am confident enough, hopeful enough, inspired enough, and motivated enough to want to be a part of this life.

I’m now an artist and working on ways to help those with mental health disorders express their feelings through art.

You might not be able to verbalize this feeling, this monster inside you, but you can usually put it on paper or in some form. Once you can look at it, you can deal with it.

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Sean is a 36-year-old artist from Massachusetts. To read more about Deconstructing Stigma and to meet more people like him, visit DeconstructingStigma.org.

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