by Stephanie Cardamone

Stephanie-C.pngSitting down to write my story brought on a crazy mix of emotions. I was nervous, anxious; I didn’t know what would come out.

But, why the fear and anxiety? Why is everyone so afraid of what others think of them? Why is judgment and perception the driving force behind everything we do? Why is living with mental illness something we THINK we should be ashamed of? The fact is, a very real stigma exists, and fair or not, there are consequences for sharing that you are dealing with a mental health issue.

I received a full basketball scholarship to a Division 1 college. I graduated from a highly regarded business school with a full-time job. Now at 25, I’m one of the youngest in my company in sales management earning an elite salary. I am accomplished and hard-working, and still growing. However, there is much more, as there often is, that makes me who I am.

I’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression. My anxiety is a driving force behind my accomplishments. My fear of failure pushes me to excel, and my fear of mediocracy and self-acceptance makes me constantly question myself. I’m often wondering, will anything I do ever be enough? Will I be enough?

I have an amazing, loving family. I have wonderful friends and a rewarding job. I’ve had endless opportunity. My life is great, and to depict it as anything but would be inaccurate- but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen hardship. I know what it’s like to feel alone. I know what it’s like to not want to be alive; to have people and time unfairly taken from you. To make mistakes, to hurt people, to feel extreme amounts of guilt. I know what it’s like to lose yourself inside someone else- to look at your own face in the mirror and hate who’s looking back. But, I also know what it’s like to survive; to pull yourself out from somewhere you thought you would never recover from. I have seen the strength that one person can have. I know the resilience that lives inside of me, and for that I am grateful.

The most important thing I have learned in this process is self-love. It was only when I began to face myself and my anxiety that I could begin to overcome and accept. The truth is, I’m not close to figuring this out. I’ve been ashamed to speak about how I felt because I didn’t want to be viewed as weak. The world tells you that mental illness is not legitimate; that people should grow thicker skin and get over it. That is the kind of environment and thought process that creates fear of sharing. Contrary to the hesitance we feel to open up, it is incredibly therapeutic to share your story. It’s the exact type of action we need to take to rid the stigma attached to mental health issues.

That is the action that an organization like the ADAA takes every day. That is the type of environment and culture they’re creating for individuals who suffer. That is why I’ve joined the Athletes Against Anxiety and Depression Foundation to change the stigma.

It’s difficult to tell a story in 500 words, and is not near enough to accurately describe mine, or anyone’s journeys. I plan to keep sharing, because loving your complete, authentic self is so important. Whatever you are dealing with is NOT a weakness. Everyone is insecure about something, and we all wear different armors to protect ourselves from weaknesses that we think that we have- weaknesses we make up in our own mind. We need to be honest about who we are and find strength in our vulnerabilities. It’s about accepting every part of you and not apologizing for it. I have come to terms with who I am, and what I’ve been through and I accept it. I’m hoping that by through sharing my experiences, it will give others the push they need to write their own story, or maybe to start a new chapter- one that starts with acceptance.

Gratefully,

Stephanie Cardamone