I let go of the stigma
There are so many folks out there who are terrified of being identified with a mental health condition. There are good reasons for them to be scared because people have ridiculous, stereotypical views. So, anything we can do to make mental health conditions less scary, the better.
For many years, Cynthia struggled with anxiety.
My sensitivities to how I was treated and my perfectionist tendencies often made me unable to recognize my own abilities and accomplishments. I doubted myself and spent far too much time worrying about other people’s perceptions of me.
At age 40, Cynthia had just finished her doctorate, and she began work establishing a program focused on disabilities at a local university. At the same time, she faced several losses in her personal life and endured a series of physical injuries and illnesses, culminating in a bout with Lyme disease.
At the end of that, I was so depressed. I could not get out of bed. I had strong feelings of despair and had only contempt for myself. In college, I had worked with people with mental illness, so I knew the signs. I knew that I had a very serious problem.
Cynthia reached out for help. In time, she was diagnosed with depression, but her doctors weren’t sure if her depression stemmed from bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although she was getting therapeutic help and learning more about her condition, it was difficult for her to manage her symptoms.
The hardest moment was when my husband had to take me to the hospital. I had tried 13 different medications. Finally, I begged for ECT (electroconvulsive therapy).
Cynthia’s first time using ECT to treat her depression occurred at a hospital in Massachusetts. There, clinicians had trouble understanding her condition, as she functioned better than most patients with depression. But after some difficult discussions with clinicians, she did get ECT treatments that successfully resolved her depressive episode.
Many years later, after two additional episodes of depression that required ECT treatments, she ended up at McLean Hospital, again needing ECT to help her overcome a depressive episode. More recently, Cynthia has chosen to undergo “maintenance ECT” (ongoing ECT treatments every few weeks to prevent depressive episodes from setting in) at McLean.
My recovery process has also been aided by the love and support of my family and friends, including my 11-year-old dog Buster, who helps me smile and keeps me walking whatever the weather!
Cynthia has continued to pursue her interest in public health, working with people with mental health challenges. In fact, her relationship with McLean began before she became a patient.
She started and co-led a support group at McLean aimed at bringing together ECT patients, family members, and clinicians. She also regularly spoke at McLean inpatient programs to share her story of recovery that included ECT and many other tools such as Reiki, massage, exercise, and meditation.
She currently works part-time as a peer consultant at the Center of Excellence for Psychosocial and Systemic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital. Cynthia is also a massage therapist and a Reiki master, so she is always involved in wellness and teaching.
Working with both McLean and other mental health groups has enabled me to have a natural marriage of my passions.
Cynthia has also helped develop a recovery education program for individuals with mental illness, produced a photo-narrative piece describing how she came out about her condition, and engaged in other peer support efforts in her community. This work helps Cynthia in her recovery, and it allows her to tell her story and inspire others to confront the many challenges posed by mental health conditions.
I love to talk to people, and once I get into it, I let go of the stigma. I learned to push myself and have a can-do attitude. Once you’re public with your mental health, you can’t go back. To be public with your mental health condition takes courage, but for me it is worth it.
Cynthia talks about her experiences undergoing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) at McLean Hospital