Meet: Liz Lazowski

Diagnosis: Major Depression Disorder, Panic Disorder & Agoraphobia

How do you feel about your diagnosis? I received this diagnosis two years ago, and it was honestly the first time I felt whole. I've been partly diagnosed with depression for seven years now, five years ago a therapist mentioned the possibility of generalized anxiety, but each time a diagnosis had been talked about it hadn't felt well thought out, or approached in a way that could have helped my care. This diagnosis is the first diagnosis that's ever felt right to me, that helped me describe exactly what I was thinking, in that way, it's become my friend.

Have you ever experienced stigma? How has your life been affected by your illness? When I was younger and I would get mad or sad or anxious, or really feel any emotion that wasn't blinding happiness, my family members would ask "Have you taken your medication today?"

I'm invalidated a lot. I'm told my opinions or feelings aren't real or enough because they are clouded by my illness. I'm often told I'm lazy or not trying hard enough. For some people, instead of my mental illness being part of my identity, it is my identity. I am told almost on a daily basis that I am less or I am weaker because of my diagnosis, because of my time spent in a hospital, and because my high school experience was spent at a therapeutic boarding school. The stigma changes my relationships once people are told, be it persons walking on eggshells, being mean, or abandoning me completely.

And people are fascinated. They want to hear me talk. I become a spectacle to them, like an exhibit in a museum. And I do talk about it, you know? Because even though sometimes when people ask they're being shitty, I'm not ashamed, and I honestly believe that my talking about it can help someone. I do believe that and I have to believe that.

When did you realize what you were experiencing wasn’t typical? I don't really understand what the world normal means. I had an incredibly arrogant & oblivious youth. I never though I stood out, in any way. In sixth grade I learned that a lot of my experiences weren't normal, and in seventh grade I realized I stood out way more than I ever assumed possible. I got some of my first real friends at that time and they were honest, at times maybe too honest, but ultimately my relationships in middle school made me realize I needed help.

Early on why didn't you seek help? My mom put me in therapy at age two, and I started taking medication when I was eleven,,,which I suppose gives quite a lot of insight into my battle right there. I don't think help became important to me however, until junior year of high school. I had my first heartbreak in the end of sophomore year, and I think it was a real eye opener in the sense of how everything went down, of how much I had grown, but also how unhealthy I still was,

What type of reactions are not easy for you to hear? What reactions do you appreciate when you share with someone that you live with a mental illness? I think the most common reaction I get when I tell people some of my life story and my mental background is "Oh." I absolutely hate that reaction, I hope no one ever says "Oh" to me ever again for as long as I live--but I can also acknowledge that I don't know how people should react. I also acknowledge that I live in an extremely privileged world, in the sense that the only person I've ever had tell me to get over it was an older sister who didn't understand what was happening.

Someone I love very much told me "You're a beautiful & strong person, and this doesn't change how I see you or how I feel about you or your worth". She told me the same thing when I got into a my first [hopefully only] fender-bender, (shout-out to my horrible parking skills). I hope she's in my life for a very very long time.

To be honest, when I turned nineteen and went to college I started changing how I told people. It's become less of a confession than a subtle phase in of language. I find reactions have been a lot better that way. I think before, when it was a confession, there was an aspect of shame coming from me that people picked up on. I'm not ashamed anymore.

What do you wish people would understand in regards to mental illness and mental health? Having a diagnosis does not mean: I am violent, I am lazy, I am the same as every other person out there with a diagnoses.

I wish people would understand that I'm human, I struggle. Everything is a scale, and a spectrum, we're all on the same one, I may just be a little farther to one end than you are. That doesn't make me or anyone else less. My illness is just as real as my sister's autoimmune disorder, I don't need the 'get well soon' balloons, but I do need the understanding, support, and validation. I also need people to have the knowledge that just like her autoimmune disorder, my disease is something that lives within me, but it's not always living with the same prevalence day to day, I have time periods when I feel fine, and times that I don't. I also wish it was understood that my bouts, aren't something I can control, and they're not something I like.

What treatment or coping skills are most effective for you? Deep breathing. Deep breathing and I are buds. Also writing, I don't really know what I'd do without a piece of paper and a pen. I like talking. CBT has been so good for me [once I found the right therapist]. Self talk. I talk to myself a lot. "You can do this. This? This won't matter in five minutes. You're doing great buddy."

I try to be as nice to myself as I can. "You went to the dentist? The dentist gives you anxiety! Four for you Glen Coco! You go Glen Coco!"

What are a few goals regarding your mental health? 

1. to love nature up close as much as I do from afar
2. for my baseline to be contentment
3. for boys to stop being so scary
4. to love in the daylight hours
5. to get over my six year old self.
6. to be comfortable in my own skin, and with the fact that my life & happiness can look different than others, but still be valid.
7. to become independent from my parents (I realize that this is a goal a lot of twenty-somethings have, but it feels very related to me)

What does recovery mean to you? I don't love the word recovery. It's not one I use, or one I've really defined. I use the phrase "getting better" a lot, or "dealing". In my mind recovery leads to being recovered...and I don't think I every really will be. My illnesses are a part of me, and something I will be dealing with for the rest of my life. Every day I get better at managing them and becoming friends with them, but I know the possibility of complete irradiation isn't a very likely one, so recovery isn't in my vocabulary. But, for this paragraph, if I were to use it, it would mean getting out of bed in the morning. It would mean showering and washing my face and brushing my teeth and putting on clothes. It would mean going outside. It would mean seeing my friends. It would mean laughing. I think maybe recovery means trying.

Stefanie Kaufman