World Mental Health Day.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was going to post something for World Mental Health day. Because I am completely and utterly exhausted, and I’m not really in a place right now where I’m doing a good job of holding everything together. But then I realized that’s exactly why I need to talk about it. I owe it to myself and to others struggling to be honest and to fight the stigma. So I pulled it together, and collected my thoughts, and decided to show up for myself and for anyone else who needs it. That’s how we get through. I’ve gotten through all of my hardest days, and today is no different.
Growing up I didn’t know what my anxiety and depression was. I was raised to think that because I came from a well-off family, was smart, athletic, and well-liked, that I had the perfect life. But I constantly felt far from perfect. On the outside I looked like I had it all together, but on the inside I was hiding dark demons that I felt as though I didn’t have the right to feel. There has become this stereotypical image of what having a mental illness “looks like” and that’s what kept me struggling in silence for so long. Depression isn’t always wearing all black and sulking down the hallways. It’s not always crying in the corner or sitting alone at lunch. It’s not always people from broken families or going through tragedy. Sometimes, often times, depression is the smiling girl or boy that would rather die than admit they are struggling. The star athlete, the top of the class, the boss, the class clown. We need to stop telling people they don’t “look depressed” because the truth is depression doesn’t look like anything, but it feels like everything. And the more we put limitations on mental illness, the more people hide in shame and struggle in silence, rather than asking for help.
I was depressed throughout most of high school, though no one would have guessed. I used unhealthy coping mechanisms involving self harm in various forms. But the worst part was I couldn’t pinpoint a reason, I was just so fucking miserable. I hated myself, I let negative thoughts infiltrate my entire life. I thought going away to college would solve my problems and cure everything, but I was so incredibly wrong. Mental illness doesn’t just go away when you move from one place to another, it follows you wherever you go and sneaks up on you just when you thought you’d said goodbye once and for all. I was so anxious I couldn’t be alone in my dorm room because the dark thoughts in my head were too suffocating. I’d run around campus for hours until I collapsed, hoping if I ran fast enough the demons wouldn’t be able to catch up. But they always did. And they cackled and devoured every inch of my being, leaving my breathless. But I still didn’t know how to talk about it, I didn’t think it was bad enough, that it was real enough, that I had to suck it up.
Sophomore year I started going to therapy and it was the best decision I could have made. I realized my feelings are valid and that I had to deal with them rather than shove them deeper inside. My therapist once asked me if I wanted to die, and I replied no, that I just wanted things to be different. I started focusing more on the things and people that I love instead of the things that caused me stress and pain. Junior year I finally accepted that I needed to be on medication. I had always viewed medication as “cheating”, but I realized that medication isn’t a fake sense of reality, but rather it lifted the fog I was living in and made everything a little clearer to sort out. I was so scared I wouldn’t be myself anymore, but after a few months on Paxil I felt more myself than I ever knew possible. I realized that it was possible to feel different, for life to be different. And that was an intoxicating revelation.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that everything is perfect and I’m all better. But I’m getting better, day by day. I’ve been doing yoga regularly for eight years, in therapy weekly for two years, on antidepressants for eight months, recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s not a straight line either, there have been days and sometimes months where I sink back down and tango with my old dark friends, but I’ve developed the strength to pull myself back out. There are days where I don’t want to get out of bed, and sometimes I don’t, and sometimes I do, and I’ve learned to be okay with that. Mental illness doesn’t just go away, it’s always with you, but eventually, you just get better at coping and before you know it you’re thriving like you never thought was possible.
I don’t have all the answers, but what I do know is that not a single person out there is alone in their struggles. I wish I had known that so much sooner. It’s easy to feel like you’re “weird” or “crazy” or “the only one”, but if there is one thing I can PROMISE you, it’s that you are not. You are human, and part of being human is knowing it’s okay to not be okay sometimes, it doesn’t make you any less good, just human. There is this horrible stigma against expressing emotions and talking about mental illness, but it’s real and it’s happening and it’s okay. Allow yourself to feel what you need to feel and don’t be afraid to reach out to other people because chances are they’ve been in your shoes. One of the most beautiful moments in my journey was when I finally worked up the courage to open up to someone whom I trusted and thought would listen without judgement, and when I told her she looked at me and said, “it’s okay, me too.”
Life can be really fucking hard, especially when you are dealing with a mental illness. It’s time the stigma stops. It’s time people stop using “depressed” and “sad” as synonyms. It’s time to stop labeling people with mental illnesses as “crazy”. It’s time to stop making jokes about killing yourself. You may think you cannot change anything, but if we could all talk to one another instead of pushing each other away, if we could respect and understand that some people function differently than us, if we could go through life with a little more empathy, the world would be a better place. The more open and honest we are, the more we realize we are not alone, Once we silence the outside voices telling us we are not enough, we can then begin to silence our own demons and try to love who we are, even the parts that aren’t so glamorous. I am here, I am with you, and I promise there are brighter days ahead.