I’ve been trying to write this piece for a better part of a month (yikes) and I’ve realized that if I keep putting it off, it probably won’t ever leave my brain along with so many other things I want to say, so I’m trying to keep on track with being brave.
I wasn’t even planning on this piece being the one I wrote next. I was planning on talking about something else entirely – something important to me, but nothing like this. I think it’s because part of me has always felt a sort of disdain for this month – National Suicide Prevention Month. I feel like suicide has been such a big part of my life – for lack of better words – for so long, it’s hard to not feel so angry when talking about it. Even knowing that I have experienced the thoughts and the ideations and the attempts.
Talking about mental health in any capacity is hard. Putting it on the internet willingly? I must be certifiably losing my mind. Well, truth be told, I’m not really sure it was ever there in the first place, but oh well.
I asked a close friend of mine, someone I’ve known for almost a decade, why it’s so hard to write about your own experiences with mental health and he said it far better than I ever could. He said, “because it’s your reality, not just part of it.”
I think what a lot of people don’t understand about mental health, especially if you don’t experience it, is how engulfing it is. It intrudes every aspect of your life. Some days are better than others, but for most people, it’s always going to be around – a shadow following you, something always looking over your shoulder, that one friend that can never take a hint that you don’t want to hang out. It’s hard.
I had just turned 13 when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and I was 17 when I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In some ways, I felt relieved. I felt validated in knowing that I wasn’t just losing it, there was a reason I was feeling the way I was feeling. It didn’t feel as daunting then, it felt like how you feel when you’ve been telling everyone that you think you’re getting sick, you feel it coming on and people tell you no, you don’t sound sick, you don’t look sick, you’re just being paranoid. And then you finally go to the doctor and they say, yeah, you’re sick. It’s like a feeling of victory, knowing you were right and you weren’t just making things up. That’s kind of how I felt when I got diagnosed.
If I’m being completely honest, something I always try to do, I didn’t have the most support from my family in tackling this thing. I remember asking my mom to go to therapy and feeling like I just told her that I had run over our cats and left them to die. It felt weird, gross, uncomfortable, and a bunch of other words I can’t think of at the moment. It was like I was walking up to her, telling her that I was broken, but that she couldn’t fix me. I needed someone else, a complete stranger to come in and tell me what to do. I can’t imagine what that felt like for her, but when it became clear that she wasn’t entirely on board with the idea, it felt like a punch in the gut. Not only because it seemed like she didn’t believe that I needed therapy – the idea of, “you’re young, what could you possibly be depressed about?” is one I spent so many of my teen years fighting – but also because it meant admitting that something was wrong with me, and for people who knew my mom 10 years ago, that was a big deal. At least that’s how it came across to me. It always felt like we had to be something we weren’t – showing the outside world that we’re perfect, but when in reality, on the inside, we were far from it.
I didn’t have a relationship with my birth father at that point, my dad and I didn’t start to get along until well into my teen years. My brothers always felt like the center of attention, one of them always having a problem, and for a long time, it felt like I was riding the backseat. Don’t get me wrong, looking back, we were all massively messed up and dealing with our own issues, but when you’re 12 and you’re trying to get the attention of your parents to tell them that something is wrong, it’s hard to feel validated when they ask you what and all you can say is I don’t know. Not because you don’t want to talk about it, but because you quite literally don’t know and you don’t know how to explain it – and they don’t give you the time of day to do so.
Needless to say, going into this fight, I didn’t really have any support. I don’t remember my first therapy session. I actually don’t remember most of them. I really only remember one.
When I finally did get diagnosed, I felt relieved. It felt like things were finally starting to make sense, that I could finally start getting help, but my family didn’t really see it that way. I really felt that feeling of “you’re young, what do you possibly have to be depressed about?” Truth be told, I didn’t really know the answer, which made it even harder to answer the question.
The people who made me feel most comfortable in this part of myself were my friends. I’ve always had a knack for attracting other people who are struggling with mental health issues, or maybe that’s who I’m attracted to having in my life, I don’t really know. But the people I met at that point in my life and those since, in some way or another they’ve always understood me on a level I’ve never felt understood by my parents, most of my siblings (even though they all have a form of depression too), and my family friends.
If you would’ve asked my parents 8 years ago about my friend group, my mom would’ve given you a look of complete and utter disdain. My friends were misfits beyond belief – beautiful souls but ones who had experienced far too much already in this lifetime and meeting them, I felt like I finally fit in. They didn’t have the best coping mechanisms, they could tell you that, but they felt like family. They were people I could joke about my depression with and they wouldn’t be scared or uncomfortable. They would understand, they would know that there wasn’t much they could do to fix it, but that being there, not being alone, was enough. That friend group got me through some of the hardest times of my life, and I’d like to think I played a small part in their story too.
The person that I found the most comfort in wasn’t anyone in my family at all. She was someone that my mom worked with at an old job and she became someone I could confide in, someone who understood my depression and anxiety like no one else did because she was going through the exact same thing. Granted, she’s more than a decade older than me, she still understood. I found myself running to her when I wanted to talk, staying at her house when my mom and I were fighting so bad, feeling like finally someone understood this sliver of me that I felt was burdening everyone else.
If not for her and my friend group, I’m not sure I would’ve gotten to this point. It still really baffles me that I did.
When I first got diagnosed, I was not doing well. My family wasn’t in a good spot, years of sexual abuse had just stopped, my mom and I were fighting all the time, my dad and I were barely speaking, I felt like I didn’t have any friends at school. To me, it felt like my whole world was crashing down. I started self harming, I stopped eating, I stopped really talking to anyone.
From then on, it only really got worse. I switched schools my eighth grade year, which definitely helped. I felt really trapped there. Not because of any one person or experience, I actually had some really awesome friends there, but I genuinely just hated being in that school. I think anyone in our class of MAYBE 75 students could attest to that. It’s hard being in a small school, where everyone talks, and you already have a really bad self-esteem. Plus, drama then seems like the end of the world.
Switching wasn’t much better at first. I went from having friends, a group, people to sit with at lunch, talk to in the halls, partner with in science class, to being the new girl, one with a big chip on her shoulder, with no one to talk to. I made one friend, but after a couple months, he left school and I was back to square one. I finally made some friends, but I still felt like I was drowning.
My appetite – or lack there of – had gotten worse, I was self harming more often and far worse than I ever had before, it felt like I was wearing a mask then, probably more so than any other point in my life. My home life hadn’t really gotten much better. That had actually gotten worse too, my depression wasn’t going away, and at that point, I was in and out of therapy. Never consistent enough to make any real progress. From the end of 7th grade to the entirety of 8th grade is probably one of the worst and longest depressive episodes I’ve ever been in.
I spent nights on end just crying, cutting myself, shoving pills down my throat, trying to feel something and nothing at all. I don’t know how many nights I just swallowed a handful of ibuprofen and went to sleep just hoping I wouldn’t wake up. I always did. I had a stomach ache and sometimes it was a little hard to breath, but never anything more. It was all so dark then, I was convinced I would never make it to 16. I had a friend who thought the same and we would talk about it all the time.
I was fully convinced that there was no way I was going to make it. If I didn’t kill myself, I was sure that something else would happen. I felt it in my bones that I wasn’t supposed to live passed then. I think if you asked any of my friends at that time, who really knew me, they’d probably attest to my adamancy of that fact.
I remember on my 16th birthday, I was so confused. It didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t. I’m 20 now, I’ll be 21 in April (wowza), and I still am really confused. I remember before turning 16, people would always ask me what I wanted to be when I “grew up,” and I never knew what to say. Everyone, for as long as I can remember, has talked about me going to college, doing something great and I never saw that. It didn’t become real to me until my orientation, and even then, it felt really weird.
High school was probably one of the worst times of my life. I’m sure a lot of people feel that way, especially after coming out of it and looking back at how all-consuming it is. My home life didn’t really get any better, it just became different. Our normal was different and it included not talking about pretty much anything. I didn’t reach my middle school level of depression again until college, but I definitely fluctuated. I had really high highs and really low lows.
It’s hard to talk about my mental health in high school one because I don’t remember so much of it (thanks depression) and two because as much as it was my brain and my chemical imbalance, it was tethered to so many people.
The best way that I can describe it is like this. I’m always depressed. That’s never going to change. It’s like I have this baseline of depression where I always am, but as I go through life and experiences, the severity of it all changes. So when I meet someone new and I start a new friendship or relationship, the world feels much lighter. But when I go through hard things like my parents getting divorced, those new friendships and relationships fall apart, or various other things, it feels like the world is ending. Sometimes depressive episodes happen like that, but sometimes they happen entirely on their own and for no reason at all. I could have a great couple of days or couple of weeks, maybe even a month or two and I’ll feel great. I’ll be motivated, maintaining my relationships, taking good care of myself, and one day I’ll wake up and I’ll be paralyzed by it all. It will feel like I’m incapable of doing anything, talking to anyone, seeing anyone. Nothing will have changed, it’ll just happen. Depression just comes and goes as it pleases.
I was 5 years clean when I self-harmed again. I was in my second year of college and I didn’t know how to cope anymore.
My experience in the last 7, almost 8, years since diagnoses in no way encompasses what depression feels like for everyone or anyone other than myself. I was also depressed long before I ever got diagnosed. I have, for the most part, made peace with the fact that I will be on this rollercoaster the rest of my life, though I still get angry from time to time. Some days it’s really frustrating to know that this is my life, to know that I will always have this shadow following me. There are massive parts of my experience that I have yet to talk about. It’s hard to say if I will ever talk about it.
I feel like this is the part where I’m supposed to tell you that it gets better, that things will change, that you won’t always feel like this, that I won’t always feel like this. But I’d be lying. I will always feel like this. The challenge now is learning how to manage it and not let it be all-consuming in the ways that I know it can. I’m still learning, I don’t know that I will ever be able to fully manage it. Everytime I think I have a hold on it, it changes, manifests in a new way and I have to find some new way to handle it.
What I can say, though, is that despite everything, I wouldn’t be who I am if I wasn’t depressed. I wouldn’t have the people in my life that I do, I wouldn’t have ended up in North Carolina, I wouldn’t have the friendships, the relationships, anything. My life would’ve been completely different. So while somedays I am angry, blood boiling, I want to throw things at the wall fuming because I will always have this, other days, I am grateful. I am surrounded by people who inspire me, push me, challenge me, support me, and love me. I couldn’t ask for much more. Who knows, maybe you’ll meet them soon too.