I remember the first time I knew something was wrong. I was in my junior year of high school when I thought about what would happen if I purposely fell down the stairs. I’d always been an overachiever, but being the year before college that really mattered, I wanted to escape from the pressure that I was going through in school. I didn’t have bad grades, but I was struggling with school in a way that I was never used to doing so. I wasn’t cutting myself. I didn’t feel depressed. But I was willing to hurt myself. And that is a sign of a mental illness.
I remember I had asked to leave class early that day. I probably stood at the top of those stairs for about 10 minutes. I kept picturing myself wearing a cast in my arm and having to stay home for a week. I moved back and forth trying to figure out where the best place to fall from would be to cause just enough harm. Ultimately, those 10 minutes turned to seconds and the school bell rang. My chance had gone away.
I brushed off what I had tried to do. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I wanted to hurt myself to get out of having to go to school. Wanting to not go to school was not anything unusual for someone at that age. The extent to which I was was willing to go to was.
I wasn’t used to admitting I was struggling. I had always been a perfectionist who had a close group of friends, did great in school, and was truly happy with life. Having a mental illness was nothing I ever pictured having to deal with.
The thing is, mental illness is like cancer. You don’t know when it’s coming.
So when it does, you have to admit you have a problem. I would have probably been able to prevent what happened my first semester of college had I sought help for the insecurities I was having. Feelings are not a phase.
While I had forgotten about what happened my junior year of high school it ultimately came back to haunt me my first semester of college. I wasn’t used to being away from the perfect life I was used to having back home. I was diagnosed with depression after seeking help from a therapist in late September of 2011. I was advised to start taking medication but for personal beliefs refused to do so. However, the weekly sessions I began having with my therapist began to really make a difference.
While I continued to see here for about 9 months, I ultimately regret the need to hide the fact that I was seeing her. The stigma with mental illness is that if you’re dealing with it you’re either crazy. And truth be told, the people who think this way are the ones who should call themselves crazy.
One of my favorite songs says it best: “It’s ok not to be ok.” Jessie J sings this in her song “Who You Are.”
And what she goes on to say is really what I hope to show you through this personal essay. She sings “When we realize this, life is more content.”
While my family members knew I was attending therapy, my friends didn’t. Every time I was in therapy or attending group counseling I lied and said I was somewhere else. I was ashamed.
The fact that I was hiding a big part of my life became even more apparent when I was interviewing for a scholarship and came face to face with a work colleague who was part of the panel. In the essay I had discussed my battle with depression. I did the interview in peace but came out in tears.
He was the first person outside my family, more than one year after I had stopped being treated by a therapist, who had found about about my depression. I intended to keep it this way.
I finally felt the need not to so during my senior year of college. One of my best friends opened up to me about his struggle with depression not knowing about my own struggle. I was hesitant to admit it to it but finally chose to do so.
He was the first person who actually made talking about depression feel normal and continues to be the only person who makes I can have that type of conversation with. I’m happy to have found that support but am sad that there has only been one person who I can receive this type of support from.
While we may not all feel comfortable talking about depression we need to be willing to open our hearts and our minds to having the conversation about depression.
That is why I openly wrote admitted to my battle with depression on Facebook a few months before my college graduation. Soon after, four more people opened up to me about their own struggles with depression.
As a professional writer I have openly blogged about my story and have raised awareness with organizations like To Write Love on Her Arms and Mental Health America. That is not enough though.
You might think that because I worked with organizations that are in the mental health space that I should and could have treated my own depression. The thing is that even though I learned about how the things I was feeling were not OK, I couldn’t stop them.
You can have everything in the world or nothing at all and are still not be immune to facing a mental illness.
I have a mother who has survived multiple battles with cancer, a father who’s an amputee, come from a very low socioeconomic background, and have phased other health battles. But none of those experiences ever made me depressed. It was the things that I didn’t think much about in life that did.
After more and more people began to know about my own struggle, I began to feel in my own skin. While some people have looked at me differently and at times might not say things about it as respectfully as I wish they did, that’s ok. Depression is not the most easiest thing to wear, but when you’re finally able to wear it in public, life becomes 100 percent easier.
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This article first appeared on ‘Huffington Post’ on 13 October 2015.