There’s a part of me that not very many people know; it’s not something I ever share. Partly because I think it may change other’s perception of me. Maybe a little because I don’t want to admit the reality of it all to myself. Mostly it is because mental health issues are not something we talk about, even amongst friends.
The truth is, I have been a victim (is that even the right word?) of mental health challenges for more than half of my life. I have been so lost and felt so forgotten about that I have wondered if anyone would actually miss me if I were not part of this world anymore. I have hated my self to such extremes that I have debated doing harm to my own body. I have sunk down into such deep and dark places that I could not see the light and never wanted to come out again. The worst part is, that despite talking to my closest friends and family about these issues, talking to counsellors, and trying to read things that I’ve thought would help have not. I still suffer from these challenges quite often.
The problem is, a lot of people don’t believe me. To the rest of the world I seem to come across as this bright, happy, positive person, always there to help others, share ideas, and spread joy. So, I can certainly see why some might think that a person who is seemingly happy, and “has it all together” can’t possibly suffer from mental health challenges. The truth is, I’m a good actor. I know how to play the part of a happy person. I know how to hide my anxieties to others and not let anyone see the stress I’m going through on the inside. I can make it appear like I’ve got it all figured out, yet be in total panic inside, screaming for help. A scream that no one hears because I choose not to let the sound escape.
I live in a world of silence, afraid and scared to talk about how I really feel.
The reason why it has never helped to talk to anyone before is because I’m afraid to tell all of my deepest fears. I think I’m even afraid to tell myself. I’m afraid of what might happen if I find out the cause of all of my struggles. What is it that really makes me so sad or angry or lost or scared? What is on the other side of the problem? Can anyone even help me figure it out?
I do not profess to know all there is about mental health challenges, but I do know a lot about what it’s like to suffer from something that you can’t explain. There are times when I feel sad and have no idea why. There have been times when my entire body would hurt for days, even weeks on end, and no matter what tests have been performed on me, there wouldn’t seem to be anything wrong, so I would continue to lay in agony, mad at the world for not being able to fix me, all the while never realizing it was probably a mental challenge I was facing.
That’s what my life was like growing up as a teenager. I was always “sick”, but no one could ever figure out why. At one point I remember someone mentioning SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which is often caused by the lack of sunlight in the winter months. So my mom got me a “sun lamp” to put beside my bed. She’d turn it on in the mornings, and I’d read by it at night. Sometimes I thought it helped, but overall, not much changed. As a result of being “sick” so often, I never really made any good friends in high school. I was a loner, an outcast. I tried hard to fit in with other groups of kids, but always felt on the outside. I was never invited to a friend’s house to hang out. I never went to any birthday parties. I barely even was invited to have lunch with someone. This only made things harder for me to accept the person I was.
I have never been officially diagnosed with depression or anxiety, but I have not doubt in my mind that I should have been long ago as a teenager. As I grew up things definitely have improved, but I still have days where depression overwhelms me. There are days where I feel so much physical pain that I cannot move, and feel like I have the flu. When I was working full time, it took all that I had just to go to work so that I could earn a paycheque. I lost jobs because there were some days that I just couldn’t do it, and felt so awful, yet worked for people who did not understand the challenges I was facing. There are still days where I find myself just wanting to cry and curl up in a ball and I have no idea why. I still get overwhelmed by my emotions, but have learned to internalize so much of what is going on inside my head. I’ve learned not to get too close to people for fear of what they might find out.It is because of this fear that I spend much of my time, especially in the winter, alone. I fear going out and socializing with other people and find reasons to cancel or not be available to do things with friends. It’s not because I don’t like my friends, it’s just because I know that I won’t have a good time, and can’t even think of having a good time. I often thought that I was alone in struggles like this, but I’ve been slowly finding out that there’s others in the world also facing the same struggles as me.
There is more talk starting to happen. Things are starting to shift. It’s easier to find people posting about mental health, like this guy Steven, who made a great post about how to help someone with depression (Thanks for sharing it, Katia!) But it’s time for more change. Time for me to change, and time for our society to change. It’s time for more people who suffer from mental health challenges, like me, to speak out. We need to know that we are not alone in our struggle. It’s ok to talk about our mental health, and we all need to do it more.
On #bellletstalk day a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to join in on #STARSRegina’s chat about mental health. I wasn’t even sure what I was getting myself into that night, but it was a game changer. I felt ok to share what I was going through, and was surprised that I was not alone. In the fall a fellow Education student, Meagan, shared her story, and it was very inspiring. Since then we’ve been able to connect on many new levels, and I’ve been so grateful for it. Through the chat though, and the stories that followed, I was able to see just how many others face mental health challenges in their lives. Tears streamed down my face that night. Partly because of the shame I felt for not having shared my story before, and also for the courage everyone was showing that night in sharing together. Another friend, Raquel, wrote a great piece about how much we can learn from the experiences of others. Reading this, and all the Tweets that night made me realize just how far I’ve come, and that I really did need to share my untold story.
I thought that there would be more tears running down my cheeks as I wrote this post, but there hasn’t (ok, there was once or twice for a second or two). While this is slightly surprising, I think it is because I have realized over the last few weeks that it’s ok to say that I have depression. It’s ok to share that with others and tell them how I really feel instead of just brushing it off and thinking they won’t understand.
I am stronger than I think I am. The funny thing is, I think that others around me know this better than I am willing to tell myself. Battling depression does not make me any less of an amazing person. My battles only build me up and teach me lessons of how to persevere. Talking about it with others will help me in my battles, and will hopefully help others in their battles too. There is power in numbers, strength in others, and so much love in the support in the comfort of friends. We all need to speak out, pop the stigma of mental health, and share our voices together.