I am here to speak about something that is very close to my heart, mental health. Most of you listening to this that know me, or even consider themselves close to me will not know the reason this is so important to me, because I have always been afraid to say it out loud. But, the reason I care so much about mental health awareness is because for a long time now I have been suffering with depression and anxiety.
Looking back, I can say I have been suffering with mental health issues since I was 13 years-old, I am now 19. The reason I never reached out to anyone around me wasn’t because I didn’t have a loving amazing family that I thought wouldn’t support me, it wasn’t because I didn’t have friends, it was because I felt ashamed. I was considered a high flyer, I came top of many of my classes at school, I had lots of friends, I had goals, it seemed to others like I had everything in my life together. But, in reality, I felt like I was drowning.
From year 10 to 11, two people I was close to died suddenly and two others who I had a less close relation with also died, and although those deaths didn’t have a direct impact I still felt their effects. All of this happened in less than a year giving me little time to process, and I began to feel like everyone was dying, and I started to question the meaning of life itself, what was my purpose, why was I here? Throughout all of this I tried to act strong, knowing that my parents were struggling with these losses too and not wanting to worry them that I wasn’t coping. I knew everyone in life lost people, so I felt like I didn’t have the right to grieve in front of others because I didn’t want to bring them down or bore them with my problems which I felt were inconsequential.
This resulted in me bottling up my feelings to a ridiculous capacity. I went to school everyday with the knowledge that I had to smile, laugh and act happy around my friends so that they wouldn’t see my cracks. I wanted them to believe I was perfect, and because they didn’t really want to see anything wrong, they didn’t. I became an Oscar-worthy actor, able to function through my worst days, able to laugh out loud when I was positively sobbing inside.
It was the evenings that got me, I became so used to squashing my true depressive feelings down so far that whilst around others I could almost forget they were there. But then, inevitably, I had to be alone at some point. It was then that the horrific feelings of self-hatred and self-worthlessness would attack and overwhelm me to the point I would often have panic attacks so severe I would hyperventilate and, on occasion, hallucinate. I was able to keep this from my family under the persona that I was simply hard at work on coursework, or these attacks would happen in the middle of the night meaning that no one would notice anyway.
It was at this point that I began to suspect that there was something wrong with me, I didn’t know much about mental health issues back then, all I thought was that if you were mentally ill you also had to be clinically insane. And so, it followed that I began to think that I was crazy, medically crazy. This in itself was psychologically damaging because I began to doubt that anything I thought was valid, I retreated into myself, no longer participating in debates at school or offering my opinion because I believed that everything I thought was undermined by the fact that I was crazy. This only fuelled the fire of my thoughts of self-worthlessness. I was spiralling, and I felt I had no one to turn to because I was afraid I would-be put-on medication or thrown into a mental hospital. I didn’t want to be treated any differently, but I knew my friends would never look at me the same if I told them I thought I had schizophrenia, so I held them at arms-length. I know there are probably others out there that went through that too, a belief that they were insane, and that is why it is so important we have a rise in awareness for mental health.
I just didn’t want people to think that I was weak, because I thought I was weak. I didn’t want people to think I couldn’t cope with situations that everyone in life goes through. Because I hated myself, I expected that if others saw the real me they would hate me too. It was this mindset that, in the words of Wentworth Miller, meant I navigated everyday in a ‘survival mode’ of pretended happiness.
That’s not to say that I didn’t feel happiness, I did. It was just that after every happy moment I would find a reason to hate myself in that situation, or to criticise that everything was always going to get bad again, that I would never find a permanent happiness. My good points were great, my low points were depression. And, it was with the realisation that it was my depression and anxiety that was making me feel this way that allowed me to understand where these thoughts were coming from.
The point to this story is that the thing that prevented me from starting recovery and finding healthy coping mechanisms was my paralysing fear that people would find out about my secret. But, when I finally worked up the courage to confide in someone, to share the weight with someone it was an amazing feeling. I’m not saying it’s easy, it took me two years from the point that I decided something had to change to me actually telling someone about what I was struggling with, but once I did the knowledge that someone was truly there for me was amazing.
I had confided in a girl I lived with in my first year of university, and I remember the morning after she sent me a message saying that no matter what she would always be there for me, that I could always talk to her about anything. This moved me beyond words and meant more than she can ever understand, because I had never had anyone say that to me before. I finally felt like I belonged somewhere, where someone knew the real me and accepted me for it so readily and so naturally. I cried out of happiness for the first time in a long time.
Although I am still working on getting professional help, and I have a long way to go in terms of recovery, I am telling my story to show that even if you feel, like I did, that no one is there for you, and there is no one you can confide in, there is. There is always someone, and if there’s no one there right now, you will find that person that you can rely on. I went through a long period where I truly believed I would be alone in terms of friendships forever, with no one I could count on. That feeling of loneliness is one of my biggest battles, but it starts with talking to someone.
The battle against depression starts with talking to someone, because no battle can be fought alone.