This article is really hard for me to write. Not only is it really personal, but its also very emotional. I just felt that with all the talk of mental health in the media these days, it was something that I needed to write.
I have struggled with depression and anxiety since early high school. It was something that I never wanted to admit to myself, but when I did, it was a breath of fresh air. When I told my guidance counselor, and eventually, my parents, it felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. But I was left with the nagging question-- what now?
I never felt the urge or desire to do harm to myself or others. I am very fortunate for this, yet it made me feel that my problems weren't serious and didn't warrant attention. My depression was not "bad enough" to need outside help. So I tried, for a long time, to ignore it.
It wasn't until about a year ago that I realized that my struggles were valid. It was important enough-- I was important enough-- to get the help that I needed. So I did. I went to the counseling center on campus, and I did something that was way out of my comfort zone-- I talked about me. I talked about my feelings, my day to day struggles, the things I found inadequate about myself-- all of it. It didn't all happen right away; it took some time. But the more I opened up, the more I understood that seeking help was not a sign of weakness-- but a sign of immense strength.
I had an amazing experience with my therapist and the school counseling center, which I am so lucky for. She was patient, understanding, and compassionate. Most importantly, she didn't make me feel like some crazy person under a microscope. She made me feel like a strong woman, a capable human being, and someone who deserved to be happy and whole. Talking with her opened up so many resources, coping mechanisms, and general knowledge that made my life so much easier.
Some might wonder, if I wasn't harming myself or others, how I could claim that therapy saved me. Even though I never stopped wanting to live, I knew there was a better life for me. I had so much potential, and the wants and desires to do so much with my life, but I just had to heal first. I can say with absolute conviction that I would not be the person I am today if it wasn't for my decision to enter into therapy.
I no longer live feeling the need to constantly pick up the pieces. I am successful, happy, and hopeful because I was armed with the tools I needed to grow and heal. My next step, and the main reason for writing this article, is speaking up against the stigma of mental illness.
We need-- and by "we" I mean myself and the 50+ million people per year that suffer with mental illness in the United States-- to feel accepted, normal, and loved. I am resentful for being depicted as a crazy person. I am resentful for every mass murder being chalked up to mental illness. I am resentful for being talked about as weak, or violent, or desperate for attention. But most of all, I am extremely saddened by the lack of knowledge, attention, resources, and effort being put into mental health awareness.
It's time to be more serious, accurate, and realistic about the way we talk about mental health. No one should be afraid or ashamed to seek help due to the stigma surrounding mental health issues-- because therapy saved me from a life that I did not want for myself. And I'm not the only one.
For additional resources:
National Alliance on Mental Illness: NAMI
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255