October 10 celebrated World Mental Health Day. It warmed my heart to see people I follow on social media open up about their struggles with mental health, including anxiety and depression. The truth is though, that I had no idea. We see their smiling faces in the pictures they choose to post, but we don't see what's behind the smile, we don't see what's inside.
These people talked not only about what they have gone and are going through, but they also offered support to others struggling, as well as helpful tips on how to battle the war that many of us face in our heads. This vulnerable honesty allows people who don't struggle with their mental health to better understand the difficulties faced by those who do.
I opened up on my Twitter about how I was personally affected by my problems with mental health. Doing so made me want to open up a little more, so I decided to write about it in this week's article.
The truth is, you don't see what I'm going through. You may see what I'm wearing, the vacations I go on, my filtered Instagram, or my good grades, and you might think--wow, she has it all together, she's doing great! You may hear me talk about how I am struggling, and then wonder why I have anything to struggle about. Well, that's because I only let show what I want to be seen.
If I posted about tearing my ACL, I would get flooded with messages of well-wishes like "hope you feel better soon," and "let me know if there's anything I can do!" If I was puking all morning, I wouldn't be scrutinized for staying home.
Now if I posted about being so depressed that I couldn't get out of bed, there would be silence. There would be whispers of "she has nothing to be upset about, she's just staying home because she can, she's just saying that for attention," and so on. No well-wishes, no support, and lots of judgment. We need to start allowing people's mental struggles to be valid, and we need to treat mental health issues the same way we treat physical issues.
For a brief medical summary: Depression affects millions of people in the United States every year. Those affected may turn to drugs, alcohol, self-harm, or suicide. Treatments for depression include antidepressant medication and different forms of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy. Depression can lead to a lack of sleep, a change in appetite, and decreased energy levels, as well as anger, irritability, and low self-esteem.
Depression is not sadness and it is not a feeling. It consumes you and darkens every aspect of your life. Like a dark cloud following you around all day, it's always there, ready to send a torrential rain throughout your whole head, and some days it feels like you can't breathe. It is not a choice.
When I was a freshman in high school, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Throughout the four years of high school, there were actually times when I couldn't get out of bed for two to three days straight. There were nights when I couldn't turn off my head, and I felt like I couldn't breathe because my thoughts went too deep.
I eventually began seeing a therapist, who recommended antidepressants. I decided against taking any because I believed that there were alternative ways to treat depression in my case. Looking back, there were many environmental factors which were toxic to my mental health, but I was unable to avoid them until I came to college. I eventually found solace in exercise. I was amazed at how my thoughts and mood improved simply by going to the gym and working out or going for a run.
In the movie, "Legally Blonde," Reese Witherspoon's character, Elle Woods, says: "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy." It is proven that exercising does release endorphins, as well as increase blood flow to the brain and release neurotransmitters, like serotonin. Exercise did not directly lessen my anxiety, but it did provide an outlet for releasing it and morphing it into something more controllable and tolerable.
Taking medication was not the path for me, but by no means does that mean it isn't an effective way to treat mental health illnesses. Taking medication does not make a person weak. Taking medication can save a person's life.
In addition to exercise, I found other self-help mechanisms:
Writing down exactly what I'm feeling and why I am feeling that way. Often seeing what I'm thinking on paper helps make my thoughts seem valid and more clear.
Staying home, getting a coffee, deep breathing, etc. Whatever you need to do to give yourself a break, do it. Just like your body needs sleep for fuel for the day, your head needs a break in order to fuel up as well.
Eating less unhealthy food and drinking a lot of water. I'm not saying cut out bad food, but focus more on what you are putting into your body.
Listening to music or reading a good book. Many times other people are capable of putting your feelings into words when you can't do it yourself. Both are also a distraction from whatever is going on inside your head.
Talk about it without asking for advice, just find someone who can affirm that your current state of being is valid.
Being real honest, I cried while writing this article.
Not because I am sad, but because when I look back at who I used to be, I see a broken and helpless girl. When looking at myself now, I see a strong girl who can do anything. I worked hard in silence to overcome my battles and I could not be prouder of who I am today.
I am proud for not giving up, for bettering myself, for cutting out toxic habits, for leaving toxic environments and mostly for teaching myself how to live a life worth living. I learned that I am the only person who can save me when I'm drowning in myself, but I know that when I make it back to shore I have people there who love me and support me.
If anyone ever needs someone to talk to, know that there is always someone there willing to help. You are not alone. You are not a burden. If someone, even yourself, doesn't know your worth, know that there are so many people who do. They see you, and they love you. Let them. You are loved. You are strong and important. You are good enough. You matter.