I remember in high school when I first heard about classmates of mine harming themselves, cutting their wrists or abusing substances to torch their pain. I’d hear about suicides on the news of young teenagers just like me. I didn’t quite understand it then. I didn’t understand how someone could hate their life so much that they’d want to end it. What exactly was this darkness they were living in?
And then one day I woke up. I was a good standing student at a four year college, with a roof over my head, an exceptional bunch of friends, parents that loved me and food to eat everyday. Yet I didn’t want to get out of bed. I dragged myself to class, I forced social interactions with my friends, I procrastinated as long as I could with all my homework and responsibilities and ended up handing in work that wasn’t nearly my best effort. I’d let my thoughts keep me up all night and I’d go through each and every day feeling like a zombie. I felt terribly sad and down on myself and I didn’t understand why. Nothing was wrong with my life, and yet I was so tired of living it.
I felt selfish. I felt like a horrible person. Some people don’t have homes, they don’t have food to eat and they don’t have loved ones surrounding them. I did. And here I was, living a pretty decent life. Why was I so damn emotional all the time? Some people had it so much worse than me, and yet they were still smiling, and that’s what I found so baffling.
I felt that if I told someone I was depressed, they would wonder why. They would ask what was so terribly wrong in my life that had fostered all this sadness in me. They would think I was just looking for attention. And then, once my secret was out (that I was the "depressed chick"), they’d start treating me differently.
You see, when people hear you broke your leg, they come sign your cast; they send you “Get Well" cards and they write on your Facebook wall sending their best wishes. A broken leg is unfortunate, but it will heal. When people hear about your depression, they avoid you.
They consider you the “sad” boy or girl, and they don’t want your negativity bringing them down. They feel uncomfortable around you; they feel sorry for you; they don’t know what to say or how to act; they're afraid they might do the wrong thing and upset you even more. So they take the easy way out and they stay away from you.
And that’s the problem with mental illness. It’s something no one wants to say they have, but the repercussions of hiding it can literally be a life or death situation.
Depression is more common than you think. We’ll go through our days with forced smiles and laughter only to let the tears loose when we’re alone.
And I’m tired of pretending that I'm fine when I'm not. I remember all the times people would ask me what was wrong and I’d pull my usual “I’m just tired” line, when I really just wanted to roll up into a ball and cry.
Mental health needs to become a topic to discuss at the dinner table. A topic that needs to lose its stigma. It needs to be something that we can’t be afraid to speak about or admit to having.
Right now I’m OK. I’m a lucky one. I am fortunate to have found help and to be surrounded by a great support system. But I know there are people out there who are being tortured by their depression (or other mental illness) every second of every single day, and they’re afraid to come clean -- to tell everyone that there is something wrong. To tell the world, “Hey, I’m fucking depressed.” They’re terrified of how people will treat them and think of them.For those of us who aren’t suffering with mental illness, we need to start a conversation on mental health. We need to make our loved ones who may be suffering feel like they can open up. We need to make mental health a topic that people aren’t afraid to bring up. We need to start talking and stop judging.