This blog post has been in the works for about 3+ years now. With Monday (September 10th) having been Suicide Prevention Awareness Day, and with September being the month of Suicide Prevention Awareness overall, I felt that this was a good time (if there ever truly is one) to share my own journey with my mental health.
**Disclaimer – no, I have never been suicidal personally; but I do know people who have been. The number of people that suffer silently with mental illness is astounding. While many feel alone or afraid to reach out, there ARE people who can help. Should you or anyone that you know have any suicidal thoughts, PLEASE call the National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255**
In my late teens and early twenties, college was what defined me. I knew that no matter what life threw at me, I had a community of people my age surrounding me, going through similar life experiences, whom I could reach out to at any given moment. I have always been a social person, so naturally I thrived living in a college town. It was truly wonderful, and plenty of days I think back on those memories and wish that I could just experience it all one more time.
Naturally, as a student, I felt stressed – I felt the struggle of paying bills, of keeping on-track with my assignments, of balancing my social life with classes and part-time jobs, etc. To me, stress and anxiety weren’t exactly new – but I was so busy constantly that I didn’t really have the time to think about what was “normal.” After graduation and securing my first adult job, I felt like I would make the transition from student to adult extremely well – I had a job in a field I was hoping to make a career in, and I was moving to a town that was right in-between my hometown and my college town, which would make visiting my family/friends/boyfriend SO easy. I’d be living truly on my own for the first time, and though I was sad to be leaving plenty of friends behind, I was so excited to see what the “real world” had to offer me!
For a few months, things were okay. I enjoyed the work I did, and I even managed to make a couple of friends in the small town I lived in. I was pretty poor, but I was making it on my own. What more could I ask for?
Now, don’t get me wrong – small-town life has its benefits. I experienced firsthand just how wonderful close-knit communities can be, and how nice it can be to see a friendly face nearly everywhere you go. But, going from a college town atmosphere, where my friends were only a few blocks away at any given time, and constantly having a social life, to a town where I spent a majority of my down-time alone, was a really harsh change. I started to feel pretty depressed and anxious, and didn’t know how to handle it.
Months went by, and things only continued to worsen. With no social life to distract me, I was stuck with my own thoughts – and it was then that I realized that I maybe needed some help. My anxiety had manifested itself at full-force, to the point that I couldn’t sleep on my own, which only caused more anxiety. I was fearful that I was alone, that I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. I was fearful that no one my age had feelings like this, that I was abnormal. Finally, in the spring of 2014, I had just about as much as I could handle. I broke down. But most importantly, I asked for help.
At 23, just one year out of college, I felt like such a failure. But I had truly learned one valuable lesson – that no matter what, family and true friends will be there for you. I have never felt that more deeply than I felt it then.
After some therapy (which I should’ve stuck with, but at this point wasn’t fully convinced I needed), official diagnoses of anxiety/depression and some medication, I was finally feeling back to my “normal” self. I still wasn’t ready to fully open up about this experience to anyone, but I was definitely in a better spot.
Flash forward to the winter of 2015, a year and a half later. At this point, I had had several different jobs, straying from the field I really wanted a career in, but was back in my hometown and living with my boyfriend. I had been sticking with my medications, but had not sought any further therapy. All in all, I was fine. I even started forgetting my medication at times, but I didn’t have anything to worry about – things were just fine.
Then, I got the news that someone I had gone to middle/high school with had committed suicide. Not to say that this person and I were close by any means – but I remembered sitting next to her in classes. I remembered her bright and charismatic personality, how friendly and outgoing she had been – and I just couldn’t believe it.
Combined with the fact that I hadn’t been taking my medication as prescribed, and a few other family events wreaking emotional havoc, I had my second break down. And once again, I had to ask for help.
This time around was a pretty dark time for me. Even though I was living with my boyfriend and I had family/friends around, it was still extremely difficult. At this point, I truly realized that I wasn’t alone in dealing with mental illness – that there were so many other people my age dealing with it themselves – but it wasn’t a comforting thought. It scared me that suicide was actually possible. I realize that sounds silly, because it’s always existed. But having it happen to someone I actually knew somehow made it more real to me.
I learned firsthand the importance of sticking with medication, even if things seem “better” – that doctors do know much more than I do, and that medication can truly help. I realized that medication alone isn’t always the answer, either. Sometimes you need some additional help, such as therapy, to work through your “issues.”
Since winter 2015/spring 2016, I have grown so much. I have been much more open about my use of medication to assist with my anxiety/depression. I have been able to talk with people about it, and I continued with therapy (though I haven’t been in awhile – really should make an appointment soon, while I’m thinking about it). Even having gone through quite a bit of loss recently, I have had plenty of people around me to help me get through. I have had my good days and my bad, but overall I am really doing well.
People may think that having a mental illness means that I am a weak person – but I guarantee you that I am not. People may not fully understand what it’s like to suffer from anxiety/depression – and that’s OK. This experience has been extremely humbling for me. Everyone’s life experience is different. My story just happens to include depression/anxiety, and I will not be ashamed of that.
The moral of my story is this: I’m glad that I can open up and share my truth. While it’s terrifying to think of the feedback from my friends and acquaintances, and that it may change their perception of me for the worse, it’s also such a great feeling to be honest about it. I am so grateful to have people in my life that I can rely on to help me when I need it, that I can go to and talk with, and know that I won’t be judged. I can only hope that others have that same experience. There is still such a stigma associated with mental illness/mental health – but so many people are starting to share their own stories. More and more celebrities have opened up about their own struggles, showing that it can happen to anyone. Me sharing my own story isn’t to try to gain sympathy – it’s the exact opposite of that. I’m sharing my story to encourage others to do the same, to let people know that they are NOT alone, and to hopefully encourage those who may be suffering in silence to take that chance and ask for help. It’s terrifying at first, but I know that I am so glad I did.