"Sometimes, when I tell friends or family I’ve struggled with mental illness, they immediately dismiss it as false.
People have so many preconceived notions of what mental illness is and they can’t wrap their heads around how someone who seems--at least moderately--successful in life actually has some 'issues.'
I’ve been diagnosed with a handful of acronyms: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and Dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder).
For the past several years, I’ve been very stable, despite it all.
I would assume most people perceive me to be outgoing and bubbly, and I have a job where I have to regularly network and talk to people... and sometimes speak on stage in front of hundreds of attendees at conferences (which can be terrifying)! So, I’ve somewhat adapted to feeling 'normal,' but it hasn’t always been that way.
I had some of my first depressive thoughts around the age of nine.
Even though my parents’ divorce went smoothly (they always put me first), moving to a new house with a new family to a new school district--all in the span of a couple of years--really took its toll on me.
I clearly remember looking out of my bedroom window a few years after the move and wishing that I didn't exist anymore. In retrospect, it’s a strange feeling to be so young and know you just aren't 'right.'
Elementary and high school brought both ups and downs.
My diagnoses made it so hard to be rational, and I struggled with interpersonal relationships and how to remain calm in stressful situations. I probably hurt or upset a lot of people due to my behavior and I take full responsibility.
I think that my family viewed my behavior as something I’d outgrow. When I told my mom I was seriously depressed during my junior year of high school, she found a therapist for me.
I gave up on therapy by senior year of high school, however, and during my early college years, I struggled with a lot of reckless behavior.
On some level, it was like I wanted to harm myself, but was too afraid to do it, so I put myself in harm’s way on purpose.
My friend and I were physically assaulted/mugged in 2010 while walking to a bar.
After that, it was like the worst parts of my bad mental health got about 1,000 times worse, and I found myself absolutely terrified to leave the house at night; scared beyond measure to be alone on any kind of street or sidewalk, even during the daytime.
How can you tell your friends: 'Sorry, I can't hang out tonight because I'm too traumatized?'
Eventually, I hit what I’d consider emotional rock bottom.
In the fall of 2014, I began drafting what had the strong potential of being my final note. I had a whole stockpile of 'drafts' that I had written in a diary throughout childhood and adulthood; I had done this many, many times before, but suddenly, it was like a moment of clarity struck me.
Things didn't have to be this way and I deserved better.
It took a lot of willpower, but I finally made the commitment to begin seeing a therapist regularly in December of 2014.
Now, I truly feel it saved me.
An old college friend of mine recently died by suicide, and I was devastated. I had other acquaintances in my life who had also died that way, but this one hit harder than any of the others.
I hadn’t seen her in a while, though we talked online from time to time. I found myself sobbing for days and wondering why she hadn’t reached out to someone… I do understand why, deep down, because I recognize the feelings of embarrassment and guilt attached to reaching out for help.
I adored her and my heart aches for her close friends and family.
When you lose someone to suicide, there are always the what-ifs, and that’s difficult to deal with.
After her death, I was motivated even more to help break the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide. I want people like her to know that they don’t have to hide their feelings and they deserve to be happy and healthy.
How can we help each other, and help those in need, without changing our dialogue and outlook on suicide and mental illness? People are embarrassed or scared to seek help and it’s a shame our society has made it that way.
Did you know that OCD is considered a common mental illness? An estimated 3.3 million people suffer from it in the United States alone. And that’s just one disorder out of so many!
Life is a constant uphill battle, but I’m willing to take it on now. I will have really good days and some really bad days, and I recognize that.
As I've accepted that I'm not a completely 'normal' person, I've begun to accept those things about myself that cannot be changed, but what I can also work toward improving.
Therapy has been a godsend, and while I regret not getting help sooner, I’m glad I finally did. I'm learning to love myself again. And when your family and friends tell you they notice a positive difference in you, it feels beyond gratifying.
I just want my close friends and family to know how grateful I am to them for sticking by me, and making me feel loved and needed, even in my weakest moments.
If you can be a strong person for someone struggling in your life, you won't regret it.
I suppose the overarching point is that even during the darkest of times, it’s important to remember that you are loved and that you deserve to be here.
I didn’t used to think that I deserved to be here, either. It took some time, but now I know I do."