“I don’t have that, that or that. I’m fine.”
That’s what I used to tell myself as I stared at the wide variety of mental illnesses on WebMD.
But something was wrong; that’s why I looked up disorders to begin with.
I still felt relatively normal at that point, and I could recognize I wasn’t feeling like myself. I had a little paranoia and felt isolated, but that was it.
I remember joking to myself and saying, “Some people gain the freshman 15, but I gained the freshman blues.” That was a "thing," right?
It all began in 2002 when I left home, the small island of St. Maarten, to head to Wisconsin for college. I was excited to go as far north in the USA as I could. I had never experienced a full winter, and I was looking forward to the snow.
It started out great. I had a nice dorm, and I felt independent. The campus in Madison was beautiful that time of year. There was a running path around the lake, and outside of the campus, there was a cute little town I could explore.
I still remember feeling like it was going to be the best year of my life.
However, by the beginning of October, I felt differently. The girls in my dorm thought I was “different” because I had grown up outside the US. They were all chatty, had too many designer bags to count and had no interest including me in their groups.
I stayed in my dorm most days, and I skipped a lot of class. I even put a lock on my door so my roommate couldn't access my side of the room. I missed my high school boyfriend (whom I had broken up with before leaving), and I still hadn’t dealt with the death of my best friend a year earlier.
On a bus trip to Chicago during a long weekend break, I remembered how she always said she wanted to take a trip with me to Chicago. It was a city my family visited frequently, as my mom had grown up there.
The thought made me sad. I was never going to see her again.
I fought through these reflections and attributed them to normal homesickness. Even WebMD indicated it was just normal sadness.
After all, I had never believed in depression before. I thought it was just something people had because they refused to get themselves out of a rut. They played the victim, or they did it for attention.
They just simply didn't want to deal with the struggles of life.
I was still hopeful at this time. I went to the library more often, immersed myself in literature, got a fake ID and even tried bar-hopping. Somehow, that made it worse.
I started feeling like people were following me wherever I went. I became increasingly scared and paranoid.
One day, when the sun was setting, and I was on my way home from the library, a voice in my head said “Run!” I started running as fast as I could, not knowing if the person behind me would be able to catch me.
Every day, I looked at the people around me and thought I could feel their hatred toward me. One morning, on the way to class, a man passed me eating an apple, and I saw him throw the apple in my face.
I jumped back, shielded my face with my hands and slowly opened my eyes. He gave me a strange look and kept eating.
Had I really just imagined that? But I saw it. I saw it with my own eyes.
This frightened me terribly.
A few days later, as I sat in a large lecture hall about 30 rows up, I listened to the professor and watched as he wrote on the chalk board. He drew a diagram to illustrate his ideas.
All of a sudden, his voice seemed very far away, and I felt like I was floating in a bubble. As the professor turned around, I saw him throw the chalk at me. It came to my face quickly.
I got up swiftly — startling others — but the professor kept writing on the board. As I cried, I realized this hadn’t really happened.
I was so scared. I’d never lost control like this in my life.
What was wrong with me? Was I sick?
These incidents became a daily occurrence, and they caused me to stay in my dorm almost constantly. I tried talking to my mother about my feelings. I wanted to leave immediately, but she convinced me to ride out the year until I could transfer.
I went home for Christmas break, feeling fragile and broken. I didn't want to see my friends.
I cried when I had to go back for the second semester. It was then, in the thick of winter, when I really lost touch with reality.
My nightmares had been constant for months. One night, I woke up in the middle of a deep sleep, absolutely knowing I was going to die at any second. It was like a timer, counting down from 10 until my death.
I jumped out of bed and grabbed my phone, knowing I needed to tell my mother this was it. Just like my best friend, I was about to be gone forever.
She would never talk to me, see me or be able to hug me again. I stumbled with my cell phone. But as I stared at the lit numbers, I realized I couldn’t remember my own home number.
How was this possible? I dialed this number every day. In a complete panic, I rose out of bed and saw the walls caving in on me from both sides.
"That’s it," I realized. "I will die any second because the walls will crush me."
I curled up in a ball for several minutes, unable to cry, move or even think. Suddenly, the answer came to me. I could write my mom an email and tell her goodbye that way.
I got to the computer and clicked the Internet icon. Something was different.
I couldn’t read the words on the page. It was like they were in a different language.
I found the mail icon and clicked that, only to stare at a blank page, unable to remember how to write. I sank down in the chair, silently saying goodbye to my mother. I knew I tried, but I failed to reach her.
That was the worst panic attack I've ever had. I haven’t had one since.
When I was able to understand what psychotic depression was, I felt empowered. It took me a long time to get back to the way I was, but the most important thing is I did.
I could, and you can. We just need to understand what's happening.
Depression is very real, and it can be incredibly scary. Without knowing what I had, I was trying to hide my symptoms.
I had absolutely no control over my mind. It was involuntarily playing tricks on me every chance it got, making me lose touch with reality.
If I didn’t get help, who knows what would have happened to me? So, in honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, I share my story. I want to stress the importance of you sharing yours.
I used to be embarrassed to have experienced all of this. But now, if I can help even one person going through the same things I did, it’s worth reliving the memories.