Ever since I can remember I have always been inside my head. My parents tell me that I was the easiest child to bring to restaurants because I would just sit quietly and observe all the people and happenings around me. Who knows what my toddler self was thinking, but one thing is certain, I was definitely thinking.
My tendency to think -- deeply, rapidly and sometimes maniacally -- has been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember. The human brain never ceases to amaze me.
While the way my brain works has helped me in many ways (I’m extremely clean, organized, a problem solver, etc.), it has also created a very detrimental aspect to my life, that until recently I’ve kept extremely private because of embarrassment.
After learning of the death of one of my favorite actors, Robin Williams, from suicide, I was utterly shocked. I couldn’t believe he had been battling depression and substance abuse because his personality and exterior seemed so warm, loving and happy.
However as my shock subsided, I realized that Robin Williams is a lot like myself.
Mostly everyone who knows me says I am a friendly, sweet, caring individual. I try to make everyone laugh and I was even voted “Most Likely To Brighten Your Day” in high school. What most people don’t know, and what I’ve tried very hard my whole life to keep hidden, is that I’ve dealt with mental health issues since I was a kid.
I remember my first time feeling overwhelming depression. I was probably 8 or 9 years old at my best friend's house and I called my mom and told her I was really, really sad and I didn’t know why.
My parents, who both battle with anxiety and depression, and have been on medication since I was a child, knew that this was probably a sign that their issues had been genetically passed on to me.
My mom took me to a therapist, and I went maybe two times before I realized that “I was fine and I wasn’t sad anymore.” This cycle of short spurts of overwhelming sadness followed by months of being content only to return to times of depression and anxiety has continued to this day.
My feelings of anxiety would permeate every aspect of my life: school, friendships, relationships. I would always be thinking of every possible outcome, everything that could go wrong, even the things that could go right would overwhelm my mind.
Senior year of high school, after a new demon entered the picture, – panic attacks -- I decided to try to get help, this time to chemically fix what was going on in my head. I went on anti-anxiety medication and to therapy until I realized once again that “I was fine,” and stopped both.
Years have gone by and the pattern of feeling good and feeling helpless has repeated time and time again, and instead of dealing with the problem, I ignored it.
I hardly shared with anyone outside my family and my best friend that I was dealing with these issues, always keeping a smile on my face or trying to make people laugh in some way or another.
Why? Because there is a stigma associated with these issues, a terrible stigma, which leads people who deal with them to feel embarrassed or ashamed. You fear people labeling you “crazy” or unstable, and you decide to keep it inside, which only makes you feel more hopeless.
I remember at one of my very bad points in high school, when I was just starting therapy, the therapist asked if I had ever thought about suicide, and I was so embarrassed to answer her question that I said "no," even though it had crossed my mind before. That’s how scared I was of being judged or labeled crazy, even by the therapist herself.
It wasn’t until very recently, that somehow (maybe it's because I’m about to be 25, and it’s time to grow the hell up) I’ve come to terms with the issues I deal with and sought out real help.
I started taking an SSRI, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, which helps to balance out the chemicals in my brain and has greatly reduced my anxiety and feelings of depression. This article in itself is a huge exercise for me in being open and accepting the fact that something is wrong with me, but that I’m taking the steps I need to live a better, healthier and happier life.
For those dealing with issues like anxiety and depression or any other mental illness, if I could give any advice, I would say: Stop being embarrassed.
More people than you think are going through the same battle, and there is nothing to be ashamed about. While medication may not be the answer for everyone, it might be for you and you should not hesitate to go to a doctor and find out what options there are so that you can feel happy and enjoy life again.
There is an alternative… why live your life like this, or wait until you hit rock bottom? Make changes now so that you never get to a point so deep that you can't see the light.
If you are fortunate enough never to have to deal with these issues, then please, be empathetic towards those who do.
Don’t judge them, or label them as crazy or unstable. Don’t doubt them or make them think their feelings aren’t legitimate. Be there for them and let them know that you aren’t going to view them any differently because they are going through some sh*t.
Sometimes, all you need is a good friend.
There is much truth in the quote “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Hopefully, we will see a day when the stigmas surrounding mental illness end, and people will no longer have to suffer quietly.
For now, all we can do is remember a great actor and man for his smile, and pray for all those who are hiding behind their own.
Photo Courtesy: We Heart It