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Let's Talk About Mental Illness

It’s no secret that mental illness is a pretty tough topic to talk about. Not only has it been seen as a ‘taboo’ subject for many years, but talking about an emotion that you feel so strongly that it completely consumes you, is no easy task.

I want to open up to you here. Not because it’s easy for me, or particularly helpful for me, but because I hope it can be helpful to you if you’re going through this. When I was severely depressed, one of the only things that helped was realizing that other people felt the EXACT way I did. It couldn’t be my fault, because they felt it too. I didn’t know those people necessarily, but I knew that I wasn’t the only person in the world going through that.

So if you are struggling, please read this. Remember that, no matter how deep in that hole you are buried, there’s someone else in the world who completely understands how you are feeling. And yes, no matter how cheesy this sounds, it does get better. IT DOES. It will always be there, and it will always be a struggle, but this feeling will not be all-consuming forever. And I’m sorry that you are here, where I was just a few short years ago.

So here’s my story.

I was the happiest person in high school. I was young, energized, and thrilled to be alive. I had tons of friends, loved my body, hair, and skin, and felt so comfortable with the life I was living. About a month before I was going to leave for college, I was devastated to walk in on my then-boyfriend cheating on me. I had been head over heels for this guy, and he treated me like a plastic bag in the wind. It wasn’t a healthy relationship, nor a stable one. I was lost in the love I was feeling for this man that I barely knew.

I stood outside his window, feeling like a predator, like an outsider. With another woman in his bed, there wasn’t a question. I turned and ran. I couldn’t process a single emotion for about 15 minutes, the time it took me to drive home. It was then that I realized how alone I really was.

I had no friends left at home. When I called, they gave me their “you’re so much better than him!” talk. They couldn’t understand, but there was nothing in the world that would help me recover from this kind of devastating heartache.

I had been trusting. So, I blamed myself. I slept for a month before I left for college. And then, I just sort of buried it. I don’t think I ever really had a chance to deal with those emotions. They just sort of disappeared when I left for school. But every winter break after, I would be attacked with a deep, deep depression.

To be clear, I didn’t know that’s what it was when it was happening to me. I just felt so so tired, all the time. I would wake up in the morning, and turnover and go back to sleep. My parents were worried, because I would rarely leave my bed. But I just couldn’t move. Some nights I would feel sadness, but usually I just felt nothingness. There was no urge to go out and live. No urge to leave my bed and see friends. I just couldn’t.

I continued to bury this until I met the love of my life. We started fast and strong, and I fell deeply in love. But suddenly, this sadness was regurgitated into the world and I would absolutely lose my mind. I would pick fights with him, cry all day, or go completely crazy on him. Again, I had NO IDEA what this was. But it felt like years worth of emotions coming out all at once. I hadn’t had a boyfriend since, and had been a little fast and loose with my relationships. I didn’t trust any man I met, but this one was different. He was kind, and understanding. And we got into HEATED fights, but he never left. Instead, he tried so hard to understand something that I couldn’t explain.

So I bit the bullet and went to my first therapist. I’m definitely a talker, so telling someone everything I felt and was so ashamed of was actually really nice. I looked forward to our weekly chats, but nothing was really helping. Instead, she was scolding me for my actions. Telling me that the way I was treating my boyfriend wasn’t okay. And I KNEW it wasn’t okay, but I couldn’t change my actions.

I fell into another deep depression. I stayed in bed most of the time. I smoked a lot of weed. I skipped classes. And I felt an incredible attachment to this man I had only known for a few months. I was breaking.

Nothing seemed to help, and this went on until I graduated from college. My boyfriend and I moved into our own place, and after a couple more bad fights, I found a new therapist. She was my golden ticket.

I didn’t realize that not all therapists were created equal, but they are NOT. I connected with this woman on a whole new level, and she was able to put things into perspective for me in a way I really understood. We didn’t dive into childhood traumas, but focused on the here and now. We talked through everything for months. She supported me as I went through my first work crisis, through my dog passing away, and through every fight with my boyfriend. We took every event and broke it down in a way that I could understand. We began to create a ‘mental toolkit’ that I could access when I needed to get through something.

Anytime I would face a difficult situation, I would try to think about our lessons to remember what to try. When I began experimenting with different reactions, I would be happily surprised to learn how well it would often turn out. When I was depressed, I would take a walk with my dog, no matter how hard it was to get out of bed. I would crawl out the door with her if I needed to. When I fought with my boyfriend, I would put myself in a ‘timeout’ until I cooled down enough to hear him out. I would then remember that I needed to apologize from time to time.

I began to incorporate these different ways of thinking and reacting into my everyday life. I was no longer someone who could just ‘stay positive!”, but would take the steps I needed to to get there. One of my favorite things my therapist ever told me was, “Imagine that everyone you interact with is a slow car on the freeway. You can’t force them to speed up, or drive better, just like you can’t force anyone in real life to act a certain way. Instead, you can pass them. Go around them. Make a choice about what you will do, instead of focusing on why they won’t do what you want them to do.” That helped me a lot. Instead of getting frustrated with people’s choices, I remember that I can’t control them. I can only control me. And I decide how I want to feel and what I will do.

Now, I’m not saying that you can just ‘get over’ being seriously depressed. I sought the help of a psychiatrist, and she prescribed antidepressants. These helped me take that first step- get out of bed, open the blinds, and decide to take a different path. I had a supportive family around me, even though they never really understood how I felt or what I was going through. I was desperate to help them understand that sometimes I just could not do anything about it. Sometimes I couldn’t get out of bed, or I would act totally irrational and cry all day. Sometimes it’s just okay. I would accept that this was how I was feeling. One bad day does not equal a bad life.

Fast forward 4 years. I can honestly say that I am happy. I still struggle from time to time, but now I know that this feeling won’t last forever. I have learned so much about myself through this process. I am strong.

So if you’re feeling like this, just remember that it isn’t your fault. That isn’t even the real you! Don’t be afraid to ask for help, because without taking that first step, I don’t know if I would be here today. I still have bad days, but most are good. I’ve taken the last 4 years to really figure this out. So start today. And if you need a friend, you have one in me.

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