Five years ago, as I readied to go to school one morning, I had a major problem.
As I stared at my reflection in the mirror I couldn't bear to see what was staring back at me.
A girl that was desperately trying, but ultimately failing, to be happy.
I was like a nervous kid who couldn’t meet the school principal’s gaze. Everything just felt off.
My experience with depression was really confusing.
But the awful mix of stigma and silence surrounding it made it significantly worse.
I couldn’t put my finger on what was ailing me, but I felt like my head was in a glass cylinder that kept fogging up.
“Pull yourself together. You’ll be fine,” I quickly said as I rushed out the door that day.
My Dad revved the car as I headed off to school. I spent the day doing the things I’d loved: laughing and socializing with friends, going outside and partaking in my classes.
And yet, there was something missing.
Something was… different.
I suppose I felt like I wasn’t really there.
I was lost in a cloud of emotions that I couldn’t quite understand, and everything I did felt disingenuous. All I could think was:
What’s wrong with me?
The words played over and over in my head, but I couldn’t puzzle it out.
I was stuck and numb.
I didn’t get it, and no one around me seemed to be in the same boat (or at least I thought).
Seventeen-year-old me would have been so grateful to have anyone or anything to fully relate to. To have someone tell me, “I get where you’re coming from,” would have made a world of difference.
After countless doctors appointments with nurses who told me “you’re probably just hormonal,” and numerous late-night searches asking why I couldn’t cry, I finally got the help I didn’t fully know I needed in the form of therapy and antidepressants.
It was a huge step forward, but even though I was getting better, I still felt isolated from everyone and everything I knew.
Nobody I knew was like me.
I couldn’t help but think, They weren’t messed up, so why was I?
The anti-depressants I was prescribed almost felt dirty, and I used to hide my face when my parents drove me to-and-from therapy for fear that I’d see someone I knew.
Surely I was weak — No one else struggles like this with their emotions, Sophie. You need to get a grip.
My friends and family couldn’t have reacted any better, and their support was phenomenal. But they couldn’t quite relate to me or fully grasp where I was coming from.
They were normal, and I wasn’t.
My depression made me feel like I had an ‘OUTSIDER’ label tattooed all over my body.
What I wouldn’t have given to have heard someone casually talk about how their Fluoxetine was messing with their sleep cycle, or laugh about how their therapist mispronounced ‘catastrophizing’ for the third time in a row.
What I’m trying to say is: I needed to hear that I wasn’t alone.
We all need to hear that we aren’t alone.
Let’s normalize talking about whatever is on our minds.
As painfully cliché as it is, honest and open conversation about depression and mental health would have made a world of difference for my younger self — and would still have an outsized impact on me today.
It’s healthy to just put things out there, and to not have to worry about what anyone else thinks when you do it.
Your sincerity and transparency can change someone else’s feeling about themselves. Even if it’s just that today has been a bad day and you can’t put your finger on why.
Things can get really tough really quickly, so being able to hear someone tell it how it is is unbelievably refreshing.
I understand there is a dangerous culture of trivializing mental illness, and this column by no means aligns itself with that. With shows like Thirteen Reasons Why, and everyday flippant references like “Agh, that was so OCD of me,” massively adding to the problem and undercutting the everyday experiences that people with mental illness go through, mental illness can seem more like a fad than a legitimate problem.
This can be hugely harmful and invalidating to anyone suffering from poor mental health, which is why these open conversations are so important.
Seeing or hearing someone you can relate to is always a good thing, and we should all embrace having these honest conversations with ourselves and others, so we can seek the help we need and not feel self-conscious in doing so.
To anyone reading this who thinks they’re the odd one out for having poor mental health — I promise you, you’re not at all.
I really hope this column can show you that anyone can suffer from a mental illness, just like anyone can break their leg or catch a cold.
We need to start openly speaking about what we’re thinking and feeling, because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with what goes on in your mind and you have no idea how helpful you could be both to yourself and those around you in just being honest.
No matter what, you aren’t alone in this.
We encourage students to prioritize their mental health. You are never alone. If you are in crisis, please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255 or UB Counseling Services, at 716-645-2720.
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