I’ve always been very guarded and private when it comes to my mental health (and in general), but I’ve decided that 2020 will be the year I start sharing more with others so here we are. To say I’ve had my fair share of struggles with mental health throughout my teenage years would be a very big understatement, but 2019 was probably the worst one I’ve had since high school in terms of how I was doing. Graduating university, all of the changes that came with that and not knowing what my future looks like, caused months of anxiety and panic attacks, weeks filled with everyday breakdowns and enough tears to probably fill a small pool (or maybe a large bathtub). Of course, I never let the world around me see that, because God forbid someone thought I was weak or didn’t have it all figured out. So, at the end of the year I promised myself that 2020 would be great for my mental health. Yeah… that’s all good and well, but mental illness is not something you have control over. And not even at the end of the first month of the year, I felt just like I did in 2019. I really wish this wasn’t such a taboo subject and while that’s slowly changing, people still feel ashamed to talk about their struggles and they shouldn’t because it’s not our fault.
To describe what living with depression and anxiety is like to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, is to imagine a weight pulling your body down, so heavy that every day you have put all you strength to push against it. Mental illness can be different for everyone. Some can have anxiety but go on stage in front of thousands. Some can have depression but spend their day laughing and smiling. People with depression can have good days too, and they are really good at faking a smile for the sake of those around them. You smile and talk about the normal things you re supposed to talk about with others. Answer the ‘how are you?’ with the expected ‘I’m good thanks, and you?’ just so you don’t make them uncomfortable or worse- cause them to leave you..
The scariest thing I discovered about suffering from a mental illness is the effect it has on every aspect of your life. It’s not just something inside your head. All the things I used to do, I’d still do them, but I couldn’t get the happiness and joy I used to feel before. The days when leaving the house seems impossible, or those where you can’t seem to stop crying. When sleeping and binging TV are the only ways to get away from your thoughts.
Friends and family would say ‘you seem upset’ and ask ‘why are you sad?’ and I would feel so ashamed and humiliated that I didn’t have a ‘reason’. I just was. Being depressed is not something that anyone chooses or something that can be solved just by the power of positive thinking, although that would be nice. The truth is, you can be a positive person and be consumed by mental illness. You can be seemingly fine, but may have spent hours trying to work up the courage to face another human, even if it was just going to the store.
There isn’t a quick fix for depression and it’s scary how easy it can be to fall back into a spiral of severe isolation and anxiety. So, if you think someone is struggling, a simple ‘how are you doing?’ can go a long way. Don’t accept the bs ‘Yeah, I’m good’. Ask ‘how are you really?’. You don’t have to understand what they are going through, just be there. And to anyone struggling, it’s okay to want to be alone, to feel the way you do. Mental health is a process. Progression and regression go hand in hand. And as cliché as it may sound it’s important to remember is that, although you might feel like it, you are not alone and you don’t have to be afraid to speak up about how you are feeling, because you probably not the only one.