I have a really heavy topic to talk about today. An old friend of mine took his own life this week and left a lot of people heart-broken. He was the kind of person that had a sparkling personality; charming, charismatic, always befriending everyone he encountered and making people laugh. We weren’t the closest of friends, but we were friends, and his life had an impact on me. This news has been really saddening and shocking. He was the last person that you would ever think was fighting their own inner battle.
But clearly, he was suffering. A lot. And it’s gotten me thinking about mental illness. And about how many people are suffering in silence.
I want to open up about my own struggles with anxiety and depression. As someone who has fought through the darkness and loneliness of mental illness, and come out the other side, I’m now learning that it is my responsibility to share what the experience is like, in hopes that someone else out there reads this and knows that they are not alone, and that happiness and healing are possible.
The photo above was taken 12 years ago at the height of my struggle with depression. If you knew me back then, chances are, you would not have known that I was depressed. Quite the opposite, really. I was in college, I was in a sorority, I had a lot of friends, and an even more active social life. I went out almost every night and spent the nights dancing on top of bars and laughing with my girl friends. I appeared happy and carefree on the outside.
But, on the inside, I was a mess. I was so miserable that I felt like I had to go out every night and drink as much as I possibly could to numb the pain that I was going through. I was dropping out of all of my college classes because my anxiety was so severe that I couldn’t make it to class. I was losing my job because I woke up depressed and hungover everyday and stopped showing up to work. I had stacks of unopened mail because I had so many unpaid bills piling up that I was too anxious and overwhelmed to even open them. At night, while I was drinking, I would engage in really careless, self destructive behavior. I was reckless with my life, because I didn’t think it held much meaning. I would wake up every morning filled with shame and anxiety over my poor choices the night before, and I would start figuring out a way to numb myself from my feelings all over again.
This is the darkness of depression. You care so little about yourself that you do things that you are not proud of, and then that makes you even more depressed. It’s a vicious cycle.
Just as we don’t expect a body that is fighting an illness to function the same as a healthy body, we cannot expect a mind that is ill to function optimally. Mental illness causes us to do things that we would not do if we were mentally healthy. And then we feel ashamed, or guilty, and we are too embarrassed to talk to anyone about how we are feeling. Many times, we think that our problems are trivial, or that no one will care, or that we are bringing these problems onto ourselves, or that we have privileged lives, so we have no right to feel this way. And so, we hide. And the pain gets worse.
This is what mental illness does to you.
As humans, we all experience a wide array of emotions. But we judge them as “good” or “bad”. We think that we should be walking around feeling good and happy all the time, and we feel like we are doing something wrong if we aren’t.
We ALL go through hard things. We all have parts of our lives that we wish were different. We’ve all done something that we are ashamed of. Even those of us who seem to be happy all the time, are not. Nobody is.
In this blog, I talk a lot about natural healing. I’m really proud of the fact that after struggling with my anxiety and depression for the better part of a decade, I was able to get off medication, and continue feeling better by practicing yoga and meditation, changing my mindset, and developing somewhat of a healthy obsession with self development.
But, it took me a lot of years in traditional therapy and on medication to get to a place where I was stable enough to heal naturally. I think that there is tremendous value in mainstream treatment such as therapy and medication. In some cases, it can be life-saving. I don’t know where I would be today if I had never asked for help by going to therapy.
I don’t often talk about it, but I still struggle with depression and anxiety from time to time. The only difference is that I now have so many more tools to manage it, that it does not feel as extreme as it once did, and it doesn’t last as long. But, I’ve come to terms with the fact that anxiety and depression are something that my mind is naturally prone to. It’s a battle that I’ll likely be fighting every time my life gets a little too stressful.
If you know me personally now, at this point in my life, you know that I’m a really happy and positive person. And the reason for that is that I’ve had to fight to get to this point. I am so grateful that I’ve been fortunate enough to heal myself and live a happy, healthy life. I feel extremely blessed. I’ve experienced the darkness and it is impossible not to be giddy with happiness that I now live in the light most of the time.
I personally believe that healing from mental illness starts by taking baby steps, and that the best approach is a holistic one. We can take medication to stabilize our symptoms. But if we are not also doing the deep inner work of talking about our feelings, learning healthier coping skills, and finding new ways to manage our feelings, medication alone is not enough. It can feel overwhelming to think about all of this when you are in the midst of a clinical depression or a full blown panic attack. But, the good news is, you don’t have to know all of the answers. It all starts by taking one small step: opening up to someone and sharing how you are feeling.
Mental illness thrives in the darkness. It takes on a life of its own by being kept in secret. It grows and festers in the darkness. It becomes all consuming when it is hidden.
What would happen if we all decided to stop suffering in silence? What if we stopped sharing only the good, happy-go-lucky parts of our lives, and started to let people know where we are struggling? What if we shared how we are really feeling? What if it could become normal to ask for help?
We might save each other. We might save ourselves.
If you are struggling or going through a hard time in anyway, please tell someone. It doesn’t have to be a big, major thing that you are going through. Even the smallest challenges deserve to be brought to the light. And when we get in the habit of talking about our small challenges, it makes it so much easier to talk about the bigger ones.
Reach out and talk to someone today. Share your struggles, and ask them what theirs are. And then, really listen. We all need each other more than we know.
Thank you for listening to my story.