- Mental Health
I was 17 the first time I thought something might be wrong with me. While I would never have described myself as a happy-go-lucky kid, I was a relatively stable child. I didn’t cause much trouble, got good grades and had friends I could depend on. This continued in high school where I dated, played sports and was kept busy by everything that keeps a high school kid busy. But it was never enough, and it took me much longer than I wish it had to figure out why that was.
For the next few years I struggled heavily with anxiety, but I was told that was normal. “Just the cost of growing up,” my therapist at the time said, “with all the change going on.” With high school ending and college looming, it was perfectly understandable to be filled with anxiety.
But it didn’t end there — it was only just beginning.
I had a rocky first year of college, and I knew there were external factors that led to the anxiety and depression I experienced for much of my freshman year; a serious relationship I’d been in ended, I transferred to a new college rather abruptly and had to start in the middle of the year with kids that had been together since orientation. Through it all, I persevered, and even made a few friends along the way. But the feelings persisted. Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and despair. It took me a long time before I could label it for what it was.
I didn’t see a psychiatrist until I was nineteen years old. At this point, I had been depressed for almost two years but didn’t do anything about it. I just assumed everyone had trouble getting out of bed, had frequent crying spells and thought their life didn’t matter. It was a very awkward time when I discovered that these weren’t natural feelings, they were symptoms of mental illness. It started what has been a difficult, awe-inducing and worthwhile journey as I learned to live with mental illnesses.
I was diagnosed by my first psychiatrist with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I won’t bore you with the details, but basically they are both disorders I had that were not brought on by anything. I didn’t experience any traumatic event that would explain why I was this way. It’s like one day, something in me switched and I went from a seemingly regular person to someone different.
This diagnosis happened in the middle of my time in college which, if you can imagine, was extremely difficult. As I navigated through figuring out what exactly I was dealing with, I was expected to keep my grades up while maintaining my friendships and working a part-time job, while still trying to have that college experience everyone is so nostalgic about. It was not fun, and my friends would agree. See, as I was figuring out and coping with my mental illness in any way I could, they were trying to learn how to be mental health allies while, you know, living their own lives — not an easy task.
While I managed to survive college, my mental health was in a much worse state than it was when I started. So I started my post-grad life not only at a crossroads with what I wanted to do with my life, but also with how healthy I was and the way I was living.
Now, I am 24 years old and I have knowingly lived with mental illness for more than five years. I have been in and out of therapy, seen more psychiatrists than I can count, and take multiple medications every day in order to regulate my mood and boost my energy levels. I don’t have all the answers. I still take it day by day, but it helps to share my story with others and to keep talking about mental health.
One thing I cannot stress enough: I could not have done it alone. My family and friends have supported me on the journey since I opened up to them about my mental health struggles, and their love, support and counsel have helped me get to where I am today.