This piece was written by an anonymous member of our editorial staff.
Living with a mental illness does not look like a straight line. It doesn’t look like a graph that starts in the bottom left corner and goes up towards the right in a perfectly straight diagonal. You don’t start at the very bottom and work your way up and never fall down again, despite what it may seem like.
In reality, the line is jagged. It may start on the bottom of the page, or at the top, or anywhere in between, but no matter what it always goes down at one point or another. It will have many ups and downs and the occasional straight section where things aren’t necessarily good or bad, they just are. The worst part though isn’t the part where the line is so far down that it goes off the page and you can’t even see it anymore, or even not knowing where the line is going to go next. The worst part is knowing that some people are going to think that, just because they can’t see how unstable it is, that you are making it up.
I struggle a lot with my mental health and sometimes it is too much for me to handle, and I can promise you that I am not making any of it up. I am trying my best and sometimes that is still not enough. Most days lately it has been hard to get out of bed and do the basic things that I need to do. I have a host of mental health issues and to cope with them I do a lot of therapy, take an antidepressant and a mood stabilizer, and try to practice self-care whenever I can.
Officially, my mental health problems began (read: were diagnosed) when I was a sophomore in high school. Looking back, I had been struggling for years, but never sought help for it, because as far as I knew what I was experiencing was normal. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t! I was at a very low point and could not find my way out of it, convinced that I wouldn’t live to a point where I would ever feel like myself again. I felt like nobody believed me and I had to get to a point where I was hurting myself before anyone really noticed how bad I was doing.
Through therapy, the right medication and a whole lot of time, I got out of that state, something for which I am thankful every day. By my senior year of high school, I was doing really, really well. I dipped down again at the beginning of my first semester of college last fall, and again at the end of last semester, but always was able to get out of it thanks to the continuing combination of therapy, medication and time.
The only reason I am still here today experiencing this crazy thing called life is because I was able to talk about what I was going through and get the help that I needed. I got lucky. Unfortunately, not everybody has that opportunity. The stigma surrounding mental health is toxic.
When you have mental health problems you have to advocate for yourself, which is pretty hard to do when everything in you is telling you that you’re not worth it and people around you are telling you that your problems aren’t even real. As a college student, it’s even harder. How do you tell a professor that your assignment is late because you had a panic attack every time you started working on it, or that you missed a class because you were up half the night thinking about how much you didn’t want to live anymore?
As I’m sitting here writing this right now I’m in the middle of a particularly bad mental health episode. There’s been a lot of times recently where I’ve felt like I would be better off not being around anymore. In just the last two weeks, I’ve missed a lot of class, some work and an important family event. I’ve felt like I had to lie to people about why I’m missing those things, because I don’t think that anyone will accept the real reason. I’m not proud of it, and hate the idea that people will think less of me for not going, but am even more afraid of what they would think if I told them the real reason that I couldn’t be there.
I keep remembering how four years ago, I didn’t think that I would even be here. I couldn’t imagine a life beyond the state that I was in. Yet, somehow, despite literally every fiber of my being telling me that I couldn’t, I made it out alive, something that I am thankful for every single day. With that track record, it stands to reason that I will get out of this, too. It’s just going to take time, and I am learning how to be okay with that. Eventually, I will be okay, and I want you to know that if you are going through something similar that you will be okay, too.
Myself and so many others are only here today because we got the help that we needed when we were sick, even though our sickness couldn’t be seen. Even when we do get help, there is still an expectation that you keep the reason for it quiet. Mental health problems can affect literally anyone – your friends, parents, siblings, partners, classmates, professors, even yourself. Why isn’t it okay to talk about it and get help for it?