Stigma, defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a quality, circumstance, or person,” is a word that I have heard almost every day of my life. By being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, I am seen by many people as someone who is “lesser” than others, someone who has chosen the life of attraction to not only males but females, as well. But it doesn’t stop there for me. Ever since I was fourteen years old, I have been defined by something that is out of my control. I have been seen as someone who is unworthy of many things and someone who is seeking attention, all because of the mental illness that I did not choose to have. Depression and anxiety, two serious mental illnesses that have unfortunately become more common, are now seen as just another thing that defines people, another part of someone’s personality. It is often seen as only a negative thing; however, through first-hand experience I have noticed that there are positives to these illnesses as well. I believe that every negative comes with a positive, and although it takes a lot of work to notice both sides, it is definitely worth it in the end.
At fourteen years old, during the first week of my freshman year of high school, I had gotten a call that would change my young mind in a way that no teenager, or anyone, for that matter, should experience. A call telling me that my best friend Julianne had taken her own life because her depression was too much to handle, so she didn’t know how to cope with the pain anymore. Brokenhearted, I began remembering all of the times she would talk to me about the loud thoughts running through her head. The many times she would rant about the constant racing thoughts that resulted in her getting to this point. The late night conversations about how she would hide the scars from her parents and how much she would hate me if I ever told them about what she had done, every time ended with a promise that she would never do it again. I, being a naive fourteen year old with no knowledge of the signs of suicide or depression, truly believed that she would be okay and that losing her friendship was not worth making sure she was safe. Guilt, the first thing everyone says not to feel when someone passes, is exactly what I felt. My best friend of many years had been trying to get my attention, trying to tell me that she needed help, but I didn’t do anything.
The feeling of guilt lingers, and I feel as if it always will, but the knowledge that I have picked up from this experience has definitely started to override all of the negative feelings that used to consume me. I now focus on the signs of suicide and spreading this awareness to many people around me. Statistics show that eight out of ten people that experience suicidal ideation or suicidal actions have shown clear signs and actions that were not been acted on in order to better themselves and get help (Mental Health America). This is due to a lack of knowledge of the signs and actions that should definitely be taken into consideration when deciding if you or a loved one need more intense help regarding a mental illness. Signs include talking about death, withdrawing from loved ones, talking as if they are a burden to other's lives, and/or signs of hopelessness and feeling as though they do not have a purpose (S.A.V.E). Although learning all of these things did not help me save my friend, I can now spread enough knowledge and awareness so that people can stop experiencing this sort of tragedy. My negative situation such as this has definitely given me a sense of positivity in even the darkest of times.
But this feeling of positivity that I feel now did not come right away. After losing someone so close to me, I started to experience extreme feelings. Anxiety became something I lived with every day. Worrying about the future, constantly thinking about what people thought about me, never daring to ask questions for fear of them being marked as stupid, and most of all, struggling to believe that my friends death was not my fault, were all loud thoughts in my mind for what seemed like every second of the day. Not only did anxiety consume me with multiple panic attacks per day, but depression came hand in hand with the never-ending nervousness that I had to experience. My motivation to do anything, such as homework, taking care of myself, and talking to others, became so small that I would spend my days sleeping. I would go to school with earbuds in all day, my head down in every class, with a deep feeling of worthlessness. I felt as if every bad thing that happened to me was all my fault, and any good that came my way was undeserved. I didn’t put forth any effort except for in how long I would sleep, for sleeping was the only way I could escape from the madness going on in my life and in my mind. Then even sleep became something that I dreaded. I was consumed with never-ending thoughts, and everyone in my life began to notice how much of a different person I had become. The bright and outgoing young girl I once was had faded into something no fourteen year old should experience. My life became focused around therapy and medication, trying to get the right combination to at least make life bearable, to help me sleep, and to help me live as close to a normal life as I could. From the beginning of my freshman year to the beginning of my sophomore year, I was someone whom no one really wanted to spend time around, someone whom even I wished that I wasn’t.
The peak of my mental illness was in September of 2015, when I was put into a mental hospital because I no longer had the ability to be safe with myself, since I no longer had control and the thoughts that ran through my head could no longer be ignored. I wanted to be with my friend, Julianne. I no longer wanted to be on this earth. After spending a week in the hospital, however, I changed my perspective toward everything. Meeting people who had similar problems to me without the constant “Just be happy!” comments from those around me allowed me to find acceptance within myself. I was finally at peace with who I was, and that’s when I knew that I was more than my mental illness. I could combat it every single day and become who I once was and who I now strived to be. I learned coping skills that helped me combat the dark thoughts and turn them into something more - coping skills that helped me become more than just my mental illness. I overcame what once consumed me. I proved to all of the people who said that I couldn’t and never would be more than just a mental illness that if I worked hard enough, I could be, and would be more than they could ever imagine. I smashed the stigma of being an attention seeker and being someone who chose to be unhappy. Mental illness does not have to be seen as such a horrible thing, but it does need to be taken seriously, as seriously as any other illness. Just because you cannot see it, it does not mean that it isn’t there.
Although I have overcome the downturn that depression and anxiety caused, these two illnesses are still things that I must combat every single day. At the beginning of my senior year, after almost a full year without a constant and consuming struggle with depression and anxiety, I felt myself slipping into a dark spot again, resulting in going to the emergency room overnight because of a lack of self control. After spending over 100 hours at a group therapy program after school and changing the dosage of my medications, I feel myself slowly climbing out of this deep hole. I know these two illnesses are something that I will have to live with, but I feel myself learning more about myself each day, helping to improve my mind and my wellbeing.
I have changed, but I have changed into someone who knows how to react to the signs of suicidal ideation and someone who understands how terrifying and how fear-provoking depression and anxiety can be. I have turned into someone who strives to make people’s lives happier and someone who feels as though everyone deserves some source of happiness in their lives. A feeling of purpose overwhelms me when I have the opportunity to spread awareness about a topic such as this, which I feel so strongly about. This not only pushes me to help people in my everyday life, but also to extend my knowledge by studying psychology and social work. Overall, who I am today never would have happened without all of the negative experiences. I do have to work harder than others to keep myself afloat, but it is all worth it when I get to spend my life helping others. Now I aim to help others break the stigma.