I remember everything about that moment I knew something wasn’t right. I stood rooting for my college football team during the big game (go Berkeley Golden Bears). My family had traveled from Southern California to come visit me and watch us struggle to stay in the game. We had drinks before the game and everyone was feeling good, everyone was happy. We high-fived strangers as we made the field goal and all made punny jokes at the ref’s expense when he blew a call. I couldn’t have manufactured a better situation in that very point in my life if I had weeks to try. But, it him me like a metaphorical bowling ball of overwhelming truth. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t okay. I needed help.
It’s a weird feeling to admit you need help. I say ‘weird’ because I think it may be something totally arbitrary—some find it to be scary, others find relief in admitting the necessity of help, some might hate themselves for it. It took a long, long time to consider that I may have a problem with anxiety and depression. There’s something about admitting fault and the inability to correct it on my own that made me feel entirely guilty. Not scared, not relieved, not hate. Just guilt.
I grew up with parents who loved me more than they loved themselves. I continue to share laughs with my brother and sister as we did when we were kids, despite that we may all be separated by college now. I was never the recipient of inappropriate behavior in either a sexual or physically violent way. My friends know me as ‘the funny one’— the one who is sure to make you laugh until you cry and accompany you on any adventure.
A lot of people like me. I mimic all the right moves for someone who is happy. I am a woman born of many privileges. Maybe too many. What gave me the right to feel the way I felt? Unhappy, perpetually nervous, constantly stressed the fuck out, worried, inferior. I am aware of the extreme suffering and the lack of basic human necessities like food or clean water exist in far too many regions on a national scale. How was it that I felt unhappy among some of my closest friends, when I’ve been given it all? I didn’t need help, I convinced myself for years. I needed a reality check. Maybe a little perspective.
Zoloft commercials and all that other shit on television and health class documenting depression and anxiety all describe a similar person: someone who underwent trauma in his/her life and are thus deserving of medication to alleviate their mental burdens. These people are well-deserving of treatment, and I applaud every one who has sought help after going through an experience that warrants mental duress. However, there are others who are subject to mental illness. I know this now, and I wish I knew it then. Life is much harder when you’re assuming a behavior that is not your own for the sake of normality.
At the risk of sounding ‘whiney’ and throwing on one more issue in the pile of grievances we face today, there is an undeniable stigma around mental illness. We recognize one type of person who faces mental enslavement—those who undergo trauma and rough times— but rarely recognize the other. The ones who have it just because.
To suppress the unwelcomed feelings I had throughout the day, I found myself drinking to excess almost every day of the week. I have never been on a sober date, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t gone to class drunk before. It was a serious problem I recognized this past year. I’ve created an image for myself of ‘the girl who drinks a lot’ to reduce feeling anxious all the time. I’m 22 and I’ve never had a boyfriend because I’m the loud girl on the date. I didn’t want that image anymore. I didn’t want that life. I called the doctor and admitted defeat. There’s something wrong with me, and I don’t know why. But, I needed help.
My doctor prescribed me Lexapro, and I’ve been taking it regularly for about a month now. Even though I still hide it in a drawer so my roommate doesn’t see the bottle, I’m working on redefining that stigma around mental illness. I haven’t told anyone beside my mother and my doctor that I take medication to monitor my anxiety. I think that’s because I still feel that guilt lurking in my brain for having to take it in the first place. But I know one day I will take my medication at lunch with friends without having to feel worried what they’ll think or how they’ll react.
I am so grateful to have started medication. I don’t drink as much anymore, and the thought of going on a date without drinking shots of whiskey before hand isn’t nearly as terrifying. I can only wish this kind of relief for everyone that felt how I did. This is my story, and I’m telling it for the first time.