Trigger warning: Depression, eating disorders, suicidal ideation
The stigma that surrounds mental health is one that must end. I had a professor in college tell me, “You wouldn’t try and run a marathon on a broken leg,” and then “Why would you try to live life with an untreated mental illness?” And he was right. But I had told myself, “It’s not that bad.” I didn’t realize then how important early intervention was, and to get more people to realize that, the stigma surrounding mental health must be removed.
“It’s not that bad” doesn’t make sense when it comes to any kind of health issue. You wouldn’t break an arm and then wait to break your other 205 bones before getting help. Why would you not seek help for your mental illness before hitting rock bottom?
Looking back, these are the things I wish I had known when I was 19, depressed, and ashamed. I had a nurse ask me, “Why are you depressed?” and another college professor say, “What does a pretty girl like you have to be depressed about?” Of course, this didn’t help my perception. I was confused. I didn’t know why I was depressed, either. I had a pretty great life. I was going to the university of my choice, which was being paid for by my parents, and I had great friends and family. But I also made some bad choices and did not take care of myself or my mental health. I looked for answers in the bottom of a bottle of alcohol and craved validation from people who didn’t give a shit about me.
I laid in bed for hours every day, I didn’t go to class, and I ignored friends and family, even the best of them. My stomach always hurt because I was starving myself or throwing up what I did eat. My stomach still hurts anytime I press on it, and yes, I’ve been to the doctor for it. I was trying to pretend I hadn’t been sexually assaulted my freshman year of college because I wasn’t even able to admit it to myself yet. I drank to the point where I got alcohol poisoning and put myself in dangerous situations because I didn’t care anymore.
No one had ever told me about the physical damage that mental illness can cause. My hair started falling out; I had used my fingernails to rip up the soles of my feet until they were bloody and painful. I picked, picked, picked at every sore or scab that I could get my hands on, and it would be years before my psychiatrist added “obsessive compulsive personality” to my long list of diagnoses.
I hid it all, or if I did mention my hair falling out or my skin picking, it was in a casual, blasé manner. I got drunk one night and threatened to overdose on my medication to several friends, then laughed it off as a joke. Only my roommate saw it, and it was probably because she had been through the same thing the year before. And even when I bawled my eyes out to my mom, crying that I “was done” and “wanted to go home”, she had no idea. Because I was too afraid to say that by being done, I meant I wanted to kill myself.
Finally, I locked myself in the bathroom and called my mom. I told her that I was going to kill myself if I didn’t get some help.
It remains the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I willingly went to the emergency room because I genuinely wanted to die and that scared me. Years down the road, I would start my career in behavioral health and learn the difference between suicidal ideation and suicidal action, but back then I had no idea. So I had to wait for a member of the psychiatric response team to come. And she destroyed me even further.
I’m the type of person to laugh through the pain, to joke in a self-depreciating way, and to use humor as a coping mechanism. So she noted that I used humor when describing my situation and that I was no longer crying. It had been nearly four hours since I had wanted to die—there were no tears left. She told me that I didn’t seem very depressed. And the shame was back. Was I wasting everyone’s time? Did other people have it worse?
Now I know that you can’t compare your mental illness to those of other people. I know that PRT person was unprofessional and out of line. To question someone’s trauma, to question their mental illness, only does harm. It only told me that I shouldn’t have come there and that maybe I should have just carried out my plan instead of coming to the ED to be belittled. The whole situation was devastating. I felt like no one understood. And at the time, that made me feel more alone than I had ever been.
But now I think it’s okay if you don’t understand depression. Honestly, I don’t want you to understand. I sincerely hope that you never know what it’s like to wake up in the morning and literally not be able to get out of bed. I hope you never think about how much easier it would be to never wake up again. I hope you never sit on your bathroom floor and realize you want to kill yourself. I hope you never find out how much it hurts to not even be able to cry anymore. I hope you never realize that you feel dead inside. I hope you never, ever understand the feeling of soul crushing hopelessness that makes you not even recognize yourself.
For a very long time, I missed the old me. Depression took so many things from me—my love for books, my ability to communicate with others, my ability to love myself. I was convinced that the old me, the version of myself that I was able to love, was dead. And I hope you never understand how much I hated myself because I felt like I was the one who killed her.
Depression for me was a world of extremes. Either I felt nothing at all or I was so overcome with self-loathing that I couldn’t even hear myself think. Either I couldn’t sleep for 72 hours straight or I stayed in bed for a week. It was never a choice.
Depression gave me very few options. I never knew what I’d be dealing with when I woke up in the morning. And it’s still a part of me. I don’t expect you to treat me differently because of it. And for a while, I didn’t even want anyone to know because it’s such a personal thing and I felt like no one would understand.
But now I’ve lived through this long enough and had enough bad days that I’ve decided I don’t want you to understand. I just want you to realize that it’s not a choice, and that it should never be swept under the rug.
The bravest thing I ever did was continuing to live when I wanted to die and telling you about it.