TRIGGER WARNINGS: depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, suicide
Do you know the movie, “Inside Out?” For Riley, the main character, the emotion that usually takes hold of her is Joy, especially near the beginning of the movie. For me? Fear is in control of my life.
For most of my life, I have struggled with my mental health. There, I said it. Let us put that out in the open so we can have an honest and raw conversation. However, before we dive into the overall stigma, I want you to hear about my story.
By the time I am writing this, I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and atypical depression. I take daily medications for them just like how someone would take pain relievers for constant migraines.
For as long as I can remember, something has always been off with my emotions. I would get nervous, panic and cry about things that should not have affected a child. Every time I would go into a car, I would genuinely feel like we were going to crash. No matter who was driving or where we were driving, I would immediately catastrophize what could happen.
I felt so alone. I felt like a freak. My friends would laugh as if they had no worries, but my mind and body just would not let me join them. So, I kept it in because I was ashamed. I was in denial that I had a problem because I did not want to be a problem or an inconvenience.
However, I was not alone. I soon found out that my mother had struggled with major depressive disorder since she was a child. My mother is the happiest person I know, so I could not understand how she could be hiding such a private battle inside her.
She would tell me how there were days where all she wanted to do was cry or yell. There were days where she would get jealous, without knowing why, of how others lived. Even worse, there were days where she felt my brothers and I would be better off without her in our lives.
As I got older, I found out more people had battles just like my own, including my family, friends and strangers. Due to their courage in speaking out, I felt brave enough to finally admit that something was not 100% right. I was not a freak — I was sick.
My brain quite literally looks different than that of someone who has no mental health disorders. Similar to those with a physical disability, our bodies were made differently. However, you cannot see mine.
Now, this is not to diminish those who have their own battles with their physical health. That is a journey still unlike any other. Unfortunately, however, many physical health impairments can be seen, while most mental health disorders cannot be seen. Over the years, this has created a culture of toxic behaviors and thinking.
“People are accused of faking their mental health for attention,” said East Carolina University (ECU) student, Sarah Sykes, a sophomore communication major.
According to the World Health Organization, suicide was named the 18th leading cause of death in the world in 2016. Even with this information, some people still refuse to see that mental health illnesses are a real problem. People are dying, but some refuse to accept it if they cannot see the issue.
This is extremely prevalent when soldiers come back home from war. Many of our soldiers come home suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For most of them, they have witnessed many traumatic and horrific things that I cannot even imagine. When they come home, they may wake up screaming from a nightmare or cry from the sound of fireworks. After both the World Wars and the Vietnam War, many soldiers killed themselves instead of reaching out for help. They were embarrassed, ashamed and felt like they were failing themselves and their families. While not as frequent today, it definitely still happens.
Even though these men and women go through some of the most rigorous training out there, many people deem them weak because of their struggles after coming home.
It is thinking like that which kills and hurts so many people. That thinking is why I stayed in pain for so long. That thinking is why people drink themselves to death. That thinking is why people feel the need to commit suicide - they see no other way out.
Thankfully, as the years have gone by, more and more are talking about it. In fact, probably a decade ago, I would have never thought to share my story. The story of how I nearly throw up every time I wait for my COVID-19 results, even if I have not seen anyone in weeks. The story about how every so often I physically cannot force myself to get out of bed. The story of how I have to tell my loved ones “I love you” before I leave or else I truly believe that they will die. The story of my battles with mental illness.
“For so long, mental health was something that has been forced into the shadows,” said Jake Heath, ECU freshman theatre arts major. “However, we all have it.”
Similar to how we all have to go to the doctor occasionally for a cold or a broken bone, we all sometimes have bad days where it is hard to get out of bed. Just like with physical health, there are some people, like myself, who are predisposed to those conditions because of how our bodies work.
Nothing will get better unless we talk about it. We have to destigmatize mental health in order to help save lives. I promise you that someone you love is struggling with their mental health, and while it is not up to you completely, letting them know that you are there to talk and support them could help them win the battle.
I hope my story helps you. If you are currently struggling, you are not alone. If you know someone who is struggling, chronically or not, open the conversation or at least research what the next step should be. There is still a long journey ahead but with love, trust and support, it can be one with less pain and hurt than before.
For more information, please turn to the resources below: