Mary s Story
“I am a psychology major and minoring in neuroscience. I am a Global Scholar and an honor’s student. I normally wouldn’t mention all that about myself, but I think people need to know you can be a perfectly productive human being with a serious mental illness.
I was diagnosed with depression, which included cutting and suicidal tendencies, plus one suicide attempt, and generalized anxiety disorder. When I was diagnosed, I felt like this thing that had been eating away at me finally had a real figure. Like, it had a name and so it was mortal. I could finally do something about it.
There’s something so tangible in knowing depression has a series of coping skills and strategies. It helps you and makes you feel like you can defeat it when you’re labeled. Until then, I feel like people often wonder if they’re ‘sick enough’ because they’ve never cut or tried to kill themselves, thinking maybe they aren’t ‘bad enough’ to warrant getting help. But that’s bullshit.
You can even be totally healthy and just having a bad day and go to therapy. There’s no such thing as not being ‘sick enough’. If you need help you need help. That’s reason enough to ask for help.
My depression is/was never all the time. I had good days, even in the midst of the worst parts of it. Normally for me, my depression has this pattern of appearing for about 1-2 weeks about once a month or every other month. At my worst period, I still had about half my life living kinda normally. Other weeks or days I’d be fine, but during the depressive period, I lived in hell.
During these weeks, I felt emptiness. It’s like I would have this pit in my chest that hurt all the time… physically. And I wouldn’t be able to focus on anything else but the pain and the shelled-out hollow feeling that seemed to eclipse every part of my being. Depression is a narcissistic bitch. I couldn’t think properly or focus, and I felt numb.
It was hard to be a good friend because I would feel guilty every time I talked and felt scared. I didn’t think I deserved a voice, an opinion, or kindness. Making eye contact was a risk because what if people found out how horrible I was. I felt like I was just not worthy of love… or anything.
Because of the consistency of the pain I felt, a couple of years after my depression started, I started to believe that maybe it was karma or something- like maybe I deserved to go through this hell, not even to die, because I was such a horrible person. Death felt like it would be easy, because then it wouldn’t hurt.
One of the worst things about depression is, no matter what, you never get used to the pain, because you start to feel okay for a little bit in between episodes. In fact, sometimes I started to crave the pain when I didn’t have it because I firmly believed that I was the scum of the earth and that was what I deserved. I started berating myself over every minor thing that I did and the sadness and emptiness fed on that.
The loneliness hurt, but it was also something I knew and understood. It felt almost perversely intriguing at times because it made me feel deeper and mysterious, even though this deepness was built on the destruction of my true, happy, self.
I take the right medicine now- since a large part of my depression is biological, that’s been exactly what I need. I also have been attending therapy for a year, which has helped because I struggled alone for 8 years. I also am optimistic by nature, so I love yoga, meditation, and art. I’m comfortable accepting and listening to myself, knowing when I need to be alone or when I need my friends.
I also regularly try to send my friends happy messages and thoughts- sharing happiness is part of what makes me happy. More than anything, I love my volunteer work. I regularly volunteer with Reading Partners at a local elementary school. It reminds me that I can make a positive impact on my community and have a sense of purpose, even when I don’t feel like a worthwhile person.
Do I think there is a stigma surrounding mental health? Hell yea. It’s still embarrassing to people, I think, to admit that you have emotions that aren’t positive. It’s a vulnerability to admit that you’re human and flawed, especially in a world where people are constantly looking at Facebook and Instagram, seeing only the good parts of others’ lives. Or in a world where you are all competing all the time to get into this job or that graduate school, it can feel like you must put your ‘best foot forward’ all the time.
And what I think our society has yet to figure out is that our negative emotions are not flaws—that they are here for a reason. If we never felt sad or angry or anxious, we wouldn’t get empathy or understand what we want in life, or have as much awareness about what is going on around us. I think mental illnesses are often lumped in similarly with these negative emotions—but mental illnesses, like those emotions, are just another part of the human condition.
There’s a quote by Paulo Coelho that says more than I ever could: And if I’m alone when the night falls, I will go over to window, look up at the sky and feel certain that loneliness is a lie, because the Universe is there to keep me company.
Breathe, love. You’re alive for a reason, this is not all there is.”