Teal s Story
Naperville, IL USA
“I feel too much. I always have and I always will. My entire life has been affected by my mental illness, simply because I feel deeper and stronger than other people. In high school, I didn’t want to even entertain the idea that I had clinical diagnoses. I should’ve seen someone a long time ago. Every time someone recommended that I go to therapy, I became very defensive and ashamed. I didn’t want to feel like I had ‘problems,’ and I thought I should be strong enough to ‘deal’ with my emotions alone. I didn’t understand how professional help could be different than talking to a friend, and the stigma kept me from finding out.
I have always strived to be the ‘perfect’ student in school, and was top 5% of my class, earning a full-ride to college. While ‘perfect’ on the outside, I was hurting on the inside. One night during my sophomore year of high school, I locked myself in a room in my basement, ditching my beloved dance class. I sat alone, cried, and emailed one of my teachers, the only person who knew I was struggling. I journaled my scary thoughts and strong, negative emotions, and hit ‘Send.’ The next day, I vividly remember her sitting me down and asking if I would consider seeing someone… I refused.
Fast forward… My sophomore year in college, I had just moved into a brand new dorm, which again, was ‘perfect.’ While I was incredibly involved on campus and had lots of ‘friends,’ I realized how lonely a ‘perfect’ single room could be when you shut everyone out. I became very close with one person on campus, and, once again, she was the only person who knew I was feeling extremely anxious and depressed as the year went on. Because I didn’t know how to cope, I started texting her scary and vague things at night, while thoughts of self-harm and suicide haunted me. I was terrified of myself. Eventually, she asked me if I had ever considered therapy. This felt like horrifying déjà vu, and I remember staring at the ground, ashamed. However, this time felt different because she also struggled with mental illness, and was seeing a therapist. She made me feel less alone and less ashamed for needing help.
We scheduled a campus counseling appointment, and she promised to go with me. A week later, I confessed that I had been picturing self-harm, and had a plan for suicide. She walked me back to the counseling center, to what might have been the hardest and longest day of my life. I skipped all of my classes that day, lied to everyone about where I was, and spent five hours at a hospital getting evaluated. I was diagnosed that day with Major Depressive Disorder. I now have realized I also identify with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
That was my lowest point… until the day I was moving out of my dorm, upset with my family, and anxious about a new internship all at once. I sat on the floor of my empty room and bawled, sending some (probably suicidal) thoughts to my friend. Later that night, I got two calls from the Area Hall Director, saying I needed to talk to the counselor on duty. I missed the calls, so the police and paramedics showed up at my house to perform a ‘safety check.’ My family was confused and scared, and I spent four hours that night telling my parents about my silent mental health journey.
After the painfulness and messiness of that year, I now have been in therapy for a little over a year. Telling my story feels easier and less shameful every time I do it, and I’ve come a long way in the journey towards healing. I still have scary thoughts sometimes, and I will always have big, intense emotions. But – I have coping skills to accept those emotions, an amazing support system, and a therapist who helps me when I feel too much. I've learned to cope by seeing my emotions as friends who just need to be heard. Through mindfulness, validation, and practicing authenticity in the present moment, I am learning to love feeling so much. Therapy has literally saved my life.
To anyone struggling with a mental illness: emotions aren’t bad. To feel deeply is beautiful. Even when it feels like no one understands, you are never alone. Please ask for help… the first time. Reach out to people. Healing is a process, and therapy and medication are needed sometimes. It’s okay. Know that your feelings are valid and acceptable and that no matter what you are dealing with or what your struggles tell you, you are worthy of love. I promise."
Story by: Anna Ferrone, North Central College Campus Representative
Photo by: Juan Andres Jara