It’s okay to not be okay.
This simple phrase has become my mantra since the beginning of my battle with anxiety and depression in my early teenage years. Yesterday was World Mental Health Day and it got me thinking about how I could share my story and help others in similar situations. Talking about mental health is something that many avoid because the topic tends to make people uncomfortable. Even I feel tightness in my chest as I type this post. But that’s why posts like this are so important. Breaking down the walls that surround mental health is the first step that will allow more people to share their struggles and not feel ashamed of their illness. I’ll say it— anxiety, depression, and the like are just as much diseases as diabetes and heart failure. They are equally dibilitating, but often overlooked and misunderstood. I’m here to end the stigma.
I say my journey with mental illness began in my teenage years, but looking back I can see tendencies that I had as a child which point to the issues I still face today. As a child, I recall obsessing over whether or not each door in our house was locked every night, constantly asking my mother, “Are they locked? Even the front door? Are you sure? Can you get up and check?” I also recall anger issues that I had as a child and teenager that have thankfully dissipated in later years. Unfortunately, mental illness is not something you can just flip a switch on and turn off. Wouldn’t that be great? People say things like “calm down,” “just breathe,” but the reality is that it’s not that simple. Would you tell a person having an asthma attack to “just breathe”? Of course not. But all too often those with invisible illness are not taken seriously because they don’t “look sick”.
I didn’t look sick. I still don’t. The beginning of my high school career was like anyone else’s. Between volleyball games, a boyfriend, and a great family, I should have been content with life. Unfortunately depression doesn’t believe in contentment. On the outside, my life was perfect, but I was fighting an eternal battle that will stay with me the rest of my life. The boyfriend I had at the time was verbally abusive which exacerbated my mental health problems. I was depressed. I hated myself. I stopped eating, I dropped weight (albeit not in the healthiest way). I hated getting out of bed in the mornings. Pretty soon I was self harming and wearing long sleeve shirts in mid May to hide the marks I left on my skin. Luckily I made a friend during this period of my life who had been through a similar situation and knew how to help me. My mother was and continues to be a solid rock for me. She has never judged me for what I go through, but has fiercely loved me at times I could not love myself. I’m forever grateful for those who saw that I was hurting and chose to intervene. Not everyone is as lucky as I have been.
According to statistics published by the World Health Organization, one in four adults experience some type of mental disease in their lifetime. Y’all, that’s over 300 million people worldwide. That’s your next door neighbor, your postman, your hair stylist, even the lady you sit next to in church every Sunday. Mental illness does not discriminate. It affects people all over the world and right next door.
It’s terrifying to go to war within your own mind and even worse when no one believes you. It still hurts to think that I know what it feels like to not want to wake up in the mornings. I have come so far since those days, and thinking back on them will always sting. While I still battle depression, anxiety, and panic attacks daily and thoughts of my past remain in the back of my mind, I can happily say I have more good days than bad ones. These invisible illnesses never go away. Never dismiss someone’s symptoms as a rough day or a bad mood. Like I said, we don’t have to look sick. Be kind, be empathetic, and remind yourself and those around you that it’s okay to not be okay.