I have always suffered from debilitating social anxiety, which ultimately led me into a major depressive disorder. It took me a long time to come to terms with my mental health issues, and to see them as exactly that, health issues, rather than a form of inadequacy or failure.
The first time someone told me they thought I should see a therapist was my sophomore year of high school, and I can distinctly remember how comical this sounded to me. I wasn’t weak, I wasn’t soft, and I certainly didn’t need to pay some stranger to listen to my feelings or to take antidepressants. At the time, I didn’t view what I was going through as depression. How could someone in my situation possibly be depressed? I come from a privileged background, and looking at my life holistically I certainly had it better than most. How could I be depressed when so many people seemingly worse off than me were doing just fine?
It wasn’t until my first year of college, when my depression took a serious turn for the worse, that I finally accepted that I needed help. Over the next two years, I saw seven therapists and tried numerous medications, to varying degrees of success. That’s the thing about mental illness, there is no standard treatment that will fix it. Everyone’s brain is vastly different, which leads to a series of trial and error to figure out what works for you. Talk therapy didn’t end up being for me, but I’m still glad I gave it a try. It helped me come to terms with my condition. I struggled to accept what was going on in my head because I didn’t feel like I had a right to be depressed, and my anxiety made me feel as if everyone would see me as a lesser person for having this condition. Therapy helped me understand that this is an illness, an issue in my brain’s chemistry, not an inadequacy in me as person. Now, I take my anxiety and depression medication daily to help address the chemical imbalance in my brain, just as I do my Allegra and Cingular to combat my allergies.
I have not told many people about my anxiety, and even less about my depression. I like to put on a happy face and act like everything’s alright, no matter what my mental state is at the moment. I prefer to pretend that I didn’t leave my room until late afternoon because I’m lazy, rather than admit the fact that my anxiety is acting up and the mere idea of going out and facing the world seems akin to climbing Everest. However, I’ve realized that keeping quiet only reinforces the stigma against mental health, a stigma I have been as guilty of perpetuating as anyone else. I would never feel embarrassed about having the flu or try to hide a broken arm, so I shouldn’t when it comes to my anxiety and depression.
If you’re reading this, don’t keep your struggles private because you’re scared, seek out the medical help you need to fight your illness. You’re not weak because you have an illness, you’re strong because you persevere through that illness every day.
Peter Smith, University of Virginia ‘19