I had in my head an outline for how I wanted to tell my story. Nice and linear, each installment with its own lesson or insight. HA! Anyone who writes can probably tell you that’s not how story telling usually goes. So instead of trying to force my story into non-existent structure, I’m telling you the part that I feel is important at this moment.
This summer I visited my hometown and took some time to look through my yearbooks and scrapbooks. These were full of my achievements. But there is something missing from them, something that is not visible and I was not even aware of.
I was a teenager with depression and anxiety and I had no idea. I was a happy kid, carefree, and self confident. I can’t pinpoint exactly when things began to change. Somewhere around 6th or 7th grade I started to worry more about people’s opinions of me. Not just my peers but my teachers and the adults in my life as well.
I know by 9th grade, the age of 15, I was depressed and I was anxious.
But I was not aware, and I almost certainly did not “look” like someone who was depressed.
If I had even ever thought about depression it would be how my Marilyn Manson listening class mates were more likely to be depressed, not me.
How did I handle these feelings, emotions, and what I now know as a mental illness? I certainly didn’t even know a single healthy coping technique. I wanted attention, and would do a lot of things to get it. Much of this was positive, I was president of my marching band, captain of my cheer leading squad, and I was a member of the National Honors Society. I was friendly with my teachers and active in my church. The many people I called friends were met in school, at band festivals, church youth functions, and summer camps.
Then there were the things that I did for attention that were not so positive. I flirted constantly, harmless for the most part, except for when I was already dating someone which was not fair to anyone. I talked incessantly, often being disrespectful to teachers in class, and certainly not caring if anyone wanted to hear what I had to say. And I was sometimes mean to the people I considered my friends. I considered it funny, or just “picking”, but today it would probably be considered bullying.
Occasionally, these thoughts and feelings that I had no idea how to address would bubble over, and what came out was an all out melt down. Crying, yelling, stomping, sobbing, throwing myself on the ground melt down. 3 year old temper tantrum melt down.
All of this was my attempt to feel better. I felt bad about myself, and by doing all of these things, both positive and negative, it made me feel not so bad. At least for a time.
In addition to feeling bad about myself I was also worried. Worried that friends were intentionally leaving me out of social engagements, or keeping secrets from me, or attempting to usurp some important position I had put myself in.
I had no desire to be a “popular” kid. In fact I took great pride in being myself (as much as I worried that people wouldn’t like who I was.)
We never talked about mental health in my family, or among my friends. I didn’t know my brain was sabotaging me.
I don’t remember if it was my freshman or sophomore year of college when my doctor first said the word depression. But I remember the conversation.
She asked “And, how is your mood?”
My mood? I thought. I wasn’t even sure what she meant by the question. “Um, ok I guess.”
“Are you sure? Because you seem depressed.”
ME! Depressed! Not me, I’m happy. My middle name is JOY! Come on.
“Yeah, ok.” I replied.
After this short conversation, I began on a journey. I started on an anti-depressant and soon found myself utilizing student mental health services, thanks to a caring sorority sister who suggested “talking to Andy.”
At this point in my life I did not give much thought to having a mental illness. It was sort of mental health triage. Get myself through this anxiety attack, pass this class, stop being crazy about an ex-boyfriend, party, recover, repeat.
Meeting Ryan was a stabilizing force in my life. He grounded me. But a serious relationship did not come without its own issues. I soon started to believe that his friends and his family hated me. I spent a considerable amount of mental energy concerned about this.
My early twenties was much like high school. I wanted everyone to love me, while inside I felt like no one even liked me. I wanted to be involved in all the projects, and often took on too much, and then saw myself as a slacker and failure when I was unable to do my best at everything.
Attempting to do all of the things, be the person everyone wanted around probably didn’t look like depression and anxiety to the average person. Fortunately by this time I was in seminary and was regularly in contact with above average people, many who were studying to be in ministry with people just like me.
Hang in there girl
I never denied the fact that I was depressed and anxious. I knew I had a mental illness, but I never really knew what that meant. Once I was able to be around people who also recognized my depression and anxiety I was able to address my mental health as something I could do something about. I didn’t have to feel frantic about relationships all the time and I did not always have to have others attentions, and I could in fact be happy with myself on my own, accomplishments aside.
It is a process however, it would be many years from that first doctor appointment until I found the appropriate medication that helped me feel my best. And many more years before I understood my mental health as more than just moving from one crisis to the next.
I look back on that 15 year old me. The silly girl who loved to sing and dance like no one was watching, who loved her teachers, directors, coaches, family and friends, who just wanted to feel good about herself.
I’d say to her, hang in there girl. It happens.