Let’s End the Stigma About Mental Health Issues: My Story
In light of last week’s tragic passings of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade— two prolific, successful, and adored people who took their own lives, many people have spoken out about their own struggles with depression and other mental health issues. Often times when someone commits suicide it can be triggering for some of us, but this time I’ve been oddly comforted in hearing how many people face these same struggles that I do. I have never spoken publicly about my own struggle with depression and suicide until now for fear of being stigmatized. I hope by talking about my issues, and the more we all talk publicly and without fear, we can end the stigma and continue to support one another.
I first tried to kill myself when I was around 8 by jumping over the banister of my parents’ two-story home. I’m not sure the fall would’ve done anything more than break a couple of bones, but I was feeling so distressed about getting a “B” on a spelling test, that ending my life seemed the only way to stop my pain (full disclosure: there were other things going on at home, but I’m not ready to address that). That’s when I first knew something was wrong with my brain. Other kids didn’t have the instinct to kill themselves because they were no longer perfect. In my head, ending my life was the only way I could “start over.” Because for as long as I can remember, my brain has always told me that if I wasn’t perfect, then I was a problem and not worth anything. I’ve struggled with these feelings for most of my life. I’m not sure how many times I threatened to jump over the banister as a kid, but what I do remember is my mom grabbing me and holding me down until the crying subsided. And then putting me into therapy when I was eight. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I hadn’t had such a strong support system from an early age.
When I was 16, I graduated to pills. Knowing the banister would no longer cut it, I went into my parents’ medicine cabinet and grabbed a handful of OTC sleeping pills. I said I just wanted to sleep, but really I was upset and didn’t see any alternative to end my suffering. Again, my mom came to my rescue. My stomach was pumped and I spent the night in the hospital. Years of therapy followed. I was diagnosed as being a moody teenager since I didn’t show any other signs of depression. She was a bad therapist. I continued to struggle, but I graduated High School and found my footing in college. I had a stronger support system and a stronger need to write in order to channel my feelings. I finally found a good therapist and she properly diagnosed me with anxiety. I started taking meds when I needed it. I had the support of an amazing therapist and was finally able to heal. It was really fucking hard. It still is.
When I went through my pregnancy loss, that was the first time since I was sixteen that I felt close to feeling that insurmountable pull of depression. But this time, I knew I had a reason. Knowing that made things both easier and harder. Most people in my life knew I needed support, but most also didn’t know how to support me. Or they were suffering their own grief and couldn’t support me. Before we even made our decision about what to do about the pregnancy, I found a therapist. That was probably the best decision I could’ve made for myself. I’m grateful and proud to say that my last appointment with her was this past March, when I brought my 2-week-old son. We both felt I was strong enough to stop therapy for a bit, but she made sure to let me know her door was always open.
To most people, I wouldn’t seem like someone who suffers from depression or anxiety. The first word people often use to describe me is bubbly, for pete’s sake! But, that’s what’s so difficult about mental health issues— they’re unseen and they often affect people who are seemingly happy and put together. We’re the ones who are so terrified of being seen as anything less than perfect, so we’re the ones who get really good at shutting all the ugly parts of us off to the outside world. That sadly also means we’re the last ones to ask for help. Even writing this, I feel so raw and vulnerable and I’m worried about what everyone will think of me. But, if we don’t start discussing our issues and trying to normalize them, we’ll be forced to continue to suffer in silence.
Let’s end the stigma about mental health issues by being each other’s advocates. If a friend seems “off” to you, reach out. They’ll be glad you did. And maybe the more we’re able to talk about these painful things together, we won’t have to lose so many brilliant and wonderful souls.