People love to ask, " What do you have to be so depressed about?"
Growing up, there wasn't a defining moment that happened, where boom I became depressed. My parents are rock stars, having battled their own journeys escaping poverty, abusive homes and war to live in Canada. They found their way to Canada in the 1970s and made an awesome life for their family here. Starting with limited English and almost no education -- they built a life that allowed them to give everything they ever wanted to their two daughters. We went to great schools, got to participate in sports, and always felt safe.
The thing is, I have always been sad and worried. It's stuck on me like gray toned glitter -- it clouds everything I do and no matter what I do it's never fully gone. When I realized I was different from other kids, I didn't know what to do. I was always sad and worried. Worried that people would notice me for being different and make fun of me. Sad because even when I tried to fit it -- I always felt like I couldn't do it right.
As the years went by, I grew more and more scared that the way I was feeling wouldn't just go away. I felt ashamed that I couldn't be happy. How do you tell two people who survived war, worked 70 hour weeks and still supported others that despite having everything they ever wanted, you can't get out of bed in the morning?
Most people think of depressed kids as the shy ones or the popular ones hiding a dark secret -- I was the angry kid. I was angry so that people would stay away from me. It seemed better to be seen as an asshole than someone who wasn't in control of what was happening in her own head. I wanted to build walls so high that no one could see me. But I still held out hope that one day -- this would all go away on its own.
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After a particularly hard week -- it finally dawned on me that I wouldn't be able to get over this on my own. I realized that I hadn't spoken to any of my classmates (I was in eighth grade at the time) in over a week. That despite my best efforts, I was only getting more depressed and worried. I finally decided to talk to someone.
It was a terrifying thought, there I was giving up on my myself.
I chose to talk to my parents. People who I always looked up to and respected. I remember approaching my dad in the basement -- we call it his lair -- to try and talk to him. I stood near the entrance as he watched a soccer game in the dark. I was feeling particularly nervous as I asked him if I could talk to him. He turned towards me and took out his wallet. "No," I said. "I want to talk to you about how I am feeling." With those words his face went pale -- he was silent for a moment and then said, "Stop. Go upstairs and talk to your mother."
Feeling defeated, I dragged myself upstairs and found my mom reading in bed. "Mom -- I am feeling really sad and worried," I said. She looked at me and started to blurt out a bunch of statements like: "But you have everything you need -- others have it worse." "Maybe if you exercised more and put more effort into how you look you would feel better." And, "Just try hard to be happy and pray -- everything will work out."
She talked at me for about 30 minutes. The only thing I got from the conversation was that this was not something I was allowed to talk about.
I went back to my room defeated. I was scared, alone and ashamed. I had tried exercising and forcing smiles. But I felt like it was hopeless, there wasn't any help available for me. That's when I first thought about taking my own life. It was a terrifying thought, there I was giving up on my myself. Still, I decided to talk to one last person before attempting anything.
My truth is that mental illness still affects my life, which means I have amazing days and terrible days.
I had arranged earlier in the day to speak to my teacher after school. When 3 p.m. finally came, I started feeling a little better. A teacher would know how to help. I convinced myself that what I had to say couldn't scare her. I was walking to meet her when I saw her in the hallway talking to another teacher. I couldn't make out much of what they were saying -- but at the end the conversation I heard her say, "I am sorry, I have to go help this crazy girl now."
Everything I had done up to that point in my life was to hide the fact that I was different. In that one sentence, she told me that I had failed. The realization crushed me. I didn't know much about mental illness -- but I saw the crazy cat ladies on TV and the mentions of "mental health" on news stories about serial killers. I made up my mind and went home to try and take my own life.
It wasn't until a few days into my stay at a local hospital that I was helped by the best superhero I could ask for. She was a patient in the ward, an older lady, who had been creepily looking at me for a few hours. She came over to me and said, "From one crazy person to another, you will need this." She put a necklace in my hand and wandered off. It was a simple silver chain with one charm on it that said "Hope." With this simple action, she showed me that people with mental illness are human. That even though she was sick, she connected with me and helped me by giving back exactly what I lost. Hope that I could be good person, that I could be an important part of society.
That sort of thinking opened the of my mind. I realized that asking people with mental health issues to hide their struggles was like asking superheroes to fight off the worst bad guys with no weapons or super powers. That support, love and treatment are our weapons and superpowers. She showed me that everyone living with mental illness are incredibly strong. Strength is never something we should hide. It's something we should celebrate. I was angered by the fact that stigma was making people hide their strength, knowing if it was cancer, that the world would be celebrating our will to survive.
Even though we might not always make the right decisions or have the easiest journeys, our stories are so incredibly valid. After all, you are still a badass superhero if the only person you save is yourself.
This new lease on life gave me the strength to tell my parents what was going on. To help them get the education they needed to support me. And eventually, it helped them come to terms with their own mental health issues. See, parents can learn things from their kids (Technology doesn't count).
Now I speak openly about my journey, organizers of speaking events often ask me to talk about mental health in past tense. To highlight the positive parts of being mental health advocate like having a TEDxTalk and occasionally get featured on MTV. My truth is that mental illness still affects my life, which means I have amazing days and terrible days. Yes, some days are TV appearances, kicking butt at work and laughing with my friends. Other days, I binge eat all my feelings. I share these experiences to show people that you can be both: an advocate and struggling, successful and depressed, imperfect and inspiring and a role model while still trying.
Reading this, I hope you know that you don't need to be completely recovered to have a voice for change and a valid story. Most importantly, wherever you are now, know that you are awesome.
Frame Of Mind is a new series inspired by The Maddie Project that focuses on teens and mental health. The series will aim to raise awareness and spark a conversation by speaking directly to teens who are going through a tough time, as well as their families, teachers and community leaders. We want to ensure that teens who are struggling with mental illness get the help, support and compassion they need. If you would like to contribute a blog to this series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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