I remember lying on my bed while my dad painted my bedroom a light violet color my parents had let me pick out in 9th grade. I pushed my fingers into my ears as I kept focusing on each individual thought I was having: “This is me,” “I am who I am” and “I decide what I do and what I feel,” etc. I hated everything about myself, but I hadn’t quite realized why yet. The situations I went through growing up put my brain on a default-setting that made every situation anxiety-filled. My default was choosing to recognize that I was to blame for everything and that if someone was to be at fault, it was me. I know you’re probably thinking, “Okay so this girl gets bullied, she bullies herself, we feel bad for her, but I don’t actually feel that bad for her because everyone goes through crap, blazay blazay, poor unfortunate soul…” Cool. You can think that, totally. The problem is, I don’t think like you and you don’t think like me and no one thinks the same. We all have incredibly intimate and individually-minded experiences that make up our life. I can’t pretend to know or even begin to understand why people are the way they are, how their experiences have shaped them, or even comprehend for a second how they got to where they are at. I won’t ever know that about everyone, but I can recognize the fact that we’re different, we all handle things differently, and that’s okay.
So I grow up feeling this way. I am in situations, I’m bullied, I talk, I hate everything that comes out my mouth. I look in the mirror, I see my “five-head” and “burning rubber braces” so lovingly called-out by a boy in 7th grade math. I’m yelled to shut up because my voice is annoying, I let people walk all over me because that’s what everyone does to each other…right? Right. I apologize all the freaking time, I feel that I am responsible for other people’s emotional health, I shut-down, I am bullied some more, I’m told to stop “acting so depressed” and I’m treated like crap again. A very solid, mind-numbingly, melancholy 10 years. A 10 years where “friends” waded in and out of life, when I gave all I could to attempting to be happy, feeling that if I kept thinking about what I could do for others it would all be okay. I tried to do all I could, still felt like crap.
So now I’m 16 and sitting in a therapists office telling her about why I still feel these feelings of disgust, shame, and hatred for myself. She tells me I should delete social media and put it all to rest “in a box.” I tell my dad, “I am never seeing that lady again.”
I let peoples thoughts about me control my life. Every moment of every day was spent worrying about every little thing I had ever done. I didn’t want people to hate me. I didn’t want to say things that were stupid. I didn’t want to hate every single fiber of my being, but I did.
So now I’m almost 17 and my family goes to Park City for winter break. I listen to Ellie Gouldings song “Explosions,” filled with a lot of good lyrics for depressed teenagers to sulk to. “I’ve fallen from grace…lost my faith in everything…” It was dark outside and I stared at the window. That was the first time I thought about how I would kill myself and it actually felt real. I wanted to kill myself because the idea that the pain I was feeling would never go away became reality to me. That whole break my mom and dad wanted to know why I felt so horrid and acted out so much, but I couldn’t explain it to them. How do you explain that you are at the bottom of an incredibly deep hole and the ladder hoisted down to you stops a couple feet above your head, and you can’t reach it no matter how hard or high you jump? That is what depression feels like.
So elementary school, middle school, and high school were painful even though I did everything I could to be involved in things, to try and serve and genuinely be happy. People told me all the time that I was a happy and energetic person—which I really tried my best to do even if it was exhausting. I think some people who don’t have mental illness or depression genuinely believe that depression is some kind of mental plane you “choose” or that you’re “not getting over things” blah, blah. If that had been so, that would have been super cool. I would have loved to have had complete control over the circumstances I went through when I was young because if I had I could have avoided a lot of this mess in the first place. But alas, no. It’s like I was given an all-access ticket to hell and it had gotten so comfy I couldn’t even leave anymore. It was all I knew…
So I get to college and it is new, exciting and then he comes again. Major Depressive Disorder. He just can’t seem to get away. I tell myself I’m fine, that it’s me who needs to change. I pray every night that I’ll stop being such a screw-up—that I can actually do what God needs me to do. I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. I feel I can’t please God so I tell him to just please get me the hell off the earth or give me the strength to keep going, but still I feel hollow. Depression has a way of doing that though. What are your own thoughts, what is the Spirit, what is logical/rational thinking, what are unhealthy thought patterns and how are they affecting you? You have no idea. You want to love yourself because you’ve grown up thinking God loves you, but you feel like a sinner because you hate every particle that makes you, you, and you don’t even want to live on the planet anymore. What kind of strong-testimony, faithful member of the church thinks like that? At the time you’re pretty sure no one does, so what do you even do?
I’m 19 and I’m on a mission because for one of the first times in my life I felt the spirit so strongly tell me to go, and also because I wanted to go so incredibly bad. I’m pumped, I get to the MTC and I want to go home on the first day. I cry all day, everyday for the next 2 weeks. I get to the mission—everything about the mission made my anxiety grow. Never being late, being in bed at a specific time, not being late waking up, not spending too much time places, getting out of my comfort zone, and the hardest part for me: facing rejection. You’re probably thinking every missionary goes through this, which is totally true to a degree. However, with depression and anxiety It was like everything I knew and expected about my mission was amplified 10000000x over. I wanted to be the best missionary I could, but I felt so helpless and distraught. I had no idea why I was feeling so horridly, but I saw therapists, I took meds, and I stuck out the hardest 1 1/2 years of my entire life thus far. But really, thus far. Another trait about depression is that you’re trying all you can to be pro-active about your health, but you still feel empty and helpless. It’s a balancing act you don’t feel you’re very good at.
I get home and realize I’m going to keep needing meds. I see a doctor in Utah, I feel the meds don’t really do anything. I read studies on how if you click with your therapist you have an incredibly easier journey of healing. I ask my brother-in-law (who’s a psychologist) who he recommends, I go see her. I immediately recognize that she is my person. I tell her every single thing that has contributed to all my depressed/anxious thoughts, actions, feelings, and pains. She’s the person I trust with all of my crap because she not only validates how I feel, but for the first time I truly believe I’m not getting judged. I tell her about how much I hate myself and she feels my pain.
So now I’m here. Almost 22, on medications that are helping me incredibly, and seeing a therapist once a week. I’m sure if you had told 14-year-old me that this is where I would be today, I would have denied that crap instantaneously. And even still, I don’t really like to tell people. That was how it felt though, growing up like that. There was a huge stigma around mental illness. If you were depressed it was your fault and you were to be blamed and to even acknowledge your feelings was pitiful. I’m grateful for maturity, for getting the hell out of high school, and for finally recognizing that it was worth it to try and heal my soul. I’m not healed entirely, my story sounds scattered, and I probably make no sense. I can’t share everything though. Not because I’m afraid of being judged or because it would be freaking long, but because it would deny me the intimacy of personal struggle.
Am I healed? No, not yet. Will I ever be fully healed in this life? Probs not. Do I have a deeper understanding of pain and try to be empathetic to my fellow brothers and sisters? Yes. Do we need to have a mental illness to learn how to do so? No. I’m not asking for pity, I’m not attempting to make anyone feel sorry for me, and I don’t want anyone to. No one understands your journey, or the deepness of your wounds, or the burden of pain on your shoulders—only you do.
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that although feelings can be powerful and awfully poignant, they do not control who we are. We need to be kind, not only to each other, but especially to ourselves. If I broke my leg and tried to run a 5k (side note—couldn’t even do that if I hadn’t), I’d probably end up on the ground withering in pain and asking for a Diet Coke ASAP. It’s no difference in mental health. It took me a long time to recognize this, but I’m glad I did. I’m glad I didn’t give up. I’m glad I decided to heal.