People who suffer from mental illness are more than just the "sad" or "anti-social" stereotypes. There is no face of mental illness -- your friend might be depressed, a parent or even yourself.
In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, MTV News is highlighting what mental illness really looks like for teens and young adults, including what they wish people knew and how they got through tough times. Share your story by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and let's #changetheconversation.
By Chris, 21
My name is Chris, and I want to share my personal story and experience with depression. I wish people wouldn't call it a "mental illness" -- mental illness always seems to be associated with the negative stigma of being broken, weak, and/or incompetent -- and I'm certainly an able-bodied individual. I'm a physically healthy, white gay male, with a 4.0 GPA entering my senior year of college, a great circle of friends in my college community, enjoyable paid work as a writer/editor, and a ton of passionate interests and creative outlets like singing and performing. My family is awesome and I've travelled the world multiple times. I aspire to keep hopping on jet planes and to live a trend-setting, international life.
I really came face to face with depression a year ago. I started thinking about love and gay relationships with other men, and for me, that’s been an area of life that always seems to stir up my darkest demons and emotional pangs. Although any person experiences heartache and heartbreak in the world of amour, I couldn't stop crying every single day, thinking about how lonely I was. It wasn't just emotional, either. In my physical body, I'd feel abdominal pain, almost like a gaping hole or a psychic stab wound was bleeding out of my stomach. The physical and emotional pain would be so excruciating that all I could really do was cry and pray the intense inner storm would pass.
Over the past six months, I sought therapy, self-help classes, and support from friends and family, but the sad, worthless, empty feelings always came back. About nine weeks ago, I hit one of my lowest lows and started having suicidal thoughts. Immediately the next morning, I called my doctor and started an SSRI antidepressant, Paxil, and made an appointment with a psychiatrist to make sure I was getting the precise medical attention I needed. For those who might not know, an SSRI takes about four to six weeks to completely “kick in” to an individual’s system. Although the medication seemed to be working for a while, at exactly the six-week mark I began having suicidal thoughts again and realized the medication wasn’t working. My psychiatrist wanted me to increase my dosage of Paxil from 10 milligrams to 20 milligrams, but intuitively it scared me and didn’t feel right. Medicating my thoughts wasn’t going to help anything or anyone, certainly not me. So, I decided to stop taking medication and get to the root source of my issues instead, keeping my psychiatrist informed that I was making this decision to go off the medication.
There's another gross misperception I’ve found that people tend to have regarding individuals who suffer from depression or any other mental illness. It goes something like this: People aren’t trying to “change” or “feel better,” and all they want to do is play pity party like Eeyore. Let the records show that I was the person who sought out all professional and personal avenues of treatment. I’ve been fighting for my life every single day since July 31 of this year. But even with a prestigious Yale psychiatrist, even with a personal health/wellness coach I Skype in Barcelona, even with an extraordinary empathic therapist on campus, even with the genuine outpouring of concern from friends and family, and even with a 24/7 phone line to the Trevor Project Suicide Hotline -- even with all of those sources I’ve used to better myself and my life, these intense feelings still come back. There’s no “on/off” switch to these emotions. Once they surge through me, they deluge my inner soul like a tidal wave, practically drowning me.
To all of my fellow brothers and sisters who wake up every day feeling like this: You have my genuine empathy, compassion and love. You are all brave, courageous warriors just to get out of bed in the morning and face the world. And, interestingly enough, you are the people the world needs the most at this moment. I can safely say that many of us in America, and the world at large, have forgotten the meaning of empathy. Of what it means to put oneself in another’s shoes. Of what it means to be fully, messily, joyfully, painfully human.
Don’t give up. Just take it one day at a time. That’s all you have to do. I will say this: healing happens every day. We’re surrounded by 7 billion-plus people on this planet because we are meant to be in relationship to each other. One of my favorite psychologists, Carl Jung, once said that “We are wounded in relationship and we heal through relationship.” Perhaps, then, there is hope. Perhaps we really can heal ourselves.
These are personal stories and only reflect the experiences of the individuals sharing them.
If you or someone you know is dealing with mental illness, there are ways to get help. Find resources, tips, and immediate help at Half of Us, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.