Open Letter To Anyone Who Has Never Experienced Mental Illness
To anyone who has never experienced mental illness,
I woke up this morning and it hurt to be alive. I woke up next to my boyfriend and it still hurt. I laid in fetal position, while he rubbed my back and held me but it still hurt. It hurt to cry, it hurt to move. I have depression and anxiety, and today it hurt.
“Why?” is the next logical question to anyone who has never experienced this. I had a perfectly good childhood, great family and friends, no terrible trauma. To any outsider, no real reason to feel this terrible. I’m incredibly privileged, but that does not mean I’m immune to this disease like everyone assumes. Most of the time, there is no reason for a particular day to send me into a deep hole of depression. Stop asking “Why?” because nine times out of 10 I don’t even know the answer.
I woke up today in terrible pain, but I am going to work. Because you can’t call off for depression. If I wake up feeling like I did today, I am just supposed to “tough it out” and “be strong.” But, wrestling with depression day in and day out requires a lot of strength. Sometimes depression wins and I need a day off. Instead of calling off for depression, I could call off for the stomach flu. No one ever tells me to tough out the stomach flu.
I like to think that most people who know me consider me a positive, happy person. Even with depression, I would describe myself as that as well. Most days, I am me. I am energetic, happy, a joy to be around. Some days I need to pull out my mask. The mask isn’t quite happy me, but it is enough to get by. In the past few years, many people have told me to “Never stop smiling.” And every time I hear that, I go home so upset, because they don’t know the half of it.
When I was a freshman in high school, two students of our 800 student population died by suicide. When I walked in one morning, I was told a senior had died by suicide. The first thought in my head? “It was probably some emo kid who didn’t have friends.” How incredibly insensitive and harsh is that? But those were the only people I thought had depression, because I had never been taught otherwise. I was very wrong. He was surrounded by love, and still depression won.
The stigma surrounding depression and mental illness needs to end. When someone shares that they have mental illness, the reaction is often to run from that person. “They are weak, needy, dangerous, suicidal, etc.” What that person needs more than anything else is for you to run towards them with compassion. Because of this stigma, people do not want to share their feelings. I am not ashamed or embarrassed, because I have nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Someone who struggles with mental illness is a fighter. That person wakes up every morning and continues living.
I am hopeful that each day we get closer to destigmatizing mental illness. I hope this letter helps to change the perspective on mental illness even for just one person. Today is a dark day; tomorrow will be brighter.