Mental health issues have always been of particular interest to me, both because I was a psychology major, and more importantly, because of my own personal experiences.
There has always been a lot of stigma associated with mental illness, and it is something that is not talked about nearly as much as it needs to be.
This is an issue that is important to society as a whole, but has an extra level of importance in the QUILTBAG community, as rates of depression and suicide are higher in our community compared to the general rates in society as a whole. For ourselves and for the sake of everyone around us, we need to fight away the stigma and bring mental health issues into the light. We need to start the conversation. And most importantly, we need to be aware of the people around us. Often, the people who struggle the most with depression are the best at hiding it. And whether because of the stigma or because of how deep they are in the struggle (or both), many of them are not in a place where they are able to reach out for help. So we need to watch for signs, and if we see anything that indicates to us that a fellow human being is struggling, we need to reach out to them, in case they cannot reach out to us. Sometimes it’s hard, because you don’t want to offend the person, or push them away. But you never know when the simplest act, such as smiling, saying hello, or asking how the person is doing (with genuine caring behind the words) might save someone’s life. I have adopted the motto, “when in doubt, reach out”, and I want to share this idea with the world, so that we can all help each other and hopefully, someday, eliminate suicide entirely.
Over the past week, I’ve seen a lot of friends sharing their own stories of depression and other mental illnesses in public online spaces. On every one of these posts, there are responses from many people offering support and even sharing their own stories. I think the best way to bring the mental health conversation to the forefront and out of the darkness of stigma is by opening up and sharing our stories, because that’s when we learn that we really are all more similar than we are different. So, with that being said, I’d like to share my own story, in hopes of opening up the conversation here on Freedom Requires Wings, and hopefully out into other forums that our readers might visit. So here goes…
Hi, my name is Tara, and I have suffered from anxiety since about the age of 11 (though it wasn’t officially diagnosed until I was about 15), and mild to moderate depression on and off since I was 15. My anxiety was officially termed “generalized anxiety disorder”, although it takes many forms, from panic attacks, to extreme phobias, to obsessive-compulsive type behaviors. I’m generally pretty open about my anxiety. Not so much about my depression. This is mostly because I have so many friends who have suffered from major depression that my own mild to moderate depression seems unimportant by comparison. I’ve never been suicidal, and I’ve never had to take medication for my depression. Talk therapy has always worked well enough for me. I mentioned that my depression is off and on. I’ve had three “occurrences” of depression. The first came when I was 15 and a sophomore/junior in high school. It was triggered by a slew of negative events in my life that all seemed to occur right on top of each other: that year, my best friend’s mom was diagnosed with leukemia, my uncle committed suicide, and there was a lot going on in baseball that had a very heavy impact on me. The first two things I never really talked about with anyone. They just weren’t discussed, and didn’t come up in conversation. The baseball stuff I had already learned that I couldn’t talk to people about, because nobody understood, and I usually got blank stares, or worse, responses like, “it’s just a game”, or “don’t be ridiculous”. My parents sent me to a therapist, who at first tried to convince me that my depression stemmed from sibling rivalry with my sister (which I already knew wasn’t the case, as I knew exactly what was causing it). Eventually, I was able to open up to her about the baseball stuff, and it helped me immensely just to know that there was a safe place I could go to talk about it, where I wouldn’t be judged or ridiculed. After about 6 months of therapy, our sessions had basically become me chatting about baseball for an hour, and at that point, my therapist decided I was well enough to end our sessions.
I was fine after that until my junior year of college. This time, my depression was triggered by the “loss” of the guy I was in love with. He had graduated and moved back to the other side of the country, and although we still talked online almost every night, it just wasn’t the same as him being there. I had a LOT of issues surrounding him, many of which were due to his own mental health struggles, which I felt helpless to do anything about from such a distance. He was all I ever talked about, but one by one, my friends got sick of hearing me repeat the same thing over and over, and as soon as I got that vibe from someone, I immediately stopped talking to them about it. Eventually, I got to the point where I had no one left to talk to, and I realized I needed to find a place where I could talk through it all. Remembering my previous experience with therapy, I went to the counseling center at my university, and was lucky enough to get matched with a therapist who mostly just let me talk myself through it. Again, just having that safe space to talk about it without fear of judgment or ridicule was all I really needed. After the allotted number of sessions we had, I had improved enough that I chose not to continue therapy with an outside practice. Other than the fact that I remember very little of that school year due to my depression, I got through it relatively unscathed.
The third recurrence of my depression came in 2009. It was entirely baseball related, so I don’t expect anyone to understand, but it was the first and only time I’ve had my heart broken. I never actually went to therapy that time (mostly because the cost was prohibitive), but eventually, I started to come out of it on my own. It took me several years for the lingering effects to pretty much stop, though. I’ve been lucky enough that my depression has not come back since that time, but I know that if it ever does (which it probably will at some point), I have already learned what kind of therapy works best for me, and I know what to look for in a therapist.
That’s my story, and I hope that in telling it, I am able to open the door for others to share their own experiences (remember that anonymity is always an option!) and keep the conversation going. The only way to erase stigma is to bring the truth to light and hold it there, so that people can see how pervasive this issue is in our society, and how all of our struggles are so similar despite our differences. So I encourage you to tell your story, and to help others find the strength to tell their stories. Remember, “when in doubt, reach out”!