The first thing I want to make clear is that when others like you, it does not necessarily that mean you like yourself. I encourage you to read this through to the end.
I grew up with two loving parents, a sister, and my grandparents in a small town in Tennessee. In elementary school, I was a beam of light, jokes, and giggles. The end of my 6th-grade year, a friend disclosed information about her stepfather exploiting her. We were in 6th grade. With tears in our eyes, we said goodbye to our friend as we knew she couldn’t stay. And for the first time in my life, I started to experience self-hatred.
How was I so consumed with myself that I couldn’t see this? How could I let this happen to her? Maybe if I would have been a better friend she wouldn’t have to go. I knew that this was a problem way bigger than myself but that doesn’t mean I didn’t blame myself for it. This became a trend for me. Blaming myself, talking down to myself, and creating walls around myself so that I couldn’t experience love because I didn’t feel that I deserved it. My middle school years were tough. I experienced violent acts of rage towards the people I cared about the most because I just didn’t feel normal or comfortable in my own skin.
Undiagnosed with serve anxiety and depression I began high school. I was fairly popular in high school and had a large group of friends. However, I frequented the principal’s office and I gained a reputation for myself, not one to be proud of. I could see how much I was hurting my parents. Before my transition from freshman to sophomore, I became a mystery diagnosis for doctors all over Tennessee. I was having seizure-like activity, multiple times a day. It prevented me from doing the things I loved. I felt like a bother and an inconvenience to everyone around me. I manipulated myself into believing that I wasn’t worth the effort and, at 17 years old, I tried to take my own life.
Not many people know this. I kept it very exclusive partially because I was embarrassed to admit that there was something wrong with me. The happiest times of my life turned into the darkest years. I experienced many highs and lows throughout high school, but even at my highest I did not feel understood. I felt trapped. In a small town, people think you’re crazy if you speak out about the voices in your head that tell you that you aren’t good enough. So I didn’t. I put on a fake smile and went day to day just barely mentally hanging on. Teachers purposefully tried to break me and my peers bullied me for not being skinny enough—calling me names like “thunder thighs,” as if I didn’t have enough negative thoughts weaving through my brain.
After I graduated I left that town and never looked back. I thought this would cure my problems, and for awhile it did. In more recent years I have grown and challenged myself. I’ve met people who experience the same feelings I do. I’ve learned that I’m not alone inside my head. I would be lying to you if I told you I was well; that counseling, meditation, and methods of self-love somehow healed me. I wasn’t. However, I am better because I learned to understand myself. By learning how to feel compassion for myself, I began to realize that I am deserving of love, not only from others but from myself.
I am not my anxiety. I am not my depression. And they will not control my life anymore.
Living with a mental illness does not make you weak. It makes you strong. It makes you brave and courageous because living in a world where mental illness carries so much stigma can be draining.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental illness, remind them of how much you care about them. Hold them close to you and tell them that they are not alone. Everyone experiences some sort of mental illness in their lifetime. Instead of labeling and passing judgment imagine that we all just acted understanding and empathetic. How much better of a world we could create.
For more resources visit https://projecthelping.org/mental-health-resources/.
For more information on anxiety, see Anxiety: Talk About It, Parts 1 and Part 2