Spreading information about mental health and mental illness has always been important to me, but I have never taken the time to tell my story. Being completely vulnerable about mental health issues is not easy, and I find myself being guarded when it comes to my thoughts and feelings. My friends and family know of my diagnosis and my time in therapy; however, I have always kept the details to myself.
I’ve been anxious for as long as I can remember. I’ve always had specific fears that would consume me. Going upside down on a roller coaster has never been an option for me. I am convinced I would be the one to fall out, and I shake at the thought of getting on one. When I was 7, I had full on panic attacks at the sight of dogs. I would shake and lose my breath. It’s something I have always dealt with. I thought it was just my nerves. Everyone gets nervous, right? Everyone has things that scare them. I never thought that what I was going through was anxiety, and I kept my feelings to myself.
When I was 12 years old, I really began to notice how bad I was feeling and how much I wanted to be anyone else but myself. I was being bullied heavily in school about everything from my weight to my laugh. It took a major toll on me and my mental health, but I kept it to myself because I thought this was something all kids went through growing up. I made a list of everything I didn’t like about myself and hid it under my bed. I had an inkling that this wasn’t normal and that maybe something was wrong, but I ignored it. I had no clue what would be wrong with me. This wasn’t a physical issue. I was just being bullied, and it was just making me upset. So, I kept my feelings to myself.
As I progressed through middle school, these dark feelings grew stronger. I was still being bullied, and I was getting more nervous, more often. I was losing interest in things I had always loved. I stopped picking up my guitar as often, and I stopped reading books for fun. I wasn’t doing as well in school. I was growing up through my tween years, though. This was normal for kids in middle school, right? I thought everyone hated middle school. I kept my feelings to myself, and they continued to get worse.
The summer after my eighth-grade year, my world exploded. I had never felt so down before. I knew something was wrong. I cried almost every day. I asked myself if I was going crazy or why I couldn’t just stop feeling this way. I was a mess. The signs had been clear all along, but I had just avoided them and kept them to myself. While crying on the floor in my closet one day, I told my mom that I thought I was depressed and that I knew something was wrong with me.
Mental health is an interesting topic in my family. Of course, my family is incredibly supportive and want to help me in any way they can. They just have different ways of supporting me through this issue. They were very confused when I told them I thought I was depressed. I was their happy, smiling daughter that was always laughing. There’s no way I could be depressed, but they wanted to support me and how I was feeling. However, I was still keeping my feelings to myself. Maybe they were right. I acted too happy to be depressed.
High school started, and my problems got bigger. I was going into my teenage years, and I started to feel things deeper than I had before. I had more happening in my life that felt bigger, and this forced me to feel things differently. My problems with my mental health felt much bigger. I was older and starting to understand what mental illness was. I found myself identifying a lot with depression and anxiety, but I kept my feelings to myself.
I was 16 years old when I finally told my doctor how bad I was. It was the form that they gave every year assessing your mental state. Each question had a 0-4 rating with 0 meaning that I was feeling fine all the time and 4 meaning I was feeling bad all the time. I had been filling out zeros for years to avoid questioning. I had been keeping my feelings to myself. I filled out the form and was immediately terrified. My hands were sweating while I waited for my doctor to address the 3’s and 4’s I had put for every topic on my assessment. I spilled everything. I told her about my thoughts and fears and how I knew something was wrong all along. I was just afraid to speak my mind. I felt relief and dread all at the same time. They brought my parents in and told them what I couldn’t for years. She said I had severe depression and anxiety, and I needed to see someone as soon as possible. Again, they were (understandably) shocked. I had been doing a good job at keeping my feelings to myself. I remember being completely exhausted after that doctor’s appointment, and I cried on the way home. My secret was out, but I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.
I started going to therapy shortly after. I didn’t like therapy at first. I had to talk about myself and my feelings for an hour? No thanks. I’d rather just hide them. My first therapist was not the one for me. She was very rigid and made me feel uncomfortable. I still remember the sound of her small water fountain in the background of our sessions. I would go home from these appointments extremely happy because I thought I was “getting cured” of my mental illnesses. I had just shared some of my feelings, and I was on a high. I would always crash 3 hours later and be worse than before I went to therapy. It made me upset that this therapist wasn’t working for me. I stopped going to therapy after I realized it was making me worse, and I began to keep my feelings to myself again.
At this point, I had told none of my friends about my diagnosis or that I was in therapy. Part of me was embarrassed, and I didn’t know how people would react. I didn’t want to be looked at differently or pitied for my mental illness. It was one of my best kept secrets for years, and I was not going to let anyone know about my feelings. They were mine, and I couldn’t let anyone know how I was feeling.
My second therapist was everything I could’ve needed. She was more casual and made me feel more comfortable. She just wanted to talk and get to know me. She wanted to educate me on my mental illness and paint a picture of what was happening to me. I was starting to feel less scared of my mind while understanding it at the same time. She explained the chemical imbalances in my brain and how that affects everything. She explained that my depression and anxiety was not situational, meaning that nothing specific caused or triggered my issues. I had been born this way. She gave me tools to understand and try to control my thoughts and feelings. I was learning and growing, and I felt like I was changing.
I finally started to tell my friends about my diagnosis around the time I turned 18. The amount of people I knew with either anxiety or depression was shocking but also comforting. I started to spread awareness about mental illness because I never wanted anyone to feel like I had for as long as I had. I had really bad days, and I wanted people to know that they weren’t alone.
I still struggle with my mental health. I’ve seen psychiatrists and been on medication, and I’ve been in and out of therapy. Mental illness is not a trend. It isn’t fun or exciting. It’s really hard some days. My senior year of high school, there were days I couldn’t get out of bed or take care of myself. It was bad. However, there is hope, and there is always an opportunity to get better. Our mental being is just as important as our physical being, and they both need to be taken care of equally.
I have always been afraid to share my mental health story. My friends know my diagnosis, but that’s really all they know. Being vulnerable with my feelings is something I still struggle with doing. May is mental health awareness month, and it is important to take time to educate and reflect. If you are struggling, please do not keep your feelings to yourself. Someone out there is willing to help you. There is always a chance to grow, and there is always a chance to get better.
About the Author:
Julia Phillips is going into her third year at the University of South Carolina. She is a public relations major and is double minoring in business administration and sports and entertainment management. Her hobbies include yoga, hanging out with friends, and going for walks. You can follow her on Instagram @juliarphillips !