In the wake of Robin Williams’ death, there’s a discussion happening about what is “choice” and what isn’t. There are two camps of feeling on the issue: That Williams was selfish for taking his life, or that he must have been so desperate and hopeless that he didn’t know what else to do.
Since taking my writing career seriously, there have been times I wanted to write about this, but I didn’t because I didn’t want that oh-so-prevalent stigma about mental illness to bring down my career. I didn’t want people to look at me or my work differently because of a disease that I have to battle every single day of my life.
But now, I want to talk. I don’t want to hide anymore.
I am 29 years old, and I suffer from major depressive disorder (MDD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I have been suffering from these things for many, many years. In fact, I recall being in the fourth grade and knowing that I was different from my peers because they always seemed so happy, and I always seemed so sad. Even today, when I walk around, I have a habit of looking at the ground, and every day I remember one of my soccer coaches back from when I was ten or so telling me, “You know you can look up when you walk. You don’t always have to look down.”
But I felt like I did.
I felt like I did because from this very young age, when I could tell something wasn’t right, I am sure my parents could tell it too. After all, it was my traumatic childhood that sent me down this path, mixed with a predisposition to the mental illness that runs on both sides my family. Maybe it was their own misunderstanding of mental illness that drove them to tell me that I shouldn’t reach out to my school counselors, social workers or therapists because they were “bad people” who were “fake doctors” and were trying to “meddle in business where they didn’t belong.”
I listened to them for a long time. Miss Eve in grade school would try to visit me in class and pull me out for sessions, and I would tell her that I wasn’t allowed because my parents said not to go with her. Who knows how much help she would have been right from the start? Would I be a different person than I am today? Would I have struggled so much? Maybe, maybe not. I’ll never know.
It wasn’t until I was going into high school that I started to beg my mother to send me to a therapist. Because no one listened to me, I started to superficially cut or burn my arms as a cry for attention. Maybe if I was hurting myself, they would take me seriously. Unfortunately, it took to resorting to self-harm to get the help that I needed. This was a habit that took some years to break.
I stayed in therapy through most of high school but stopped after my therapist moved out of my insurance network. Somehow, I managed to drag myself through college without therapy, which I think were the years that my depression really took over. Hell, I’d even consider myself just plain psychotic for some of those years. My then-boyfriend-and-now-husband stood by me while I struggled with social anxiety and a blinding, numbing fear that at the end of all this, I’ll be on my own and alone in the world as a new adult.
I didn’t resume professional therapy until my first year teaching. I reached out for help because I needed it. What if I didn’t reach out for help?
Today, it is much better. Thanks to my dedicated doctors, my husband, my friends and family, I’ve learned tools that help me cope. They don’t take away the depression, but they make it much more manageable. I am able to tell when I am heading down a slippery slope, and I am able to catch myself before I start falling.
This past year was very difficult for me, career-wise. Events happened that left me crushed, events that I can’t openly talk about. They left me wondering if I was cut out for writing, even if it has been my life-long dream. They left me wondering who I can trust. They left me feeling betrayed. They left me alone. They left me struggling. For a little while, I couldn’t bring myself to write. I’d sit down in front of my computer and WANT to write, but I’d cry instead for fear that the same thing would somehow happen again — or something worse, and that everything I did from here could be for nothing.
I still get frustrated and depressed that what happened set me back so much. I am still wading through the aftermath. I lost some great connections. I lost valuable time that I could have been writing and finishing new material. I lost my self-confidence. I am still struggling, I admit. I’m struggling.
But, I am moving forward. Day-by-day, I am moving forward because I’m not willing to let my dream be crushed so easily. I am moving forward because I don’t want my depression to win over something that is so very precious to me.
There are people out there, though, who don’t think they can move forward. People like Robin Williams. People like the hundreds of children who kill themselves each year because of bullying, or untreated mental illness. People whose own minds turn against them, who fight with themselves every single day to keep their heads up above the water.
This post is for those young people out there who think they are at the end of the road. I had a very hard time, as a teenager, imagining my future because I was convinced I wouldn’t have a future. But I did, and it is such a wonderful future. I have a loving husband, an incredible baby son, a dog that is sometimes a little dumb, but is overall a great dog.
Your future is out there somewhere, and it is not going to feel like it does right now. It will be different because YOU will be different. And it is going to be marvelous. Today is just today.
At the school where I currently teach, an alternative school, we have a saying: “Tomorrow is a new day.” Sometimes, our students have horrible, horrible days in school, and they are so angry and frustrated at the end of it that they want to give up and not ever come back. And we tell them, “You know what, you might have had a bad day today, but tomorrow is a new day. It’s a clean slate, and you can start all over again.” And the next day, they are there, ready and willing to try again.
Keep telling yourself over and over again that tomorrow is a new day.
Thank you for letting me share this with you. Maybe I will lose some readership over it, but it’s important for young adults to know that even us young adult authors have struggled somewhere in our pasts. It’s important for you to know that you are not alone in your struggles either.
If you feel like you need to reach out for help, please contact the National Suicide Hotline. You can remain anonymous and talk to someone who is more than willing to stay on the phone with you and help you. And if phones aren’t your thing (because they are certainly not my thing), you can even chat with them on their website instead.
Feel free to comment and share your own struggles to show others that they aren’t alone…I’d love to have an open dialogue about this!
This article was written by Stephanie