Disclaimer: If you feel you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It is a free, 24-hour hotline, at 1.800.273.TALK (8255). Your call will be connected to the crisis center nearest to you. If you are in an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
Mental health is a major theme on my blog, partially because it’s something that impacts my everyday life on a personal level. I’ve dealt with anxiety for most of my life, and began to seek treatment for an eating disorder and major depressive disorder shortly after college. I talk openly about these things not because it’s easy (it’s actually really hard to be candid about living with a mind that spends the majority of its time trying to fight you in various ways), but because it’s important.
Sharing my experiences with mental illness has helped me be more honest with myself about those experiences, and has also helped ease some of the frustration that comes with coping with mental illnesses. It’s so hard when all you want to do is “turn off” the parts of your brain that are anxious, or depressed, or anorexic, because it’s just “in your head” and you should be able to “choose to be happy.” Anyone who’s dealt with mental illness knows that’s not how it works, even though we all wish it did. Anyone who’s dealt with mental illness probably also knows the guilt that comes from not being able to turn off your mental illness because its timing is inconvenient or you feel you’re burdening the ones you love.
The stigma that surrounds mental illness is a massive barrier to many when it comes to getting the help they need, or even just recognizing that what they are dealing with is just that — an illness that they have no control over. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me to “just run more,” “try yoga,” “stay hydrated,” “focus on the positives,” “eat healthy,” or any other behavioral modification…I could probably pay off my student loans. Then maybe I’d be less depressed! (Kidding. Whether or not I’m in major debt at 24 may be a contributing factor to my depression, but ultimately has nothing to do with bad brain chemistry).
I run. I do yoga. I drink lots of water. I am annoyingly optimistic 99.9% of the time. I meal prep healthy food every weekend. And yes, I still have (treated) depression, (manageable) anxiety, and (remittent) anorexia. I didn’t start truly feeling like my depression was getting better until I found the right antidepressant and dosage. For me, behavioral modification was not enough — just like a bad sinus infection, sometimes you need a prescription to start feeling better when you’re dealing with an illness as mean as depression.
The more we can recognize that mental illnesses have a multitude of faces and represent a real health issue, not just someone feeling “sad” or “stressed” or “insecure about their body,” the better position we’ll put ourselves in to connect resources with the people who need them most.
Which brings me to the reason I’m writing this post. While I don’t think I’ve ever been truly suicidal, there have been plenty of times when I’ve thought about how much easier it would be to just…not exist anymore. Dealing with these kinds of illnesses is not easy, and living in a society that so often blames those struggling for their struggles doesn’t exactly help. Almost everyone I know has had their life touched by mental illness, either through family and friends or themselves. For too many, those unanswered struggles have lead to death.
On September 30, I’m participating in the 4th Lansing/Capital Area Out of the Darkness Walk to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
While I joined my team, Be Kind for Claudia, to honor my good friend Emma’s late mother, suicide prevention and mental health awareness is something that is incredibly important to me. In addition to my own mental health struggles, I have known too many young people who have struggled too hard and been lost far too soon. In my own family, one of my favorite uncles attempted suicide multiple times before his untimely death earlier this year.
No one should have to struggle so deeply that they feel death is the only option to end suffering. Releasing the stigma around mental illness and helping connect people to the resources they need to get healthier is critical to preventing the tragedy of suicide in so many lives. I had the incredible privilege and gift of a strong support system, good health insurance, and access to the tools and medical resources necessary to live with and manage my anxiety, depression, and anorexia. But many (maybe even most) people are not that lucky.
The Out of the Darkness Walk benefits the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, funding research, education, advocacy, and support for those affected by suicide. If you would like to support my team, please feel free to donate here or share this post with other mental health advocates. All donations are 100% tax deductible and benefit the AFSP.