I don’t really know where to start.
I didn’t really understand what I’m going through, and what I have gone through, until some point last year. After being informed that there was an actual name for everything I’d been experiencing, I began to take quite a different outlook on, well, everything. But I digress.
My name is Danny. I’m 21. I go to college. I have a job. I have friends. I like movies, music, sports, and many other things that normal people my age would enjoy. I smile like everyone else, I go about my daily routine like everyone else, and I have fears, just like anyone else. These are normal parts of my identity that many people know. But what I don’t broadcast is that I have suffered from Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder for as long as I can remember. After digging up some earlier stuff in therapy this past year, I can deduce that my earliest memory of these disorders was around 7th or 8th grade. I remember sitting in Science class, existing as an introverted adolescent, and thinking about how wonderful it would be to kill myself. This is a thought that would follow me for the next eight years.
Now, I’m sure many of you are wondering why an innocent teenage boy would already have such a morbid state of mind. I was bullied, sure, but looking back, it was a lot more childhood teasing than it was a targeted attack on me. I had troubles at home, but I always had a meal to eat and parents that would be there for me if I really needed them. I had this security, and I had the world to capture.
So then why?
Well, this is where the so-often misunderstood concept of mental illness comes in. So many people think that we need a long list of reasons to be sad. We need the broken home, the controlling relationship, the school troubles, and the ungrateful friends. We need a reason.
And if there’s one thing I want you to take out of this article, it’s this:
there doesn’t have to be one.
Sure, external sources can trigger depression or anxiety. Some of the negative parts of our lives are what do bring mental illness to its worst. But at its base, mental illness is biological. For the purpose of abbreviation (and to not bore you), how our mood/mental processing works is entirely based on chemicals. Not enough serotonin or norepinephrine? Well, you’re probably dealing with depression, and waking up most mornings feeling like there are cinder blocks tied to your extremities. Too much dopamine? Well, chances are you’re schizophrenic, and are seeing some things that aren’t actually there, and so on, and so forth. Just as you can be born with a heart condition or a cancer that can affect every part of your life, every single day, you can be born with a chemical imbalance that can affect every part of your life, every single day. It is the same thing.
Now that that is clear, I’ll go back to my story over the years. I was very quiet in middle and high school, making my mark known where I had to. I joined a club here or there, ran some track, and kept a positive rep throughout my circle of teachers. I had the perfect, meticulous method to fit into the background. I did not have the energy to stand out in any way, nor did I want to attract any extra attention by coming off as overly morose or reserved. So for the first two years of high school, I trudged through the mud, dragging around my cinder blocks all day, and not really saying anything about it. By the time junior year rolled around, I decided it was time for a change.
I began dating a girl, and for the sake of anonymity, we’ll call her Lucy. I always wanted to believe that I was a good person, and so for the first year of this relationship, I did nothing but shower this girl with affection and gifts. I was feeling okay, and I even made a couple of friends. I suppose the 16 year-old me believed this was the turning point.
At the end of the year, Lucy, being a year my elder, left for college. Her inexplicable dependency became immediately apparent. She did not attempt to make friends or do anything extra-curricular, and began leaning on me like a fencepost. I began missing meetings, hang-outs, and Patriots games all to talk to her on the phone or play Words with Friends with her. If I did not oblige to these requests, I was hit with a Titanic of a guilt trip. Over the year, I continued to miss everything from my basketball practices to my Senior dinner. I think I saw my friends once or twice outside of school. I kept my phone by me if I was in the pool, outside, or even at school. If I didn’t text back immediately, I was in trouble.
This all came to sort of an anticlimactic climax at the end of the year. I had my big end of the year celebration with my classmates, and just as I was ready to play some Frisbee and eat, I got into one of the worst conversations I’ve ever gotten into. After probably around an hour or so of yelling, it came to this: You better come over right now, or it’ll prove to me that you don’t actually love me. And so, being the doormat I had transformed myself into, I obliged. She knew I was unhappy. I got the whole “If you’re so unhappy, then just break up with me”. And I felt so sorry at this point that I could not bring myself to do it. Who would she hang out with? Who would help her with all of her problems?
This observably absurd game of cat and mouse continued on for two more years. I lost out on connections, on friends, and on anything else the first two years of college may entail. After awhile, I began to try to leave, but was always met with “logic” of why I should stay. I was brainwashed. After I certain amount of time, though, I knew I had to leave. I knew that I had to leave or I was going to die. Sounds overdramatic? Maybe. But I knew that at this point, after four years of this, I knew that she was the furthest thing from the almighty solution to my problems that I thought she was. My cinder blocks had turned into lead anchors. The racing thoughts my anxiety caused me to have had turned from a slightly uncomfortable highway drive into being loosely strapped into a racecar nearing 200 miles per hour. I had my suicide note written, and I had pretty ambitious intentions to see that I went through with it. This was not an 8th grade fascination with death, nor was it a 10th grade plan to walk down to the hardware store, buy a rope, and hang myself with it in my backyard. This was something that became so real to me.
I remember being so scared that I wasn’t scared of dying at my own hand.
I broke up with Lucy. I made a promise to myself to stay alive through the summer. I made many, many changes. I started to see my friends again. I started playing guitar again. I started working out for the first time. I had gotten rid of such a negative influence of my life and made numerous positive changes, but still felt the feeling of agony would not leave my side.
I finally started going to therapy. I had tried to go on my own before, but I never connected with anyone. One of the therapists I tried actually told me to “just feel better”. When I did find the one that clicked with me, I worked very diligently through my sessions to become more self-aware and to understand what mental illness actually was. I had to (very frustratingly, might I add) cycle through five psychotropic medications before I found the one that I currently use. Between this and my wonderfully empathetic and relatable counselor, I was able to keep my head above water enough to stop drowning and tread a little bit. This was better than before, so I used it as a starting point.
Essentially, that is where I am now. I am still struggling with controlling my thoughts and recognizing my emotions, but I can confidently say that I have improved. I’ve seen plenty of new places, kissed girls, written a lot of poetry, and made countless memories with my friends. I can finally start to count on a future for myself-something I’ve never thought too much about before, simply because I didn’t think I’d be here. I recently started a chapter of Active Minds on my campus. For those of you who don’t know what Active Minds is, it is a nonprofit organization that runs through college campuses nationwide with the goal or erasing the stigma attached to mental health, and raising overall awareness. It is a wonderful organization. I think education is the most important aspect of the mental health community. If those struggling do not know that they are not alone, how can they feel like they deserve help? If those who are not struggling do not know how to recognize and understand mental illness, how can they reach out to help? I think these types of organizations are finally starting to form a bridge between the mentally ill and the mentally healthy that has desperately needed to be built for centuries.
For anyone struggling-know that you are not alone.
Paul loves to use the phrases “You are loved” and “You are not broken”, and both of those equally apply. What I have gone through, and what I still struggle with daily, are going to be a part of who I am. I have accepted that, because I recognize that it is okay to struggle. It is okay to feel sad for no reason. It is okay to not be able to explain how you feel or what the thoughts racing in your head look like. It is okay because someday, you will be able to find a way that works. Those struggles that you did overcome will lead to a loving and fulfilling future. You may hold your spouse a little tighter, spend a little more time reflecting on a masterpiece you created, or laugh a little bit harder and longer knowing that you went through what you did.
If you are struggling and you doubt this, I don’t blame you one bit. I am strides ahead of where I was years ago, and I still doubt myself almost every day. It is all about finding the right path in front of you and the right support system behind you. If you are struggling to find this, I am here. The author of this blog is here. The WordPress community is here. Online communities outside of WordPress are here. Counselors who actually care are here. Hope exists in the tiniest crevices, and when you find it, it can be remarkable.
I am here to stay.
And so are you.
So tell me about you, and we can have some laughs.
Follow Danny’s Blog here to keep up with his thoughts and wonderful poetry.
Comment below with any messages for Danny, or anyway you have tried to cope. Positive or negative, in relation to this post or just something you want to share. You are all welcome here.
You are loved.