Health & Wellness, Opinion & Editorial

Writer’s reflections: Mental health series

Hard lessons: Don’t suffer in silence

Close your eyes and picture someone struggling with depression.

Are they wearing dark, neutral shades devoid of color? Are their eyes dull and lowered? Are their lips sagging at the sides? Are there green, cartoon stink lines wiggling outward from the person’s greasy hair and pungent armpits? Do they just generally look sad?

If your imagination created someone who fits that description in one way or another, I understand. A common misconception is that depression looks a certain way.

But some of us hide in plain sight. …

I had a complicated childhood, which I don’t remember much of, frankly. Some of my earliest memories are of knowing I was different from my peers.

I was taught from a young age – from family, from friends, from society – that children were supposed to be silly, happy, carefree. Children weren’t supposed to be hyper-vigilant or suffer from undiagnosed insomnia. Children were supposed to make friends easily through school and sports, and they were supposed to maintain their joyful innocence until it left naturally with age.

I don’t have memories of joyful innocence. If I do, the memories are tarnished with darker, more intense emotions. That child-like, happy-go-lucky attitude never came naturally to me.

For as long as I can remember, I was: high-strung, irritable, paranoid, anxious. I didn’t yet have that vocabulary to explain my feelings, but I was quite the existentialist for an elementary-schooler.

When I got to middle school, I learned to hide in dystopian novels to escape my reality, my intrusive thoughts, my home life. I also found that scheduling myself to sleep at friends’ houses worked wonders when it came to avoiding being home.

Upon entering high school, those coping mechanisms quickly shifted into substance use issues and self-harm. By my sophomore year of high school, I was a functioning alcoholic whose claim to fame was somehow earning a B on a math test I took while blackout drunk. And by the end of my junior year, I had a few suicide attempts under my belt.

Sharing stories minimizes shame

The reason I share some of the dimly-lit corners of my childhood is to explain that in some ways, I was the poster child for what experts would see as warning signs. I abused substances, withdrew from friends, had a tricky relationship with food, and my grades slipped. But in most ways, I hid it pretty well … at least when I had the energy to.

I could effortlessly slip on a smile, and my wit came in handy for constant laughter to persuade questioning adults that I wasn’t in danger. I was also thriving in so many extracurriculars, from soccer to community service, that it was hard for someone to actually realize I had withdrawn from social settings.

My fear of being put on a 72-hour, involuntary hold meant I was nearly perfect for doctors or any adult who either was or could have been a mandated reporter. It was ingrained in me that it would be worse for people to know I was suicidal than the fact that I was suicidal.

But that’s just not true. Those are the thoughts of someone who needs help, whether they are ready for it or not.

Writing the five-part “Take care” mental health series in The Chronicle has challenged me both professionally and personally.

It’s jarring to research mental health statistics for weeks on end and forcibly come to terms with often being one of those data points. But I did it because this topic needs to be discussed more openly.

The longer mental health issues, like suicide, are stigmatized and seen as something to be embarrassed by, the more people will believe they shouldn’t speak up and get help.

Finding the right angle

For the past month, I have hesitated to choose a topic for this column, meticulously deliberating: Is this vulnerable enough? Is someone depressed and impressionable going to mimic my mistakes if I explicitly describe them? Do I really want to add this anecdote to my digital footprint? Am I a coward if I don’t?

I ultimately decided that while some stories are for me, myself, and I, there are definitely experiences from my life that others could learn from.

Please learn from my experiences, my mistakes, my series “Take care.” Don’t hide your pain. You won’t win a medal for suffering silently. There’s no trophy for toughing it out. Vocalize your struggles, willingly showcase a “weakness,” but take the advice from someone who has had to learn the hard way time and time again.

I had to come to terms with my own permanence. It’s why I got my first tattoo at 16. But learning to reluctantly cope with the concept that there was a lot more life to live has led me to a much better place than where I would be if I decided to give up on myself back in 2018.

I could list resource after resource from texting hotlines to free counseling, but if someone doesn’t want to be helped, it won’t matter. That’s a lesson my mental health care team had to learn the hard way. My first year of mandated therapy was spent in silence. I only nodded or shook my head to answer the therapists’ questions, occasionally deciding to talk about a safe, non-mental-health-related topic.

Now, just shy of 23, I’ve taken steps to embrace the resources available to me, like my psychiatrist and therapist.

If you’re struggling, I implore you not to internalize your pain. Be brave and confide in a friend or family member. If you’re not comfortable doing that, call or text a helpline. The person on the other end of your phone may be able to direct you toward resources that fit your needs, and if not, I bet they can at least make you feel a little less alone with your thoughts.

Amanda Lurey is a reporter for The Chronicle. You can reach her at [email protected]



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