On Mental Health

I’ve had physical health issues since I was a baby. I was born with arrhythmia, so I spent extra time hooked up to machines instead of in my parents’ arms after I entered the world. Since fifth grade, I suffered from extreme stomach pain, which sent me to the hospital on at least four occasions. While none of my painful episodes turned into more serious conditions, I’ve had stomach problems ever since. A highly irregular period has also contributed to my stomach concerns, as my one-two menstrual cycles a year result in crippling cramps and intense nausea. Vertigo has plagued my brain since my senior year in high school as my first experience kept me couch-bound for over a week. Three rounds of vertigo, one MRI, and two trips to a neurosurgeon later, and my dizziness still appears in waves, threatening to infect my brain, eyes, and body balance.

Although I’ve feared my body and its weaknesses since I was a child, my mental health is what I should have paid attention to since the beginning. My deep emotional sensitivity and random outbursts of anger (with occasional violence, sorry Megan) always seemed like they were just a part of me. As a senior, I experienced my first panic attack and I was terrified. I didn’t understand why my body seemed like it was attacking my brain- every bone shaking, my limbs numb, the fastest heartbeat, and shortened breath. I had four panic attacks before I decided something was wrong and I needed help. I’ve seen a therapist numerous times since then and I’m no longer ashamed to talk about how much therapy has calmed me. I experienced less than 10 panic attacks since 2016, but my anxiety truly crippled me this year. Relationships are always difficult, but the combination of long distance and a lack of trust and proper communication sent my mental health on a tail spin. I allowed myself to constantly panic on less than four hours of sleep a night as I tried to keep my relations in order, but I returned to therapy when it all became too much. Seeing a psychiatrist is important because I can thoroughly discuss all of my issues without feeling judged or embarrassed as I might with family members. Unfortunately, my anxiety and panic attacks continued to multiply throughout the beginning of the semester and I truly became depressed. Depression is a funny illness because it manifested quietly and swallowed my entire body and soul. I didn’t physically feel sick, but my exhaustion kept me in bed all day, avoiding school and distancing myself from everyone and everything I felt passionate about. I felt like my body was shutting down and I was too ashamed to tell anyone. Luckily, I have family and friends who dragged me out of the downward spiral in which I dove, reassuring me that my pain and emotions were natural. Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have such supportive and loving people around them, so these mental illnesses either go unnoticed or spread until the black hole sucks up their entire being.

I wanted to share anecdotes about my mental illnesses and what I’ve experienced throughout my young life because I want to help end the stigma around discussing mental health. When I was young and my body hurt, I went to the doctor for help. Now that I’m older and my mind hurts, I’ll go to my therapist for emotional medicine. I used to believe I was alone in my fight against anxiety and depression, but I’m not. And neither are you. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 U.S. adults suffer from a mental illness. If we all keep communication lines open and freely discuss mental health without shame, I truly believe these numbers will decrease. I hope that confronting and sharing my illnesses bring awareness to the discussion and create honest conversations about such an important part of life. I still have panic attacks and feel depressed on occasion, but I’m working through the pain in hope of a healthier future with the people I love.