I’m mentally ill.
I don’t want to go into too much detail at the moment but since some context would probably be helpful, here it is: I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder this spring. Having long since guessed what was wrong with me, I finally worked up enough motivation to go to university counseling services – not an easy thing to do when you’re depressed, and I’m still slightly surprised (and proud) that I did it. I’ve been prescribed a few different medications but nothing has worked yet, so that area is still a work in progress.
More context: My current bout of depression has been around since late 2012, but this isn’t the first time I’ve been depressed. (The earliest I can trace it back to were some particularly bad months when I was roughly eight or nine – young enough that I can’t remember exactly how old.)
I was in late elementary school the first time my anxiety flared up really badly, and then it got worse again in middle school. And then it leveled off, mostly, so that I’m still a pretty anxious person but deal with it much better now than I used to. The transition to college and the increase in my workload set me back a little, I think, but I’m slowly getting the hang of things.
If you ignore the studying-induced meltdown I had on Labor Day, but I’m trying to move past that and not let it stress me out any more than I already am!
As for the OCD, well, I’ve had that for as long as I can remember. I have distinct memories of certain odd habits dating as far back as preschool, habits that I now recognize as clear examples of obsessions or compulsions. But as I’ve said to my counselor on multiple occasions, I didn’t know that that’s what they were. I was so young I didn’t realize that this was unusual, that not everyone had to step with their right foot first every time they walked somewhere, that not everyone was driven to tears nearly every day by intrusive thoughts. I was so young that I thought everyone was like that.
In my early teens, I learned about my family’s history of mental illness, and began to put two and two together. My family rarely talks about this sort of thing, and is always awkward when we do, so it was really hard for me to tell my parents about my issues – but this past weekend, I finally did.
Some of you already knew about this – in particular, I’d like to thank Orphu @ A Mirror Made of Words and Shalom @ Okay, Shalom, as well as a bunch of IRL friends, for their constant support – but it’s not really something I’ve ever discussed here. That will change, over time.
I wanted to make a post about my mental health because it’s something I plan to write more about later, and it would be jarring to just jump right in – so I had to do a little introduction of sorts.
Essays are my thing. MY FAVORITE FORM OF WRITING. I love stories dearly, but I love creative nonfiction more, and mental health issues are the kind of thing I can see myself writing about in the future as an author, journalist, et cetera. Just as my identity as a teenager, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and so on and so forth, lend a certain slant to my writing, so too does/will my mental health.
It’s so important to talk about these things from the point of view of a student. A few weeks ago one of my friends and I were actually talking about how many other students we know who have some kind of mental health problem – often anxiety brought on or made worse by the pressures of and workload in college – but who don’t seek out help, or believe that since other people probably have it worse, they don’t deserve to even try to get help.
LGBTQ+ individuals are statistically more likely to suffer from mental illness than cis straight people, so that’s another reason to speak up. I used to feel doubly alone because I didn’t think I could tell anyone about two major facets of my life, so I’m glad that I’m talking about both now.
I want to talk about media representation of mental illness because, let’s face it, much of it sucks. Sometimes it’s well-meaning but, like… if it sucks, then it sucks. And we can do better. I want to talk about mental illness and diversity from the point of view of someone who has personal experience with it.
And finally, I want to be more open and honest about the intersection of creativity and mental illness: Many artists, writers, poets, et cetera were mentally ill, and I want to talk about what it feels like to have your creativity hampered by something that isn’t your fault and is very difficult to control. In one of my classes last fall, we learned about the literary history of Iowa City and, with few very exceptions, every author we studied had some sort of mental health issue. Which wasn’t very encouraging. Like, it’s important to study the Sad Literary Canon, but at the same time… you just hope your life doesn’t turn out that way.
I want to write about my mental health for all these reasons – and more. I want to write about them because writing is how I process things, how I make sense of the world and of life itself. Over the past few years I’ve written a handful of posts about my experiences as a mentally ill person and, although I never published any of them, getting my thoughts out really helped. My brain often feels like a mess, and writing is the best way I know of sorting it all out.
I’m sad and stressed all the time and although I know that no one thing will fix this – fix me – I do think that one element that leads to feeling better is openness. Being able to talk about these things. Being secretive is stressful and I deal with enough stress already, so I don’t need any more.
And now that I’ve said pretty much all that I wanted to say, I want to end my post by telling you this: If you ever want to talk, I’m always here. I know that sounds cliched but without people who listened to me and understood I wouldn’t have been able to open up to you in this post, so it matters more than you might think.