Let’s Talk About Mental Health

frowny-and-smiley-faces-tbh-meI have something I want to tell you.

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.

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About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
This entry was posted in Nevillegirl's Adventures!, Non-Neville Posts, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Let’s Talk About Mental Health

  1. Thank you for writing this post, I know it can be hard to open up about this. I’m also glad you have places on campus to go to get help, and I hope it does help. *Hugs*

    • nevillegirl says:

      *hugs back* Yeah, the U of Iowa actually has a really great support system. It took me most of last school year to work up the motivation & courage to actually GO to counseling, but I’m so glad that I did because they’re super helpful!

  2. Boquinha says:

    Okay, so first off, I’m ridiculously proud of you. I can feel that for you, right? As a fellow blogger friend and as a mom in general and as the mom of one of your long-time blogger friends in particular? I have cachet with all that, right?

    Like you, the first time I sought counseling for myself was in college. I remember being TERRIFIED as I walked up to the building that had the University counseling services in it. It was a 7-story building that also housed the International Theater as well as lots of classrooms and professors’ offices, yet as I approached the door, I felt like *everyone* knew why I was going in there. Like I was wearing a sandwich board that said, “HEADCASE!” That’s a horrible term; I know that now. But that is truly how I felt at the time. I felt like everyone must have known, just by looking at me, that I was seeking counseling for my mental health issues. I was immensely depressed and definitely worried about what others thought of me (not healthy, I know).

    That experience taught me some things about myself and my struggle with depression. Several years later, I even decided to get a master’s in social work so that I could become a counselor and help people dealing with depression and anxiety, because they’re HARD and I know how much it sucks sometimes. I have sought counseling two more times since then – once in my 20s and again now. I hate the stigma of mental illness so I try to be open about it. It’s not easy at first, so you are doing an amazing thing. I’ve learned that by being open, others feel they’re not alone and I learn that I’m not alone either! It helps people feel like they can talk about it.

    I love the idea of writing about this more. I’ve been working on the very same thing myself. There are two sites I highly recommend for journalism/mental health articles – The Mighty (you could already start submitting if you want!) and Everyday Feminism (LOTS of diversity in the staff and submissions there).

    And mostly, good for you for being open about it and for doing what it takes to take care of yourself. I can’t say enough good about counseling. Studies show that counseling, on its own or in conjunction with meds, can be incredibly effective. They teach you skills and perspectives in there that are SO helpful. It’s like gaining a toolbox of tips and tricks to use when you’re having a hard time. Honestly, I wish they’d start teaching this stuff in kindergarten. Everyone can use those skills! I wish you so much wellness and success in your health and writing. ❤ Thank you for this very open and sincere post. You're a pretty cool person. 🙂

  3. It makes me really happy to see so many bloggers opening up about the not-so-sunny aspects of their lives. I know it takes a lot of courage to open up about things like this so go you! Both for sharing and for being willing to get help. That takes strength.

    • nevillegirl says:

      I think blogging, and social media in general, tends to encourage people to show only the good parts of their life. Happy stuff gets lots of views, and I think that after a while, people get tired of reading about someone whose life is just one long endless stream of depression blah. So, yeah. I agree. It means a lot to see bloggers who are realistic, open, and honest about their mental health!

  4. Miriam Joy says:

    [cw: self harm mention]

    I think the comment about the number of artists etc with mental illness is very pertinent, and yet it’s remarkable how often people teach texts dealing with the subject as though nobody in the class suffers from any of those issues. For example, studying The Bell Jar in school and spending a whole lesson analysing the symbolism of slitting one’s wrists in a bathtub wasn’t exactly helpful for me as a depressed seventeen-year-old trying to quit self harm, yet apparently it never occurred to my teacher to ask if this was a sensitive subject for anyone. People use the trigger warnings discussion to cry censorship, but a simple warning so that I could either skip one lesson or at the very least prepare myself mentally would have helped a huge amount. And that’s another reason why it’s so crucial that we open up dialogue about mental health and help students feel able to come forward and speak about issues that affect them, so that they’re not forced to suffer those kinds of situations in silence. (I use myself as an example but I know other people who’ve had similar experiences.)

    Sorry if this seems tangential to your post — what I was really trying to do was express support and solidarity for talking about mental health, especially in a context of academia and literature, so that people realise it isn’t just theoretical or something to read about, but something that affects their very real students.

    Hope you find some decent medication soon. After more than a year and a half I’m on my third type and it’s working much better than the first two, so with luck and good doctors hopefully you’ll have a similar experience in the near future. 🙂

    • nevillegirl says:

      Don’t worry, that wasn’t tangential at all! It makes perfect sense – and in general, I think teachers too often assume that no one in their class deals with certain issues, whether the thing in question is mental illness, a disability (some disabilities are invisible), being LGBTQ+, et cetera. Which ultimately leads the people who do deal with those things feeling alienated, and everyone else trampling all over their feelings with insensitive comments.

      In particular, I’m thinking of a lit class from last semester where we studied, among other things, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and some of us (some of my friends who are mentally ill, as well as myself) began discussing how mental illness has historically been portrayed as monstrous, and the professor… didn’t do a very good job of stopping other students from arguing that that’s how they SHOULD be portrayed. One of them was all like, “Well, I’ve never had a mental illness, but I’m studying psych and I think…” Which is way I steer clear of NT psych majors as much as possible. Gah. But I seem to have gone off topic, haven’t I?

      • Miriam Joy says:

        I know exactly what you mean. I’ve definitely become more and more aware that it’s never a good idea to talk about a group of people as if they’re not in the room — because you just never know whether they are, and people shouldn’t have to out themselves or whatever in order to be respected and treated as actual people. None of these issues are theoretical, and a lot of them are especially common in young people, so it’s a massive oversight not to consider their immediate relevance to many students.

  5. Cynthia says:

    a) *hugs.* currently my mental health is crap as well and being a minor, I have no idea how to go about getting medication / counseling because my relationship with my parents is incredibly fractured.
    b) i think the artists-having-mental-illness thing is the other way around… because we have mental illness => express in art. ergo suffering.
    c) stigma is so hard… where i live no one talks about it. we all know it’s there but i’ve never heard someone openly acknowledge depression / mental illness, just stress. very very few people i know physically know about my mental status, and i don’t ask other people. i’m not very comfortable talking about it with people physically, and also when my mental health goes down my tolerance of humanity does as well. i’ve blogged about it a bit before, but mostly it’s staying alone in a hole of nothingness and quiet and breathing.
    wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

  6. Alexandrina Brant says:

    I don’t think I can really add anything, as you’ve summed it up in your post very well. I’m sorry to hear that you have and have had to go through suffering, but I’m glad you’ve finally got the diagnosis you deserve. Let’s hope it gets better from here.
    “what it feels like to have your creativity hampered by something that isn’t your fault and is very difficult to control.” really struck me because I was triggered quite badly at the beginning of July and have had a low episode since then, which completely hampered my plans to edit my novels. I have no self-confidence/belief in my writing any more.

  7. themagicviolinist says:

    It seems like the hardest things to do are the most important things, so I’m really glad you went to get help and you’re talking about this with people you trust! Honestly, I’m not sure you could find a more supportive community than the blogging one. We’ve all got your back.

    • nevillegirl says:

      I’m really glad too! Going to counseling and talking about this aren’t miracle cures, but now that I’ve done both I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. 🙂

  8. Claire says:

    Thank you for writing this post. I know from experience how hard it is to talk about mental illness, and it means a lot to me as a person with anxiety to have you say something about it. I’m sorry you have to deal with it, but I’m glad you have a supportive community to help. It’s wonderful that you find writing about these things helpful, and a good way to process thoughts – thank you for doing posts like this, it helps me as well! I don’t know what else to say other than: *hug*

    • nevillegirl says:

      At some point I should probably write a post about why writing about my mental illness seems to work so well! It really helps with the constant fatigue/forgetfulness/brainfog of depression, for instance…

      And I’m glad that this post was helpful to you as well!

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  10. Heather says:

    These are always among the bravest stories to share in the blogosphere, so as everyone else did, I applaud your courage. Sharing these things is never easy, especially since they’re so personal and people can still get wrapped up in the stigma. I never have anything relevant to add at the end of these, but ah well. Thanks for sharing these important thoughts with us.

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