Welcome back to our Mental Health Awareness mini-series! Today, we are going to be sharing a few anonymous personal stories from our authors and some of our fellow PhD students. We share these stories because we want everyone to know that they aren’t alone in battling mental health issues. As our first post indicated, millions of people battle depression and/ or anxiety daily. Further, nearly 50% of people will struggle with mental illness at some point in their life. That being said, the people who struggle with mental illness are not always easy to identify. Oftentimes, they’re the happiest person in the group, or they’re an overachiever, the social butterfly or the super mom that makes you wonder how she handles so much, but chances are you never see the mental illness that they’re battling. We have four stories posted below as reminders that mental illness strikes in different ways and people cope with these issues in a variety of ways. Our stories are listed below:
Mental illness spares no one. It’s easy to believe that productive people do not deal with anxiety – they’re getting so much done there is no way that they’re anxious, right? Many people in my current PhD program tend to be type A overachievers and seem to accomplish everything effortlessly. However, after getting to know them more I have found that all people (even the overachievers) deal with anxiety and must find healthy ways to cope with it. For me, nothing is more relaxing than coming home from a long day at work than cooking. Cooking offers near immediate gratification and I never get bored because there’s always a new recipe to try. As my boyfriend has noticed, the more difficult the day I’ve had, the more involved the recipe of the night. Tasks with finite and easily achieved ends like cooking are a nice break from the mental marathon that is graduate school. Cooking not only is good for the mind, but has the added benefit of providing your body with nourishing food, rather than picking up fast food on the way home from work. So next time you are overwhelmed with school, work, or just life, try cracking open a new recipe book and enjoy!
Growing up, mental illness was a tough topic for me to wrap my head around. I come from a family that never spoke about mental illness – it was almost unheard of. Because of this, I failed to identify the symptoms of anxiety and depression I experienced during my high school and college years. Luckily, baking helped me cope with my mental illness. I started baking at around 10 years of age just for fun. However, during my college years I soon began to realize a trend: I would frequently bake during finals week and major assignments like presentations (I am absolutely terrified of public speaking). I started noticing how baking would put me at ease and allowed me to refocus my attention on preparing for the event that was giving me anxiety. Lastly, being able to talk about it among friends and seeing it highlighted more in social media has helped me acknowledge the anxiety and depression I’ve experienced and still experience occasionally. Reaching out for help is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but it was also one of the bravest and best decisions. Being able to just communicate to someone (therapist, friends, and family) helped me feel heard and validated. So, don’t be afraid to be brave and talk about it, and maybe bake some cookies to munch on as well!
I have struggled with mental illness my entire life. Because of childhood trauma, regulating my emotions can be very difficult for me. This has resulted in life-long anxiety with intermittent periods of depression. As a fifth grader I had debilitating panic attacks over school. Thankfully that does not happen anymore, but I can still remember the overwhelming feelings. During my junior year in high school, I began using self harm to cope with depression. This lasted until my senior year in college. The amount of time it took me to go to therapy and get help is one of my biggest regrets. When I look back on that five year period of my life now, I cringe at the person I was and the choices I made. Moving forward and learning to forgive myself for the choices I made when I was not myself has been hard. Therapy has helped me immensely, and I continue to go monthly, but I would be lying if I said that finding my boyfriend did not make a huge difference as well. He is patient and so quick to forgive me after every outburst I have. He understands how hard I am trying, and he never makes me feel guilty. He has driven me to the lab at 1am without complaining because I was convinced I left something important out of the fridge (I hadn’t). I appreciate him more than words will ever be able to communicate. With his support and therapy, I am in the best place I have been in years, and I am trying to figure out who I am again and be patient with myself during the process, reminding myself that my timeline does not have to match anyone else’s. Managing life with a mental illness is hard, but it is nothing to be ashamed of. Reach out for help, forgive yourself for who you were when you weren’t yourself, and allow yourself to grieve your past so that you can let go and move on to a better life.
One of the most devastating forms of mental illness is suicide. Death by suicide not only affects the person who died, it leaves people behind who cared deeply for the deceased. My best friend committed suicide and left me, and so many others, here to grieve. Ever since, my emotions run wild, from anger to guilt, numbness, shock, disbelief, anxiety and depression. Some days, it still doesn’t seem real. Sometimes the memories bring a smile to my face, other times I cry until I have a headache. The guilt and disbelief might be the hardest to deal with, did we all miss the signs? My best friend never seemed to be upset, angry or unhappy. Honestly, they were one of the happiest, silliest and fun-loving people I’ve ever met, always cracking jokes and sending silly memes, singing (off-key) at the top of their lungs, I never imagined this would be their fate. Suicide is NEVER the answer. In the heat of the moment, you don’t think about the people who love you, the ones you’re leaving behind, or the opportunities you will miss. Suicide leaves friends, family and entire communities to live in the absence of those they loved. Mental illness is REAL, whether it is a life-long battle or a short-term feeling. If you are someone who has ever contemplated suicide, please think about the people who love you and all of the people you’re leaving behind. Oftentimes, the emotions you are feeling are short term and there are other options. On the other hand, if you are dealing with the loss of a loved one, it’s okay to grieve and grief comes in many different ways. No matter your situation or your feelings, there are resources to help you. We will share more on this next week but in the meantime, know you are loved, you are special and you have a purpose, the hard times will pass.
We share these stories because we want you to know that anyone can suffer from mental health issues. We frequently see celebrities commit suicide and professional athletes who abuse alcohol and drugs. But normal people that you encounter everyday struggle with mental health too. Mental health doesn’t discriminate who it affects. Sometimes, the people who appear happiest are the same people who are actually struggling. So please, if you are someone who struggles with mental health, reach out to someone. Next week, we will be sharing some resources for anyone that is struggling with mental health. If you are someone who is lucky enough to not struggle with mental health, just remember to be kind. You never know what someone is going through and sometimes a friendly smile or kind gesture can change a person’s day for the better. Lastly, to anyone reading this post, together, let’s change the stigma associated with mental health. IT’S OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY.