Early on in high school years, something had happened to me that completely changed who I was. Even now, I sometimes feel angry about the effect the event had on me and I question whether my feelings are valid. It wasn’t my only struggle during high school but certainly the hardest and has always hung over me.
I told a couple of friends what had happened and was sent to our school counsellor. After that, I almost never talked about it. I thought the fact that my friends never checked up on me or asked about it meant that my own feelings weren’t valid and it was time to get over it. Even the counsellor showed no further interest in me. I felt a lot of resentment while telling myself that people didn’t care. I even resented people who didn’t know what had happened.
Over time, the memory of the event started to consume me. I would have flashbacks, suffer from severe trust issues and my self-esteem was non-existent. It created this empty hole in me. I tried to fill the void but whatever I did just made me feel emptier. The more I bottled in, the more overwhelmed I felt. Sometimes it would just randomly pop into my head during a class, a memory triggered by something or just a simple realisation how unhappy I was. I used to cry all the time and I isolated myself. I felt like no one understood me, like something was wrong with me.
At the time I also suffered from insomnia. When you’re unhappy, night times are the absolute worst. For an over-thinker like me being up all night and going over everything that had happened was very unhealthy. I had the most messed up thoughts and I knew how crazy they were, which is partly why I didn’t tell anyone.
The thing about not reaching out is that a lot of the time you feel like you are crying out for help and no one is listening. Even if you want to tell someone, it’s really hard to talk about something you can’t explain. You don’t understand your own feelings and it’s impossible to get the right words out. Instead of waiting for someone to tell us they are depressed, suicidal or whatever else they are experiencing, we need to start being there for each other. Even if they don’t tell you anything, just let people know you’re there for them. I’m not saying the situation I was in was anyone’s fault. Admittedly, there were a lot of things I should have done to help myself. But over the years I realised there were people I was close to, who knew something was up and just ignored it.
While studying psychology at university, I learnt about the symptoms of depression. It was as crazy as it was therapeutic to have a label for all the emotions I had felt. When you’re feeling all those things and you can’t change them no matter what you do, it makes you feel crazy. Recently, I’ve been going through a tough time and it brings back some of those feelings I experienced back then. It almost feels worse when it recurs. You know how to identify the signs and you have all these tools to deal with it but you still feel helpless and can’t control those feelings. I am learning that sometimes we can’t control how we feel – we just have to ride it out knowing that it won’t last forever.
I’m not perfect. I still have bad days. What’s worse, I still invalidate my own feelings a lot of the time. Sometimes I isolate myself. I see a message from someone and even a simple action of reading it makes me feel anxious. When I don’t reply I feel worse, as if I’m an unthoughtful person or something’s wrong with me. At the same time, I am learning what I need and what makes me feel better. Sometimes I still find myself prioritising the wrong things, but when I do prioritise my mental health, I feel better for it.
The craziest thing is that we don’t talk about bad experiences, mental and emotional struggles. It’s been years now and I am in a good place but I still find it difficult to talk about my experiences. One reason we don’t tell people is to protect them, because we don’t want them to worry or feel bad. That’s why I have never told my family. But if we are busy protecting other people, who is protecting us? Protecting ourselves needs to be the priority.
Another reason we don’t tell people is because we are worried about judgment or being treated differently. Despite the progress, there is still this huge stigma around mental health. I have realised, however, that the kind of people who will treat me differently, because of me talking about this, are not the kind I want to surround myself with. My experience of bad times has created the best parts of me. I am empathetic, kind and understanding. To be proud of the person I am today, I also need to be proud of overcoming the experiences that got me here.