warning: talk of death and self-harm, along with lots of negativity in general. also, this post is extremely long.
15-some-odd years. that’s how long i guesstimate that i’ve been suffering from depression and anxiety. and yet i’ve only become aware of this over the course of the past 3~ years and have only come to accept it within the last year.
like my sexuality and gender, mental health is something i’ve had to learn about and navigate entirely on my own.
the journey has been rough
i’ve always been an “introvert”. growing up, people more than likely assumed i was “anti-social”. i was always the kid at recess who was off on their own playing with rocks and ants or in the library alone. i never really connected with anyone and didn’t make an effort to do so because: a) people are meh; b) i felt it’d be like trying to mix oil & water, there really was no point in trying. i’ve always felt disconnected from the people around me, including my family, for numerous reasons that i could write a novel about. the point is that i’ve always been very reserved and withdrawn, so while other kinds were off developing social and interpersonal skills, i was on my own doing something else entirely.
inevitably there came times when i was expect to socially perform or act like everyone else: group projects, presentations, some kid’s birthday party, etc. i learned to try my best to mimic others and to act like it wasn’t taking 10x more effort for me to do something that seemingly required 0 effort for everyone else.
fast forward to middle school and then high school when i’d cry myself to sleep because of how hard it was for me to do what came naturally to others and how much i sucked at it even when pushing myself to my limits. crying because of how seemingly different i was from everyone i knew and how alone that made me feel.
just to be clear, i had a lot going on at that time. at that time sexuality and gender was more of an afterthought or background noise than anything else in my mind. i was more actively struggling with racial, familial, social, bodily and other issues then, although with hindsight i can now see that even then, even without actively thinking about it, sexuality and gender still played a part in it all.
fast forward to my freshman year of college when i began to fall apart. i tried so very hard to push myself, to be something that i was not and then hated myself all the more for failing. at some point i stopped caring about my own life.
at the time i was attending a local college and a few times a month i’d push myself to participate in a club. i intentionally put myself out of my comfort zone to try to change myself and make friends. the result was me bursting out in tears the second i was back in my car, shaking and sobbing from the amount of self-loathing and disgust that i felt towards myself and from the sheer effort that i’d just put into social interaction but still failing at it. i would then drive home, trying to leave the parking lot ASAP before someone came out and saw the mess that i was. driving while still shaking and with tears in my eyes. totally unable to see straight. totally not focused on the road like i should have been.
i might as well have been driving drunk.
over and over i’d do this. go to the club, leave in shatters. numerous times i ran red lights , made very bad decisions while driving, nearly hit someone else or was nearly hit by someone else. i can count the times i could have died or i could have killed someone else. i can still see the faces of a particular family that i nearly had a head-on collision with…
i could have easily died, but i didn’t care. i didn’t care at all about that. what i did care about was the fact that i could have killed or hurt someone else. that was and is unforgivable. i’m still very angry at myself for this, but that’s not the point.
i didn’t care whether i lived or died.
i hesitate to say i was ever suicidal because i never made any conscious decision or effort to hurt myself. i simply made zero effort, in more ways than one, to avoid hurting myself. time and time again i’d escape a potentially deadly accident purely by luck, but never take any steps to change what i was doing. instead, the near accidents just made me hate myself even more.
eventually i did get into an accident, totaling my car. fortunately both myself and the other person involved were physically okay, but mentally i spiraled out of control. my already low self-esteem was utterly destroyed and i became more depressed and self-loathing than ever. for a short time i even refused to leave my bedroom, let alone the house.
as time passed, i was able to stand back up and once again dawn my now cracked mask to get me through the day, but of course i was still depressed. still anxious. still self-loathing, but i could pretend like i was okay.
i found ways of helping myself cope without even being aware that coping was what i was doing. i was still unaware of what depression or anxiety even really was. neither the term “mental health” nor “mental illness” was ever a part of my vocabulary, i just knew that i was depressed and anxious in the sense that everyone is sometimes.
growing up in the dark
like many people, mental health issues were never discussed in my family. i feel like this is especially the case among black families. however, in the case of my family i feel like this was incredibly ironic for numerous reasons, the main being that:
- my family has always been dealing with mental and developmental health issues as my sister was diagnosed as autistic at a young age. she also suffers from schizophrenia and depression, among other things.
- my mom is a fucking special education teacher and has been for over 30 years. she is fully aware of mental, physical and developmental health issues.
and yet i had to discover the word “autistic”, along with many other words, on my own. not once was it or any other words used at home. never was my sister’s health or well-being discussed at all until she began struggling with it in ways that were no longer passed off as “normal”.
similarly, depression as a mental illness, or even as a mental health issue, was never talked about either. i didn’t even know it was a thing. there was literally no way for me to recognize, let alone put a name to, what i was going thru until years later, equipped with hindsight and the internet.
for me, the road to self-acceptance was just as hard as the road to self-awareness.
for one, even after becoming aware of the fact that clinical depression is a thing, i found it very hard to accept that i suffered from it. i continuously compared myself to my sister and to others. everywhere i looked depression was strongly associated with self-harm and suicide, two things that i’m fortunate enough to have never consciously considered. obviously i wasn’t actually depressed, i was just regular depressed. everyone gets depressed sometimes! everyone gets anxious sometimes!
for the longest time i trivialized my feelings to myself. i questioned whether my pathetic emotional fits even counted as anxiety attacks. whether unpremeditated self-harm even counted as self-harm. whether self-neglect counted as self-abuse. whether a blatant disregard for one’s own life could ever compare to attempts at suicide.
i know now that things like this are not comparable. that one shouldn’t try to use others’ experiences as measuring sticks to measure the validity of your own. it took me a longass time to realize that.
even after coming to accept that i do suffer from depression and anxiety, i still felt a sense of guilt. i couldn’t ever talk about my own experiences or let anyone know about my struggles with mental health, least of all my mom. i felt like (and still feel like) my mom already had/has too much on her shoulders regarding my sister who cannot and will not ever be able to live entirely independently. i couldn’t add to that with my own shit. i realized that growing up, without even realizing it at the time, my mom (who is a single mother) has always leaned on me for help in caring for my sister. i couldn’t let her down now. i couldn’t disappoint her. i couldn’t become a burden…
so it was with a very heart that i told my mom about my depression and anxiety a few months ago. her initial response was to say that she already knew, but as i told her a little of how i struggled with it when i was younger, it was clear that she really didn’t know the extent of it. she was taken aback, but seemingly took the news alright. better than i’d imagined, anyway…
i still feel like i’m coming to terms with what i think of as “the state of my mental health”. i still struggle with thinking of it as an “illness”.
i’d like to think that my mental health has improved vastly from what i consider to have been my lowest point, driving around emotionally drunk. the truth is, however, that i don’t know that it has improved at all. i just have ways to try and cope now whereas then i had none. i still very much struggle with social anxiety and/or depression to some extent every day, but now i’m aware of my limits and i recognize and accept my feelings for what they are. i’ve also nearly perfected the mask that i wear out in public and even in front of the camera on YouTube. as long as i don’t slip-up, most people would never know that sometimes i’m actually not okay.
i’m not sure what, if anything, i’ll even do to try to improve my mental health. i’d like to be proactive about it, but at the same time i continue to convince myself that i’m doing fine on my own. i am very skeptical of therapy in general and i am extremely weary of medication, so…
either way, i look at where i’ve been and where i am now and am proud of how far i’ve come. i’ve come a long way and even if i hate myself for everything else, i have to at least give myself that much credit.
i can only hope that 5, 10 years from now i’ll be in an even better place mentally than i am now.