Laura LeBrun | Monday, October 13, 2014
A little more than two months ago, the world was shocked when the seemingly always-happy Robin Williams took his own life. It was one of the first times in my memory that a beloved actor’s death sparked intimate discussions of mental illness and suicide. Awareness heightened, stigmas lowered, and it seemed the world was finally progressing into understanding.
I chose to keep my story quiet. Despite the stigma lowering with Robin Williams’ death, I, along with many others who live with some sort of mental illness, lived in fear of judgment, missed opportunities and hurt as a result of my choice to open up about my depression. But now, months after Robin Williams’ death, two months after the conversations that Robin Williams brought to the world have quieted down, I realize I must share my story. For if there is one thing my depression has taught me, it is to keep talking.
I keep talking because I found out about World Suicide Prevention Day after it happened, and that is not okay for the millions of people who struggle and the millions of people who see others struggle. I keep talking so people remember they are not alone. I keep talking because when I do, I discover that there are many other people who struggle with similar depression issues. I keep talking because it connects me to the world, reminding me that no one is perfect and it’s okay.
The summer after my freshman year, I began taking a new medication. Having never had adverse reactions to medications before, I chose not to read potential side effects. As the summer went on, however, I stopped acting like myself and grew increasingly frustrated. I attributed my restless sleep as a fluke, my loneliness as missing school and friends and my lack of energy as stress from work and summer school. Although, rationally, I knew people loved me, I began to dream every day of crashing my car as I drove to and from work so finally someone would care about me. I stuck it out, keeping quiet about my emotional issues and taking melatonin as a sleep aid, hoping that things would change as I went back to school. I vowed to give no one a clue about the miseries of my summer, so that I could maintain my reputation as a “happy-go-lucky” individual.
The fall was, unfortunately, no easier than the summer; if anything, it was more difficult, due to the added stress of school. I began to have panic attacks, preventing me from attending football games. Sleep was a battle: I found myself waking up from my sleep constantly, despite it taking hours to fall asleep. Often, I wished for death to take me away from my misery. Not a day went by without tears or stress. I felt lost, I felt worthless, I felt alone.
I went to the University Counseling Center after much pressure. I didn’t want to admit that I had a problem, even though my world was crashing down around me. After they helped me realize medication was part of the problem, I thought everything would be better, so I stopped going. Little did I know, that was just the beginning. The mounting stress of school and recovery had taken a toll on my personal relationships, some of which began to fall apart. With no time to truly recover, I could not handle emotional difficulties, like a breakup, that give even mentally healthy people strife. I thought once the next semester rolled around, everything would improve after a period of relaxation away from my struggles.
Alas, with breakups, things change, and I was not prepared for the changes in my friendships. Frustrated, I strove to meet more people — but when you still haven’t recovered, meeting people is more difficult. I ended most of my nights in tears, insecure and continually feeling worthless. My suicidal thoughts now consumed me; I began thinking of what things I could do.
Come spring break, I realized I needed help, so I returned to the UCC. The UCC accommodated me in every way I needed, even scheduling me for an appointment with a psychiatrist to talk about antidepressants. After my fears from the original medication, I did not want to go on something new, but the UCC assured me they would be there every step of the way. Yet, the wait for the antidepressants was long and difficult for me. I still dreamed of ridding myself of such pain. One day during the winter, after a particularly difficult conversation, I sat by the lakes, debating whether I should jump in. Another day, I swallowed a few pills in hopes to escape. It wasn’t that I actually wanted to die, but I wanted to be hospitalized, just so I could escape the stress. Were it not for the few friends who stuck with me through that time, the outcome could have been much worse.
Had these people not been there to listen to conversations despite numerous tears, fears and regrets, I may still be suffering. Had these people not helped me with homework, decision-making and life in general, just to protect my well being, I may still be suffering. Had my rector not imposed some tough love on me, I may still be suffering. They kept talking, and they kept me talking. They realized how important talking and showing love are to people who have mental illnesses, whether it be their first or their seventh time suffering.
Luckily, I am down the path of recovery and appreciate every day as it comes. However, I know that it is my time to pay it forward and keep talking. I try to bring up my struggles so people know that I understand. But for those who have not suffered, all I can say is that you need to stay open and love. Make a pact with yourself to have one valuable conversation every day, so people know you are there for them. And if they tell you they have a problem, support them through every breakdown, appointment and conversation.
Mental Health Awareness should be more than a week. It should be more than brief discussion after a beloved actor’s suicide. It should be everyday. Because mental illness affects one in four people. Whether you know it or not, there is almost a guarantee that someone you know suffers from mental illness. And the best thing you can do, whether you are aware of someone who suffers or not, is keep loving, keep helping, and keep talking.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.