As an adolescent in high school, I didn’t feel right.
I was always angry and miserable. I felt overwhelmingly sad and hopeless and alone. I spent an unnerving amount of time thinking about suicide. I would punch walls until my knuckles bled. I would have increasingly frequent mental breakdowns.
But I didn’t know why. And I didn’t know what to do about it.
Nobody I knew voiced that they felt similarly and I didn’t hear of anyone feeling extremely sad for no apparent reason. I hadn’t even heard of anyone I knew killing themselves. I thought the word “depressed” was simply a synonym for sad. I didn’t have an explanation for what was going on in my head. I felt completely trapped, with no one to talk to, no one who would understand.
Because I didn’t understand myself and couldn’t put words, terms, or definitions to how I felt, I would have regular panic attacks. At night when gloomy and confusing thoughts would take over, I’d sob and shake and sweat, my heart racing. I didn’t have an understanding of what was happening. I thought I was insane.
One night my mom came in my room and held me as I rocked, shook, and cried. I knew she occasionally saw a therapist and went to group meetings to help cope with my brother’s drug addiction. I thought that was something she was going through, not me.
She finally asked, ever so gently, if I would like to go talk to someone.
“It could help,” she encouraged me. “You can say anything on your mind, anything at all. You can tell them all about how you’ve been feeling. They’ll understand.”
In my moment of weakness, I agreed that maybe it could help. Something in my life had to give.
But the next day my anger once again stomped my sadness down deep into the core of me. My mom followed up about the night before, asking if I would still like to speak to someone, if she should start reaching out to find people in the area.
“No way,” I scoffed at her. Her head dropped in disappointment. “I’m not going to talk to some shrink.” I spat that last word out.
Aside from my mom, I didn’t know anyone who went to therapy. She frequently talked about how normal it was, how helpful it could be for everyone, no matter their issue. I didn’t think there was a problem going to therapy, but I was terrified to think there might be a problem with me, that the truth would come to light and I would be labeled as what I assumed I was: “crazy.”
Because of that fear, I didn’t go to therapy while I was in high school. It took me about five more years and the death of my brother to finally get myself there. Once I did, I immediately regretted all my hesitancy and pushback.
After I went, my painful adolescent years finally made sense. I was severely depressed in high school. Even though I still was as a young 20-something, I could finally understand what I’d been suffering from. My thoughts and feelings began to make sense. I knew what the cause was. I understood the depth and complexity of my deep-rooted emotions andI learned coping mechanisms.
Most importantly, I learned that I wasn’t alone. I felt trapped inside my head for so long, trapped below my fury and pain. I finally could openly talk about my feelings as I never had before; I was finally able to have an Aha! moment about why I am the way I am.
Looking back, I wish that sad, terrified girl had the courage to face her demons instead of denying them. Every aspect of my life would have made so much more sense. I would’ve understood who I was more deeply as a person,that there was nothing wrong with me, that there was nothing wrong with feeling sad, angry, or lonely. I would’ve known that there were ways to help me, encourage me to enjoy my life.
I would have been armed with terms that defined what I was going through: clinical depression, panic attacks, trauma. I would have been able to have a better relationship with my mom because I wouldn’t be drowning in my anger. I would’ve been able to open up about my suicidal thoughts instead of being stuck with them alone, hoping I would never take them too seriously. I would’ve understood that those thoughts frequently accompanied depression, that I wasn’t “crazy” at all for thinking them.
All I can do is be thankful that I understand now, that I didn’t go even longer without identifying the poison in my brain. Now I try to encourage other people to face their demons and struggles head on, sooner rather than later. It’s not worth ignoring your thoughts or pretending your feelings aren’t there. Even at a very young age, it’s important to know you are not alone.