Editor’s correction: The subheading of the first part of this Op-Ed, “On the stigma of depression (Part 1),” which appeared in print on The Tufts Daily on March 29, mistakenly indicates that the author suffered from eating disorders.
Trigger Warning: Topics pertaining to self harm, depression and sexual assault
At some point no one could take the responsibility for my safety anymore, and on my 15th birthday, we got the call that a space in a treatment facility had opened up for me. At that time I didn’t really talk, smile or show any emotion at all. The center decided its best bet was to apply pressure until I started opening up. After three days they succeeded in wearing me out, but the result was not what they had hoped for. Once again I couldn’t eat, drink or talk; all I did was cry. I started losing weight again rapidly, which led to threats of me being hospitalized and tube-fed, which led to a never ending cycle of me getting worse because of more pressure applied. Unlike many other inpatients who appreciated giving up control, I hated rehab: the bi-hourly check-ins round-the-clock to make sure I was still alive, being treated like an animal and the omnipresent anger. In rehab, I learnt the first things about sex, which in this case meant rape, and about drugs — what it’s like to be addicted or drugged and all the ways to hurt and kill yourself. After that time, I completely mistrusted humanity, and it took time until I could even think about caring for someone again.
I left rehab after they had put me on medications, it having become apparent that their approach was not working. While most medications did make me better for short periods of time, they also caused a lot of problems. Many people think that medications magically cure you, but what they don’t know is that taking antidepressants or similar medications is more or less like a drug addiction, where initiation and termination phases have gruesome side effects. Over the past four years, I’ve had over 10 of those phases, which last between two weeks and two months. I would hallucinate, not sleep for a week, sleep 20 hours a day, gain or lose weight, feel pounding headaches, have suicidal crises and more. Up to this day, I can’t read or write for very long, but there were long periods of time where I couldn’t read or write anything coherently at all. Ironically, summers were always the worst times, as those were the times I underwent most of my medication changes. I spent the summers of 2012, 2013 and 2014 in drugged hazes, battling side effects and mood swings. My parents deserve awards for never leaving me or giving up on me, even if I did my best to push them away. I know how hard it is to stand by someone with mental illnesses — I’ve been there too, but the difference you are making by doing so is indescribable.
I returned to my old class at the beginning of 10th grade. Some of the faculty in my school knew what had been going on, but rather than supporting me, they made everything even harder. If I was sick and missed a day, I was threatened to be kept behind, since I had already missed so much school. Regardless of my grades, teachers would tell my already worried mom that I “wasn’t good enough” and that I was bound to crash and burn soon. The sole reason I stayed at my school was to prove everyone wrong — that I could do it. But my body showed the effects of my mental illnesses. My immune system shut down, and I had mono for two years, my thyroid stopped functioning and my lungs, stomach and liver were acting up. Because of what I put my body through, I will probably have to take medications for the rest of my life, things such as my mental capabilities may never fully be the same, and I will always be prone to substance addictions and therefore have to consciously live healthily.
Along with resuming school, I tried to recreate a social life, but every time I had another suicidal episode I would disconnect from everyone and sometimes leave the city without notifying anyone. During those times, I pushed some of my friends and a guy I was dating away because I didn’t want them to be the ones who knew the girl that killed herself. The stigmatization of my illnesses ensured that I rarely told people why I acted the way I did and usually if someone did find out about my problems, they deemed me a psycho and broke off contact to avoid dealing with “my drama.”
Mental illnesses are so stigmatized that individuals lie to themselves for years and consequently suffer every day. I have had several friends who struggled with this, one in particular. He is afraid to seek therapy because he doesn’t want to admit “there is something wrong with him.” Like him, I always hoped someone would speak up about depression or similar topics, so that it would be okay for me to admit my problems, too. I thought I should be ashamed for what I’ve been through, but now I am proud for all the difficulties I’ve overcome. For example, I missed almost one and a half years of school and still haven’t slept normally for a night without medications since about 2010. But I turned 18, graduated, got into college and beat my mental illnesses, none of which ever seemed possible. Looking back, I am at loss for words, for everything I had almost given up.
Today I am happy, energetic and social. I am finally at peace with myself and rid of any hatred and anger. I can see that my past doesn’t make me a freak, and if anyone begs to disagree, it says more about them than it does about me. The topic of mental illnesses needs to be addressed, so people are made aware of what consequences their behavior can have, both positive and negative. Admitting that you have a problem and need help is not something shameful and neither is recovery. Mental illnesses aren’t a choice, and it isn’t as simple as “being more positive” and “living healthier.” We are moving towards acceptance in all social, political and cultural aspects of our lives, and mental illnesses shouldn’t be an exception.