A deep dark secret

For the past month, I have been deadly afraid that people might find out my secret. That my friends, family, coworkers would know what happened to me and where I was that one week. That I would have to explain why I dropped my class, why I am home all the time, why I all of a sudden got a dog.

In order to conquer this fear, I am writing this article. I feel trepidation, but also a ton of relief. I know now that I should not be afraid of judgement, retribution, or ridicule.

The short of it: I struggle from major depression and anxiety. On February 1, 2017, I was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts. Every day since has been an enormous undertaking for me.

The long of it: I have struggled with anxiety since I was maybe 12 years old. I and many others put a lot of pressure on me to succeed. Even the casual “you’re so smart, you’ll do well” kind of comments would ratchet up my stress to another level. There was so much pressure for me to be the best.

I got to college and realized, I was not the only smart person in the world, and perhaps I did not have what it took to be exceptional. Somewhere in those four years, my depression began. Even after learning to excel at schoolwork, volunteering, and research, I was still extremely doubtful that I would ever amount to anything.

In 2015, I began initial treatment for my depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, this consisted only of medication, and no therapy whatsoever.

After somehow stringing together days and weeks and months in a medication-enabled half-life, I finally broke. I became all consumed with the idea that my life was not worth living. That it would be easier for everyone if I was dead. Then I would not have to suffer anymore.

A large part of me still wanted to live. That part of me called my husband and asked him to take me to the emergency room. That part of me sought help, any kind of help I could get.

I was put on a psychiatric hold and kept in a short-term recovery program for several days, followed by an outpatient treatment program for two weeks. Those were the most difficult days of my entire life — not because I was unhappy, but because I had nothing to do but work on myself and confronting the useless, distorted thoughts that were causing so much harm to me. It’s an incredibly exhausting thing to do.

After leaving, I have become more aware of the place that “psychiatric facilities” have in our culture. The stigma is a negative one, being that they are a setting for horror movies and tv shows, and that people are put there to protect the rest of us from them.

That is simply wrong. While in that facility, I learned different ways to ground myself and differentiate between what was real and what was my distorted negative thinking. I learned how to ground myself using thoughts, smells, tastes, and using my hands. I learned what worked best for me when I was in distress. I learned that taking care of myself is a full-time job.

Since then, I have had some really great days and some less-than-good days, but no absolutely terrible days. Getting a puppy really gave me a solid reason to stay here on this planet, and his achievements have become my achievements. He grounds me and reminds me of the simple, beautiful things in life.

I’m gearing up to start classes again soon, and I’m trying to prevent the self-doubt from swallowing me whole. Legitimizing my disease through writing and sharing has allowed me to look at it objectively and curtail it when it begins to overtake my life.

To end, I will say this: The only feeling you should actively avoid is shame. It consumes you and prevents you from moving on. Don’t be ashamed of who you are and what you have been through.

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