This week, in honor of Children’s/Young People’s Mental Health Awareness Week, Hear Me Out will feature two guest bloggers sharing their personal experiences of living with mental illness. These two young women are sharing their stories in the hopes of increasing awareness and decreasing stigma towards mental illness. Sharing such personal information is never easy and we hope readers are as inspired by their courage as we are!
As If Being a Teenager Isn’t Hard Enough
My initial thought upon being asked to be a guest blogger for Hear Me Out during National Children’s Mental Health Awareness week and share what it’s like living with mental illness as a teenager was- Where to begin?
As a 16-year-old living with a form of bipolar disorder the hardest part on my on-going journey to happiness had to be the first step, getting help. I went on for over a year without my parents knowing that I was struggling. The only people I talked to were my friends, who couldn’t exactly provide me with professional guidance given that they, like me, were in a similar mental and emotional situation. Although it remains fairly foggy as to the beginnings of my emotional disturbance, one definite cause was puberty. Since then, my life has been rocky to say the least. Without counseling or medication, every minor stumble in my life became a catastrophic event that threw me off for months.
To my parents, I was just a normal grumpy teenager who was a bit of a drama queen. Freshman year everything reached a breaking point. I began self-harm as a way to deal with the stress of high school and my emotions I couldn’t understand, and soon after my mom found the marks on my skin. I am so thankful she did. It caused her to realize I was in pain, and she got me the help I needed but could never ask for. Once you reach teenager hood, a barrier between you and your parents arises, and lowers your trust in them. Thus, I couldn’t begin to explain to them why I needed professional help. What was I supposed to say? “Oh hey mom, I hate myself and I can’t control any of my emotions and I’m sad all the time for no reason. So, can you call a therapist or something?” No, that didn’t seem like something I could do. And I couldn’t reach out and get help for myself any other way- our school has two counselors for around 1,000 students.
When I finally did get professional help, it was a long process of establishing trust and reaching the comfort level needed to share deeply personal feelings and thoughts. I have been seeing my therapist for over a year and a half now and there are still things I have never told her. What’s even harder now than just getting the help I needed is putting to work the lessons my therapist gives me. Balancing all Honors and one AP class alongside friends and relationships in addition to keeping up various extracurricular activities such as theatre, swimming, and 4-H is hard enough by itself, but then adding in working on personal issues. It’s impossible. I’m always forced to pick my priorities. And unfortunately, making mental/emotional leaps comes in last.
What does help with all of this is medication. The idea scared me at first- medications that mess with your brain? But once I started taking them my world became less of a juggling act and more of a good-hearted musical. The medications don’t make every problem disappear, but they lessen major breakdowns and extreme, uncontrollable emotions so my life becomes manageable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no success story. Every day is a challenge but at least now it’s one I can handle.
Everyone knows high schools are places teeming with drama and rumors. Once word got out that I was “insane” it’s been challenging making new friends and trying to convince people not to be scared of me. The stigma surrounding mental illness hurts teenagers worst, I think, because other teenagers usually know little to nothing about mental or emotional problems and due to their ignorance they treat those they don’t understand poorly. To them, hearing voices automatically makes you a “schizo”, being angry one second then happy the next makes you “bipolar”, and everyone who has a mental illness is going to be a serial killer or school shooter sometime in the near future.
If someone just educated the masses of high school students on the vast range of mental illnesses and how minor or major they could be and what it’s like living with something like that, maybe, just maybe, they’d think twice before calling someone “insane.” Because I know how it hurts to hear those things about you. Having a mental illness and people knowing about it makes you vulnerable, just like a nerd or a scrawny kid or a loser. And I know it’s not much better once you reach adulthood. The stigma imbedded in our culture and society towards mental illness feeds from generation to generation and the mentally ill continue to be treated differently because of their condition. I hope one day this might change, which is why I decided to tell my story.
If you would like to share your story with our readers during Mental Health Awareness Month please email email@example.com.