There is so much I want to say and so much I need to say, but I don't know how well I can put it all into words that will honestly help the next person any more than this might. So, I'm going to try my best. I want to start this blog off by saying that if you are struggling with any form of mental illness this can include but is not limited too: depression, anxiety, PTSD, multiple personality disorder, bipolar depression, etc. that I am here for you to talk to. No one needs to hide because they are worried that society will shame them. The stigma surrounding mental illness is incredibly prevalent in our society and it takes conversation to break that, so I'm going to start what I can.
Every person has a story and every story has so many pages, we often aren't around in every person's life to read every page. So, the concept of attempting to understand someone's full story is silly. We never will. There are so many sides to each person also. When it comes to mental illness, that's just one part of me that I honestly could probably write about the rest of my life. I could write about it in so many ways and talk about to so many people and I probably would never get everything out that I needed to say.
My struggle with depression and largely anxiety started young, I think when I was 10 or so. I remember not being like the rest of the kids in school, I would prefer to be alone and think about things rather than be in a large group of people... I remember avoiding crowds because I felt self-conscious about the body I was given. For most of my life I chewed my nails down to the skin and tapped my hands and feet where ever I could. At the playground I walked around on my heels on the outside of the play area while the others enjoyed their time outside.
Falling into middle school, things took a different turn. I was social in ways and I was happy at times, but a lot of what I showed was just me covering up some really dark thoughts I had. Towards the end of middle school I started grabbing at my own skin in the mirror, which eventually led to me scratching my own body wishing the fat would just disappear. By then I was considerably overweight and incredibly un-happy. I remember sitting in my bathroom contemplating suicide in eighth grade. I remember the honest hatred that surrounded me. I chose to reach out to someone, and luckily they were there for me that night. But, it has haunted me to this day.
I began therapy my freshman year of high school, but not because of the hatred I had for myself or the anxiety brought on my social situations... I started because my parents were going through some things and thought it would be good for me to have someone else to talk to. They noticed how much time I spent in my room. How secluded I was. I always had a great group of friends, but it wasn't a constant thing in my life. I lied through a lot of my year of therapy, never really expressing the things that were on my mind, because I was ashamed of how I felt.
Why should someone, someone who lives decently, has amazing parents, is active in sports and does well in school, with great friends be sad so much? Sure, I'm a tad overweight, but that doesn't matter much in our society right? Right? My weight problems caused incredible cyber-bullying most of career of middle and high school, through online forums such as Formspring and Ask.Fm. These sights caused a 24/7 audience to my meltdowns. A way to tear me apart without having to face the consequences.
This is something people in today's world need to understand about mental illness, we are surrounded all the time by media telling us that we're not enough. For the last 10 years there has been an increase in suicide rates per 10,000 EVERY YEAR. Let's think about what else has happened in the last 10 years. Most of America is on some form of social media, cell phones (smart phones) are basically an extension of every person we see and access to television and online resources has become common. This increase is related, maybe not perfectly, but it is. Mental Illness is not just depression, it involves so much more than that. Eating disorders and personality disorders and bipolar disorders... the lists can go on forever. All of these can be in some way affected by the use of social media.
I luckily chose to open up to my therapist more as time went on and as college popped into my mind towards the end of the years in high school, I saw an end to a time of torture for me. I saw a way out, a way to go make new friends and for everything to just be done. But, my parents wanted to see a better transition and change in me.
That summer, I finally saw a psychiatrist... and was put on medication for the first time and was diagnosed officially for the first time. Chronic Major Depression and Social Anxiety Disorder.
WAIT WHAT. Christina Rees, social anxiety... two things that don't seem to go together in a sentence right? Here is another point I need to make, just because someone seems put together on the out side, does not mean they're feeling amazing on the inside. Due to the large stigmas surrounding mental health and illness, there is no surprise that those who struggle with it hide how they are feeling. Look at the blog I posted before this, there are people who believe that every person in this world struggling with mental illness is making it up. MAKING IT UP. Yes, because me sitting in my bedroom at 2 in the morning shaking and crying, not being able to form words is made up. This is a HUGE stigma that needs to break.
Since coming to college I have been diagnosed with two other disorders, one of which I was not even aware existed. Binge eating disorder and PTSD. Someone finally could validate that my blackout spells that sometimes surround me when I eat are related to something more than me just enjoying eating. So, if you're keeping track that is four different mental illness I have been diagnosed with. It's incredibly overwhelming to think about it in that way. But, a diagnosis only goes so far.
In my third year at The University of Missouri, I'm sad to say that the conversation is not going as strong as I believe it needs to be. On September 25, 2015... I lost a new and dear friend. After meeting less than a month ago, McKenna Lee Campbell joined our sorority Sigma Phi Lambda, Sisters for the Lord, here at MU. If I could find a way to write about how passionate she was about the Lord and the sisterhood, I would. But, those words escape me now.
She was a strong and beautiful woman, surrounded by love and support and she still lost her battle. Mental Illness doesn't care how pretty you are, or how lonely you are... it doesn't care. Anyone can be the victim of it, and knowing the signs is just as important as breaking the stigmas surrounding it. My faith encourages me to be strong in myself and in the Lord, but the reality is that it is not always possible. The reality still stands that how I struggle looks absolutely different than other people, because no one person is the same in their illness.
People don't understand that depression doesn't mean sitting in a dark room, listening to sad music and sobbing all the time. That's not the truth. My reality is I have an amazing support system here at school, back at home and beyond. I go out with friends and I laugh. But, sometimes I cannot physically pull myself out of bed. Sometimes, a cloud of silence falls around me like a gray mist, keeping me from explaining what I feel. And sometimes, it's cruel words ringing around my head over and over again while I'm out doing normal things. The truth is that I don't have good days or bad days, I just have days and they all look different.
People don't understand that anxiety doesn't mean being anxious about a test or how to respond to a friend. Anxiety can look like shaking limbs, stuttering words, unable to speak, not being able to catch your breath... it can mean blacking out or falling to the ground unable to move. It can also just look like fear. Fear of moving into a large group of people and it can also look like a smile. Attempting to hide the reality that I'm feeling.
When it comes to mental illness there is no wrong way to feel it. There is no specific type of person affected. There is no perfect way to fix it because most of the time it can't be fixed. But, there are so many ways to help. And, I hope you all know that.
Often, those struggling with mental illness are the ones who are listening the most to others problems. For me personally, feeling as though I can help someone else lessens the frustration I feel with myself when I can't really understand why I'm so upset. So, here's my list of things I want people to know when interacting with people with mental illness.
Be a listener, for once. - In a world where we can post and talk about most things fairly freely without any fear or misunderstanding, we seem to have lost the ability to listen to others. This doesn't have to mean sitting down for hours and chatting about your day. It could just mean being aware of how someone is reacting and dealing with things in their lives. People tell you a lot by what they don't say.
Know signs of suicide or mental breakdowns. - In a country where 1 in 5 American's suffer from some form of mental illness, it is important to have a basic understanding or education of what they may suffer from and/or any possibly breaking points for them. Statistically speaking, there are most likely 6370 students attending the University of Missouri who suffer from some form of mental illness. It's important to educate yourselves, and myself.
Be willing to ask questions. - Having a conversation about what mental illness looks like is the first step to acknowledging the problem and asking questions is the second. Cleary, I'm fairly open about what I suffer with, and I hope any person I know and don't know understands that you can ask me questions, I encourage it. If it means you will have a better understanding moving forward, it doesn't really matter how personal it gets. I want to make a difference, and I know a lot of other people probably do too.
I don't always know what my next step is going to be. Right now, all I know is that I'm incredibly ready to take on the challenge of making a difference somehow. I am so committed to figuring out what that means for me and for my campus. We have so many resources, and I want them to be known.
If you or someone you know is struggling with any form of mental health problems, please know there are always options.
MU Counseling Center
MU Student Health Center Psych Services
Wellness Resource Center
Active Minds - "Changing the conversation about mental health on Mizzou's campus."
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1 (800) 273-8255
I am always here to listen and talk to those who may feel burdened by mental illness or just in general. Reaching out is such a large step and I hope to be able to be there for some people.