Character Traits


My disease is not a character trait.

It is not something I turn on and off.

It is not something that I want to have.

It is not something I would wish upon even my worst enemy.

My illness is not cute.

or fun

or “an annoyance.”

My illness is a disease.

My disease is an illness.

Wanting to keep your room tidy is not OCD.

Not eating lunch every day is not anorexia.

Social anxiety is not cute.

Suicidal thoughts and self-harm do not make you “cool.”

My disease is not a choice.

My disease is not a definition.

My disease is not a character trait.

mental_illness

Featured image by Christian Hopkins.

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On Inhaling the Future and Exhaling the Past


The other night while I was back in North Carolina at my parents’ house, I couldn’t sleep, so I started going through my bookshelf. I found an old journal that I used to write in all the time when I was in high school. I started flipping through all of these things I had written back in 2012 and I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or to cry. 

There were so many horrible things I had written. I was definitely nowhere near the person that I wanted to be. I was hypocritical and judgmental. I saw people who were different than I was as strange or not welcome. I was completely ashamed of who I was and I hated myself so much that I projected that hatred onto the people in my life. Not only did I write things about my life that I am humiliated to read now, but I was so saddened by how bad my depression and anxiety was and I didn’t even realize it. 

I had written so many things about how sad I was, or how I couldn’t get out of bed on the weekends. I wrote about how anxious I would get in crowded places or at school. For some reason, I had written these things in a journal rather than expressing to someone that I had a problem. It makes me think what could be different now if I had gotten the help I needed back then. 

On the other hand, there were several things I had written that made me laugh a little. I was worried about the most ridiculous issues. I swore that if I moved away I would never make friends. I told myself that I couldn’t survive on my own. I told myself I couldn’t even get into any colleges other than those in Louisiana. I laughed because all of this was so, so wrong. The funniest part was that I never even mentioned the University of Michigan. Not once. This place had clearly never crossed the mind of 2012 anxious Sydney. Little did she know that this place would become more of a home than what she considered home then.

I turned the last scribble-filled page to a clean, empty page. I began to write my little sophomore in high school-self a letter – a really long letter.

You will find a place where you belong.

You will make the most incredible friends in the world once you leave.

Leaving isn’t nearly as scary as you think it is.

One day, even though that day is not today, you are going to feel better.

You are getting help. You have an amazing support system that won’t abandon you like people are doing to you right now.

High school is 1000% percent not the best time of your life. This is not the peak in any sense. 

Those people who are putting you down because of your beliefs or your looks or anything – you are going to escape that. You are going to find a community that accepts you for who you are and what you live for.

You don’t need to change the entire world. You can change the world around you by helping and inspiring the people in your community.

You are going to be so much happier one day. You are going to find your passion. You aren’t going to be so lost.

You’re going to make it.

“As I look back on my life, I realize that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Hey, You Made It


To the kid who is “always so happy” who spends his nights crying himself to sleep,

            You made it.

To the girl who thought she could not live without him

            You made it.

To the mom who didn’t think she could support her baby without him there

            You did it.

To the boy sitting in school in a uniform skirt because everyone tells him he’s a girl because that’s what is on his birth certificate

            You made it.

To the girl who had to wear a long-sleeve shirt everyday so her parents wouldn’t see her scars

            You made it.

To the college student who wants to go hang out with his friends more than anything in the world, but he is too afraid he will have a panic attack at the party

            You made it.

To you: the kid standing on the edge of the cliff, tottering between life and death

            You did it.
            You made it this far.
            You are so strong.
            You are incredible.
            And you are not alone.

To those who have never felt any of the above things

            You are blessed
            You are loved.
            You are strong.
            You made it.

To you, whoever you are: you made it. You made it through another year even if there were times you swore you weren’t going to, and I am so proud of you. You are not alone. You can make it through another year. I believe in you and I love you.

On Words, Their Impact & Depression


to this day

I have become increasingly fond of spoken word. I have subscribed to several YouTube channels and blogs that post videos and recordings of spoken word poems. A particular poem was posted in 2013, but has been gaining popularity recently. Now with over 15 million views on YouTube, Shane Koyczan’s To This Day has launched a massive discussion on bullying, depression and human impact. [Before continuing to read, please watch the video here or read/listen to the lyrics of the poem here – I will be using quotes from the poem the rest of this post].

“We are not abandoned cars stalled out and sitting empty on a highway. And if in some way we are, don’t worry. We only got out to walk and get gas.”

When I first watched this video, I couldn’t stop the tears for a while. Everything Koyczan said made me feel so understood. This past fall, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and dysthymia (a chronic type of depression in which a person’s moods are regularly low – more long-term than symptoms of major depressive disorder. However, symptoms are not as severe as with major depression). I have been struggling with these symptoms for years now, and these past few months have been really hard as I cycle through different medications. This video could not have come at a better time in my life.

Koyczan begins by telling his own story. We all have our stories of how this stuff has affected us. We all take stressors in our lives different ways. Each person has something called “resilience.” This is defined as “an individual’s ability to properly adapt to stress and adversity.”1 Some people have more resilience than others; therefore, they can cope better with stressors in their lives. My story can be traced back to my childhood – elementary and middle school, specifically. I’m not going to go into specifics since those are details that I consider very personal, but I can say that Koyczan saying, “I am not the only kid who grew up this way” is completely true.

“School halls were battlegrounds and we found ourselves outnumbered day after wretched day.”

He references the typical rhyme we were always told when being bullied: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

 “As if broken bones hurt more than the names we got called”

I always told myself that as I got older, things would get better. People wouldn’t call me names because we would all mature and grow up, right? Wrong. As we all matured, the cruelty only matured with it. Even now in college, I constantly hear people calling others horrible names. This culture of bullying and name-calling has got to stop. And it stops with us.

“He lived like the uphills were mountains and the downhills were cliffs, four-fifths suicidal. He tried to kill himself in grade 10 and a kid…had the audacity to tell him to ‘get over it.’”

Becoming a person who is aware of their words and the impact they have on others can be a huge step in the right direction. [Trigger warning] The stigmatism of mental illness in our society is constantly fueled when people say things like “I’m so depressed” or “Kill yourself” in front of people who are struggling with these things. Depression is a disease. OCD is an illness. Suicide is someone’s daily struggle.

“As if depression is something that can be remedied by any of the contents found in a first aid kit.”

I did a semester-long project in my Social Work class this past semester focusing on Mental Illness Awareness on college campuses. I went around campus interviewing professors, student leaders, faculty, and friends. If there is one thing that I can confirm after this process, it is that everyone struggles with something. Everyone struggles, and we need to be aware that some people struggle with things that can be very hard to understand, like autism, depression, anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive disorder, ADHD…the list goes on.

…but at night while the others slept, we kept walking the tightrope. It was practice and yeah, some of us fell. But I want to them that all of this is just debris leftover when we decide to smash all the things we thought we used to be. And if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself, get a better mirror.”

Dealing with this stuff is (excuse my French) shitty. It’s hard to deal with. It’s been hard for me, so incredibly hard. But there is one thing I do know for sure: you are not alone in this. There are other people who feel like you do. There are other people who understand. When I found people who understood how I felt, I knew that I could get through this with them. We can work as a team to beat this, and it will not be the end of you. You cannot let it win. To those who don’t struggle with this personally, you can help. You can be supportive and understanding.

It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. You are strong and brave, and you can get through the things you are struggling with. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-273-8255 or Text ANSWER to 839863 (24/7) (Here is a list of other hotlines).

Great article on helping loved ones with depression here.

Thank you for reading and for listening. I love you all. ❤

“A pearl is a beautiful thing that is produced by an injured life. It is the tear [that results] from the injury of the oyster. The treasure of our being in this world is also produced by an injured life. If we had not been wounded, if we had not been injured, then we will not produce the pearl.” – Stephan Hoeller

1  http://goo.gl/bevy