by Sophi Newman, ’13
I can’t remember a time in the first nineteen years of my life when I didn’t feel off. Whether I was hurtling through days at top speeds of uncontrollable hyperactivity or dragging myself through each second with deliberate effort, whether I found myself overwhelmed by an intense, almost violent irritation with everyone around me or frozen and deadened by loneliness, whether I was composing silly limericks or scribbling out a death wish, I never felt peace. Never felt calm. I never felt good without a “but,” without a qualifier.
I’m one of the lucky ones, though; when I was eleven, a close family member sought help for suicidal depression, and it occurred to me that I, too, might be able to seek help. I began seeing a psychiatrist and taking medication. The dark times persisted, but I always had a support network. My teachers knew I was struggling, and sometimes cut me slack if I fell asleep during a quiz (I slept less than five hours most nights) or couldn’t handle doing homework in light of a breakdown. One night when I was thirteen, I stopped mid-suicide-attempt and called my psychiatrist. I lived, obviously. I was incredibly lonely, yes, but my problems weren’t a secret.
If that family member hadn’t sought help, I’m sure it would have taken me years to pursue it myself. I might have killed myself without anyone ever knowing something was wrong. I can’t explain how incredibly lonely it is to feel as if your experience is fundamentally, irredeemably, irreconcilably wrong or different or inexplicable. It feels like something you have to keep to yourself because nobody would ever be able to love you if they knew. Seeing that someone so close to me was still lovable and worthy regardless of her struggles tempered my fear just enough to get the help that eventually enabled me, almost a decade later, to finally find peace with myself and the world around me (most of the time, anyway). What little of her story I knew gave me the strength to take care of myself.
Humans are storytellers, shaping our experiences into narratives that allow us to create meaning, structure, and beauty in our lives. Stories give us identity and purpose. Stories connect us. Stories enable empathy. We fear what we do not understand, and it’s safe to say that as a whole, our society does not understand mental illness, from depression to alcoholism to schizophrenia and everything in between or “not otherwise specified.”
It’s time to learn how to care for ourselves and the people around us. It’s time to strip away the shame. It’s time to break the silence.
Crazy Awesome is an open community dedicated to reducing the stigma attached to mental health conditions. We’re all about sharing stories to raise awareness, forge connections, and empower one another. Maybe you’ve struggled yourself, or maybe someone close to you has. Maybe you’re just trying to learn more about mental health conditions. Whatever the case, Crazy Awesome can help you learn, listen, and speak out.
Submit your story here, anonymously or with your name attached.
Sophi is a senior majoring in American Studies with almost-minors in Studio Art and Computer Science. She also serves as Co-Director and Financial Manager of the SHPRC and a CS106A Section Leader.