Feb 15 2013
When I look at old photos I see a little girl who looks scared, lonely, but most of all sad. As I flip through the pictures, they start to get more recent, and that little girl starts to get older, but her expression remains the same. Throughout high school that little girl started to seem ‘normal’. Even though she was shy, she got good grades, had a loving family and group of friends, and many aspirations, but no one knew how much she struggled to get out of bed everyday. No one knew that she felt judged and worthless everytime she was in public, and no one knew her daily struggles that she had been fighting ever since she was little. It wasn’t until grade 12 when people started to see her differently. She started to miss class, her grades dropped, she started making excuses, and started to close herself off. Her family was shocked, her friends didn’t understand, and her teachers and employers started to label her as ‘lazy’. “She is just faking” “She is just making excuses to cover her mistakes” No one understood and in fairness she did not either.
That girl is me. When I was two years old, my dad passed away from cancer. I grew up seeing people cry, and feel bad for me. They would tell me stories but I shut them off. I struggled daily with the thought that I never got to get to know my own dad and hearing others share their memories, made me jealous. I stopped asking questions and I continued growing up not knowing and wanting to know my father. When I see myself in the photos I can tell that I was struggling. I kept my grief and my fears to myself. I remember waking up crying and running into my parents room thinking someone was going to die. I remember sitting and looking at the stars in hopes that my dad would send me a sign or forcing him into my dreams, just so I could hold a memory or know he was there. Those fears stuck with me as I grew up, but as they grew, I continued to bury them to myself. I thought burying would keep them away, but instead they started to build on one another and eventually started to weigh me down until I was trapped below.
When I was in school, I was never taught about mental health. The only thing I knew was that those who were labelled in movies were ‘crazy’ and that if you had a mental illness, that you were locked away in a psychiatric ward. I never knew the statistics, and I never would have thought that I would be diagnosed as someone with a mental illness. Even though I received enormous amounts of therapy and help as a child, I never fully understood myself and was scared to admit to my weaknesses. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to make people worried or sad about me or maybe I didn’t want them seeing me as troubled and treating me differently. When I was diagnosed, a part of me felt relieved but I felt like I still had to keep it hushed. I only told my close friends and family, but never really felt comfortable talking in depth about my experience. I would hide my medication so no one knew, and I made excuses like “oh I have a sinus infection, that’s why my eyes are puffy” when really I was up all night crying, or even when I was in the hospital getting diagnosed, I would fake being ill with a broken arm, so people wouldn’t start to wonder why I was there. I don’t know fore sure what people would have said or thought, but the biggest stigma I felt was myself. I feared being judged. I feared people knowing me as mentally ill. I feared the worse. It wasn’t until University when I realized that I wasn’t alone, I realized that most people I knew also suffered the same as I did. There was this girl in my class who stood up in front of the whole lecture hall and told her story. She wasn’t ashamed, she was proud. I know it must have been so hard for her but the fact that she came out to everyone and no one judged her, instead learned from her, made me realize that it was okay to finally be myself. Because of that moment, I am not ashamed to tell people that I suffer from a mental illness. People can think what they want and they’re going to do that no matter what, but if I can share my story, educate people, and change someone else’s life, then to me that is way worth hearing someone judging me.
I suffer from depression and anxiety and I am so proud because not only has the label taught me about myself, it has made me a better person. I am stronger, more involved, and confident in myself and that one day the stigma behind mental illness will be diminished.
Lauren is a 21 year old Brock student who grew up in Mississauga.