TW: Depression, Mental Illness
I vividly remember the first day I started caring about what people thought of me. I was feeling uneasy while standing in the hallway in my new home in the US, picking out earrings for the day. I looked at myself in the mirror, and had an internal epiphany that said, “You care about what people think of you. This is never going away now.”
During my childhood years in the UK, I never used to care what anyone thought about me. I was an incredibly open and imaginative kid, and enjoyed speaking my mind. My peers and I just sort of existed harmoniously in our blue baggy uniforms, and supported one another in our learning environments; which, in my opinion, is the way it should be.
Later in the US, I was introduced to the harsh reality of how it was deemed uncool, unattractive, and unacceptable for me to be anything less than what the people around you expected out of me.
I knew what it was like to be bullied and seen as the “bottom of the food chain.” So, I quickly learned how to internalize, and became a chameleon for the people around me whose opinions I cared so much about.
I joined one of those cliques (yes, a’la “Mean Girls” – something I later ran from), and there was this constant pressure to be perfect. Not only was there pressure to be academically perfect, but to be socially perfect as well. You had to dress a certain way. You had to like certain things. You had to act a certain way. You couldn’t talk to certain people; or else you’d be gambling your “spot” in the group. You’d yearn to be the girls who everyone feared and loved. It was swimming a marathon without ever being offered the chance to gasp for air.
There were no classes, no lessons on terminologies, no open discussions, on mental health. I’d hear about depression, but it was spoken about as more of an adjective, as opposed to a real, physical, mental illness. Unless you were bleeding, bruising, or suffering from broken bones that were apparent to others, it was very hard to feel understood and seen with these “invisible injuries.” Due to the lack of education and resources, my mental health suffered greatly.
Depression was creeping up on me in many forms: stomach issues, an undiagnosed eating disorder, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation, feeling physically incapable of getting out of bed, intense exhaustion, deep feelings of isolation, dissociating.
Instead of being able to properly educate and diagnose what was happening, I would tell myself “there is something wrong with me, and it’s not happening to anybody else.”
Thankfully, I did find a couple outlets in the creative world that provided comfort, insight, and a new perspective. I found solace in music. I fell in love with theatre. I had an amazing choir teacher in high school who taught one of the best classes I’d ever taken. The arts gave me a voice when I believed I had none, and I was able to channel a lot of those emotions and vulnerabilities into a beautiful final product. I didn’t think it was possible to turn pain into art, so this introduction was immensely life-changing.
There are many reasons why I’m as deeply passionate as I am when it comes to the arts, especially in regards to mental health. Theatre ended up saving me from some of my darkest moments. I am forever grateful I was able to find it at the time I did. To this day, I’ve taken that love and that driving force of the creative world with me; and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
However – please do not take this as the answer to mental illnesses. My resources stretch beyond the arts, and I would not be here today had I not sought out professional help, which I will discuss more in my coming pieces.
My mental health and my personal journey is far more complex; as is everyone else’s. There is no one size fits all when it comes to healing. There is no one size fits all when it comes to how we individually experience depression and invisible battles. But there is one thing that is absolutely certain; though we may feel like we are fighting alone, there will always be another who feels just as alone on the battlefield. If so many of us feel so alone; none of us really are.