This is an open letter to all those who took a leap of courage and faith. Those who pried open their lips to push out words that asked for acceptance, help, and validity for all the feelings that they struggled to explain with simple words. This goes out to those who clutched onto hope thinking that they would receive kindness and empathy in return for the small step they took to force jagged syllables from behind their teeth. Those who then saw all that hope shatter when their words and feelings were dismissed, mocked, or shut down without so much as a thought their way. This goes out to all those who only wanted someone to understand but in the end, took to swallowing all that they wanted to say, because they knew there was no point in screaming out when no one would listen.
I, too, was that person.
Talking about feelings is difficult. Trying to talk about how you’re feeling when it comes to mental health issues is even more difficult. In a world where dialogue surrounding mental health is still considered a taboo in many countries and cultures, you risk harsh judgement and sometimes even shunning if you try talking about mental health issues. But what hurts the most is when you try speaking up about all that is bothering you to the ones you thought would understand and stand by you in solidarity, only for the same people to end up throwing your own words back at your face.
About six years ago, I tried talking about issues that had been bothering me for quite a while, only for my own feelings to be used against me. I didn’t really know how to make sense of my feelings then, because I was a confused 16-year-old who had no inkling as to what mental health issues were – we were never even remotely taught anything related to mental health in school, were we? And so there I was, scouring the internet to try to make sense of my confusion and I was honestly scared. I thought something was wrong with me, that something physically might have gone wrong to cause all this. But most importantly, I thought that I was alone in feeling this because everyone I knew was normal, right? Then there definitely had to have been something that was wrong with just me. Because how else would you explain the crippling swooping felt inside my stomach that wrenched me and the waves of never-ending sadness that crashed over and over giving me no time to even breathe some days. How was I to explain any of this to anyone when I myself had no idea what was happening? Nothing had gone wrong, I hadn’t experienced events that could be considered traumatic. I had a supportive family, some good friends, and was doing well in school. What was I to say, that I had suddenly incurred some sick twisted version of a manufacturing defect? Who would have even believed me when I didn’t believe in what I was feeling myself?
It took some time and a lot of research for the confusion to give way to clarity bit by bit. Slowly, over the course of the next 3 years, after reading through a multitude of forums and discussion groups, I realised I was battling depression and anxiety. And it took a lot more searching to realise that I might not be alone in feeling this way: resources were not abundant nor visible, even a few years ago. I understood that I was not “broken” or “defective”, that nothing was “wrong” with me. It took some time for me to believe it but time was a good friend. However, to say that my struggles stopped there would be a blasphemic lie. The first few times I tried to talk about my issues, I ended up being branded “the sad kid”. To my friends, I became the person who complained too much, was always sad (because of course, being sad is a choice isn’t it?), never participated in anything, didn’t like going out, didn’t like laughing, didn’t like socialising, was always alone, was “emo”, was seeking attention. There was no use in talking to them about this was there?
So I shut up.
I bottled up everything that I wanted to say. I instead wrote them down for myself, weaving poetry out of emotions that found no home, found no place in this world. And that wasn’t liked, either. But by then I had stopped caring about what others thought of me. I had neither the energy nor the willpower to try to make the unwilling understand. But I promised myself one thing, that I would do everything in my capability to make sure that another confused and scared 16 year old wouldn’t have to go through what I did, alone. I did get better with time but there were only very few people who managed to understand what I had gone through and offered genuine support.
Today, I don’t shy away from talking about my journey with my mental health issues but the reactions are still mixed. Some are supportive, some still think I exaggerate but regardless, I am in a better place where I can look back at my own journey and talk about it in hopes that it might help someone, somewhere. Only if we start dialogue can we expect change. It still is uncomfortable for me sometimes and I don’t expect everyone to talk about it but what I do hope for is that you, reading this, understand how difficult it is to speak up in the first place. For you to understand what it means to truly listen, to not mock or shun those who reach out to you for help. The topic of romanticization of mental health has already been addressed quite a bit (The Romanticization of Mental Health) and it is important to not let your views be skewed based on what you see on social media platforms. No two people’s journey is the same. Do not impulsively throw out words that you might not truly mean. Opening up your “DMs” to talk is a big responsibility and one that is not to be taken lightly. If you do not know how to talk to someone who reaches out to you for help, educate yourself. Guide them to better resources. But never, ever invalidate someone’s feeling because you personally do not relate to them.
If you, reading this, happen to be the person I was, I am so very proud of you for continuing the fight against your mental health battles. Mental health is a journey filled with trials and tribulations, disappointments and hope, good and bad days, and what a journey it is indeed. But you still made it this far, you’re fighting the good fight and always remember that you are never alone. Your feelings are valid, your emotions are valid and I hope that when things get tough, you do not feel the need to hesitate before reaching out for help.
I still struggle with my issues, I still feel uncomfortable talking about them, and I still get mixed reactions even from good friends. But I hope these words resonate with you somehow. Even if it ends up making just an infinitesimal difference, that is enough. That is all I hope for.
If you would like someone to listen to your worries, in a judgement-free, safe and inclusive environment, take a look at our LP Buddy program
If you would like to know what it takes to be a good ally, here are a few resources