“What we don’t need in the midst of struggle is shame for being human.” — Brene Brown
Do you remember back in elementary school when you were taught to make a bubble chart to brainstorm your given writing topic? Well when I started my blog, I sat on my dorm room floor and had no idea where to start, so I took out a piece of paper and made a bubble chart of all of things that I could possibly write about. Ever since then I have brainstormed every post using a bubble chart of whatever is going on in my brain and I attempt to make a structured and logical post that usually ends in some encouraging life lesson or positive life advice, but today was a bit different. Today I sat down and started writing directly into my page because I feel like that’s what’s fitting during this time: no planning, winging it and going with whatever flow that we are caught in.
I think that it is safe to say that this year has been one of the most confusing and altering times in quite some time for everyone. Back in April I talked about how figuring out what was next in life was the cornerstone of so many people’s minds and I truly felt hopeful that returning to normal was right around the corner, but here we are, seven months into a global pandemic and we’re all trying to accept that in one way, we will never return to normal, but also still crossing our fingers that the life we were living before March will slowly start to return. This year has been loaded with stress, anxiety and changes in politics, injustice reform and financial trouble and although I have spent the last few months taking the time to educate myself on all of these topics in order to understand what is going on and how to ease the difficulty of change, there is something that this year has affected for so many around me, including myself, that I think it’s time to be transparent about. And that, my friends, is mental health.
I have continuously avoided talking about my own mental health both on my page and to those around me because I don’t like the idea of being vulnerable. I try and present myself as a self-spoken, bold and outgoing person who is the person who everyone can go to for their own problems so I never wanted anyone to think of me as fragile or sensitive; however, over the last few weeks I have had a lot of conversations with people struggling with their own mental health due to the uncertainty of this year and I decided that maybe being vulnerable for once, maybe one person will read this and feel less alone. And looking back on it, that’s the one goal my eighteen year-old self had for starting this page: to give everyone a sense of connectivity.
Over the weekend we celebrated my best friend’s birthday and as a group of girls do, we got dressed up, piled into the bathroom to do our makeup and of course, posted our outfits and one another on social media. My best friend looked gorgeous, I felt confident and the entire night was just a happy and celebration of her day, except for the moment when a girl decided to take the time out of her day to reply to my post and make her own comment on my looks. She asked if the picture was even me, assumed it was edited, told me that it didn’t look what I actually look like. Now usually this wouldn’t even phase me because I know that people have their own opinions, people can be mean and people can say whatever they want behind their screen because they don’t think it will ever affect them. Trust me, I had an ask.fm account in high school so I know just how brutal people can be, but this comment came from a person who I considered an acquaintance for the last three years, a person who has an entire social media account to promote health journeys and body positivity. Could I be mad at this girl? No because as I said, I have never talked to anyone about the struggles that I have dealt with for the past four years, but as my grandma has told me for twenty-two years, “if you’re not going to say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Four years ago, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder and two years later, I was diagnosed with three other mental illnesses that had resulted because of this. I damaged a lot of friendships because of how I was attempting to handle my problems, I became a liability because I decided social drinking was more a priority than creating healthy coping mechanisms and I really felt like I lost myself and my path for awhile during this time. Following the end of my sophomore year, I committed to a semester abroad with an entire new population of people that I had never met and as you have all read a hundred times, it was easily the best four months of my life and a complete reset of my self-awareness. As cliché as it may sound, I found myself again and I found people who truly made me a happier person. Of course, that positive mindset lasted as long as the moment when a guy that I worked with told me that I looked “thick and healthier” and that one comment triggered my self-depreciating mindset. Can you imagine the world healthy being a trigger? It’s truly ridiculous. Over the last year and a half, I have had plenty of ups and downs with my mental health, but the last six months have been filled with regret of not going to law school directing after graduating from undergrad, pointless boy problems, living in a town where all of my friends have moved away from and obviously, just the stress and anxiety of our world being in a shitty place right now. So despite how small this girl’s comment was on how I looked was on the scale of everything going on, it was a trigger for me because I know that I can control what I look like to others even when I don’t have control over anything else.
As much as I will debate about posting this because of the chance of being seen as vulnerable or even attention-seeking, I know that being transparent can sometimes be beneficial and healing. There is stigma around talking about your own mental health due to the fact that you’ll be seen as over-emotional, unlovable, unfixable, dramatic or disconnected. Whether you struggle with anxiety and you can’t seem to get out of your own head, if you have an unhealthy relationship with food or if you can’t get out of bed, out of your home or even have the energy to do daily tasks, I’m here to remind you that you are not damaged. You aren’t crazy for feeling too much or even too little, you aren’t unlovable for having bad days or weeks or months and you’re not dramatic because you want people to try and understand how you perceive things. Although I don’t know much about how to overcome some of your bad days or talking yourself out of a toxic mindset, because I’m in my twenties and still trying to figure it out for myself, I can say that this is why commenting on someone acting “depressed,” or telling someone to “just stop overthinking,” or simply commenting on parts of their body that they can’t change in twenty seconds is not what the person you’re talking to needs to hear. The majority of the time someone has no idea the half of what someone else is going through or what they have gone through and one comment can be a trigger, one comment can come off as demeaning and one comment could truly change the course of someone’s healing. This is why I encourage reaching out to anyone who you think may be struggling or even a person that you haven’t heard from in a while and just reassuring them that you’re there for them, that they have someone to talk to if they need to vent or that you’re thinking about them.
With what is going on in the world, everything that has happened this year and the life changing things that people have been through in the last few months, I honestly feel guilty for being so caught up on a small comment about my physical appearance, but when I started writing, I knew that it all came down to something deeper than that one comment to me. Since March, we have all had to deal with dramatic changes in our living situations, social lives, financial income and our future plans which are all conditions that provoke changes in people’s mental health, mindset and attitude. I believe that right now it comes down to understanding that everyone is going through their own battles, it’s about being a listening ear to someone when they don’t even know where to start talking and it’s about being a supportive, positive entity in someone’s life rather than bringing them down or discarding their feelings. Whether that conversation is about their mental health, their physical health, their career or academic path or their feelings about the global events, this year has brought enough negativity as is without us contributing to it.
Although I know that this post has been all over the place— as I said it would be —because what’s this year without winging it once in awhile, if there is anything I want to reiterate and that I hope you carry with you for the rest of this year and going into next is that if you cannot say anything nice to someone, don’t say anything at all and if you can say something nice, you always should.