note to self: depression is a liar

My New Year’s resolution this year was to let someone read my writing. Aside from my articles and editorials from high school journalism, I’d never let a single soul read a creative writing piece penned by my hand. When I made the resolution, I assumed I would let one or two people read my writing. My sister, my boyfriend, my best friend, or someone who I knew wouldn’t make fun of me if the writing was terrible or the prose lackluster.

When I shared my blog post to Facebook, I assumed the same 60-100 people who regularly see what I’m up to would read it. That was a scary enough step.

Now, 7 million views and counting later, I can safely say that I have fully achieved my NY Resolution.

I never expected the response I received from my writing. Depression has a way of making you feel that you are the first person in the history of the world to feel what you feel and think what you think. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past two weeks, it’s that depression is a liar. And, I have thousands of blog comments, reposts, news articles, and emails to prove it if I ever forget.

To say I am overwhelmed is an understatement.

I am humbled. I am excited. I’m perpetually nauseous.

I decided to write one more post to address some feedback I received, and to give all the lovely people who followed my blog an idea of where I’m headed next.

To start, thank you so much for every person that commented, reblogged, emailed to share their personal stories and struggles with mental illness, or have gotten a semicolon tattoo. I have read every single comment and reblog, and am working to respond to all emails and Facebook messages as soon as possible. Every person that shared their story, even just to me, is brave, and beautiful, and I admire and love you all dearly.

Originally, my tattoo was so representative of my own internal struggle, and felt intensely personal to my experience. Now that so many have read my story and gotten the same tattoo, it still feels intensely personal, but now, every time I look at it, I’m reminded of how many people are on my side.

Well, most people. Some people have accused me of trying to be the hero, or of glorifying mental illness or trying to make a “meaningful” tattoo trendy. Which is funny in itself: I decided to get the tattoo at 4pm that day, and by 5:30 I had gotten the tattoo and was eating dinner at home. An hour later, I’d written and posted the blog post. The middle body of that blog post was originally written to be performed as spoken-word poetry. It wasn’t edited for a blog. It was creative, not expository. Like I said, I didn’t think anyone would read it. There was no agenda, no plan. I still can’t believe it blew up the way it did.

To be honest, I got the tattoo because that morning I woke up wanting to kill myself. I was terrified that there would come a day I wouldn’t want to talk myself out of it. So I got the tattoo as a physical reminder (a reminder literally etched into my skin) that there was a time where I was strong enough to want to keep going. It felt a little like a last-ditch effort. I’m not a beautiful story of triumph over mental illness. I’m just a girl who triumphed yesterday. And am working on triumphing today.

There’s nothing trendy about depression. There’s nothing beautiful about killing yourself. I’m not a hero, I’m simply a girl with a story who wanted to share it so other people who were struggling knew they weren’t alone. 

Please don’t get me wrong when you read my story about my struggle with mental illness. I’m just a 20-year old college student who is in the process of changing her major for the sixth time, finished Orange is the New Black Season 3 in 72 hours, and regularly locks her keys in the car. I am no expert on life or on mental illness. The only thing I can claim expertise on is my own experience, which you all read about in my last post.

So many people have it worse than me. So many people have struggled for longer. I received emails from humans in their late 70’s, who’ve struggled with mental illness for most of their life. I’ve struggled for a couple months. But here’s the stigma I was trying to break with my last post, and the stigma I’ll try to break again, here: you are not required to earn your depression. Or anxiety. Or eating disorder. Or bipolar disorder. It is an illness, and thus has no real parameters for attacking the body.

There’s a tweet I love that sums up my thoughts on this:

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I didn’t write about the specific causes of my mental illness for a very specific reason. For starters, the circumstances that brought me to filling my first antidepressant prescription are no one’s business but mine and my therapist’s. And, again, I do not have to earn my depression.

But, I digress.

Last thing: I have decided that this post will be the last I will make available to the internet for the time being. I have been lucky enough to have received many offers to appear on podcasts, be a part of organizations, print my writing in magazines, etc. Project Semicolon has reached out to me about regularly blogging. Mizzou Department of Marketing & Communications wants to interview me about on-campus resources. I was interviewed by Buzzfeed today, for God’s sake.

It’s wonderful to know people have found hope, encouragement, and solace in my words. But, I’m still a student. I need to focus on school, my campus involvement, my relationships. I am a sociology major who confidently plans to pursue a social-justice related career, but I don’t believe it’s the right time in my life to dive into non-profit work. For now I’m just going to be me, and work on healing.

I’m an incredibly privileged human being to be able to have had such a large impact on humans. One of my biggest passions is being an ally to marginalized humans: I am a white, well-off, college-educated, cisgender, heterosexual woman who the opposite sex tends to find attractive, and this means that I am oftentimes the beneficiary of everything that is wrong with society. When society is ugly and biased towards marginalized populations, I benefit.

I spoke up about my mental illness so that I could maybe use my privilege to help those that can’t speak for themselves, and will continue to do that on the University of Missouri campus. I promise to continue to be an advocate for mental health awareness, to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves, and continue to start those difficult, uncomfortable conversations that need to be had.

My tattoo is healing, and so am I. 

I hope the millions who have reached out to me or who identified with my story will begin to heal, too. The world sucks more often that not. I hope we can all find beauty in today regardless. HP

A few other things regarding mental illness that I’d like you to keep in mind when you’re working to be an advocate of mental health awareness:

-African-American adult are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites.

-Every 65 minutes, a veteran of the United States commits suicide.

-The suicide rate for transgender or gender non-conforming humans are nearly 35% higher than that of the overall U.S. population.

-Racial and ethnic minority populations are less likely to have access to available mental health services, are less likely to receive needed mental health care, often receive poorer quality care, and are significantly under-represented in mental health research.

the semicolon project

FullSizeRender-1 FullSizeRender Today I went to a tattoo artist, and for $60 I let a man with a giant Jesus-tattoo on his head ink a semi-colon onto my wrist where it will stay until the day I die. By now, enough people have started asking questions that it made sense for me to start talking, and talking about things that aren’t particularly easy.

We’ll start here: a semi-colon is a place in a sentence where the author has the decision to stop with a period, but chooses not to. A semi-colon is a reminder to pause and then keep going. 

In April I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. By the beginning of May I was popping anti-depressents every morning with a breakfast I could barely stomach. In June, I had to leave a job I’d wanted since I first set foot on this campus as an incoming freshmen because of my mental health. Depression took a lot from me, but one of the most difficult things that my mental illness snatched from me was that job.

I got this tattoo as a promise to myself that I would never willingly end my sentence. I got it as a reminder to take this summer as a pause, and then to keep going strong next year. I also got this this tattoo to open up conversations between myself and other individuals about their struggle, because as difficult as mental illness is, what’s more difficult is feeling stigmatized. Or like you failed. Or like people are feeling sorry for you.

There’s no question that the stigma surrounding mental illness inhibits struggling individuals from finding the help that they need, and I find this absolutely heartbreaking because I know I am not alone when I say that depression destroyed my GPA, my relationships with my friends, my involvement on campus, and much, much more.

So if one out of every four people struggle with mental illness, then why did I feel like I was they only person who had ever experienced this before? If 25 of every hundred people I pass on the street have a clinical need for psychiatric care, then why did I feel like I had to hide my shaky hands every time the panic hit my harder than a train or feel like I had to shove every suicidal thought on a shelf behind old dictionaries and behind classic novels where no one could find them? 30,000 people die from suicide every year and that’s more than twice that of HIV and AIDS but still I am embarrassed to tell you that I can’t get out of bed in the mornings.

Let me make this clear for those who don’t know me well: I am not who you would expect to be depressed. Let me say this louder for those in the back: you cannot put me in a box decorated with black nail polish and frequent trips to Hot Topic because you don’t wear depression like a necklace or put on anxiety like a hat. You cannot spot depression because you become depression.

I am depression and I am not the silent girl dressed in all black hiding in the back row of your lecture hall. I am depression and I the perfect picture of a 20 year old sorority girl at an SEC school. I am depression and I am oversized  t-shirts and Nike shorts that hang off my frail, starved hips. I am depression and I am the shining face on my sorority’s executive board and the bright smile touring high school seniors around my beautiful, botanical garden of a college campus. I am depression and behind stylish sunglasses too big for my face and a resume too long for a college sophomore, no one ever knew that my illness had crippled me so severely that I spent 20 hours a day wrapped in blankets in my bed, trying desperately to fight away the bitter cold that had taken residence in my heart and mind.

I hid myself away in my 7 million dollar sorority house, tucked somewhere between “you bought your friends” and “can’t daddy’s credit card fix your problems?” I called 250 women on my campus by the name of sister but I was still lying at the bottom of a lake, unable to breathe while, effortlessly, everyone around me grew gills.

Because no one tells you what to do when your life becomes a ten-car pile up during rush hour traffic. Because no one tells you how to tell the very people who framed your life and hung it up on the wall for everyone to admire the girl who has it all together that nothing is going right anymore. No one tells you what to do when the good days dwindle so severely that you can’t remember the last time you woke up and didn’t want to die.

I was 13-year old the first time someone told me that suicide was a selfish act. I was 15 the first time someone I knew killed themselves. I was 20 years old when suicide started to make sense.

Every 16.2 minutes, someone takes their life. In the time you’ve been reading about the crippling disease that made me want to take my own life, someone just took theirs. And still, we shame and stereotype and stigmatize the people who need the most help and teach our children that having to ask for help is something we should feel bad about, when in fact sometimes strength is admitting that you don’t have any left.

Oftentimes I feel like depression ruined my life. It took so much that it’s become a desperate desire for something good to come from this horrible experience. My hope is that, because of my experience, I can be an advocate and champion for mental health awareness. That I can start conversations with girls in my chapter and students on this campus and hopefully influence someone’s life for the better.

I am lucky. I am lucky because I live on a campus where my therapy visits are free and my antidepressants only cost $10 and there’s a disability center that will help me get through my classes. I am lucky because I have a mother who believed me and supported me when I said I was depressed and never made it sound like my fault. I am lucky because I have a sister who drives all the way to Columbia to see me when I need it. I am lucky because I have a job with Mizzou Tour Team and bosses that aren’t afraid to sit me down and make sure I’m eating and sleeping and doing okay. I am lucky because I have Carter and Jackson and Esther and Jordan and Kenzie and Erin and Brittany and Jim and Grace and so many others who in their own individual way have weaved a support network so caring and strong that there was no chance of me ever falling through the cracks.

The problem is that people struggling far worse than me don’t have half the support I do. Mizzou saved my life. Not everyone has a “Mizzou”.

So I will show my tattoo proudly and champion for the people who cannot champion for themselves. Every day that I say no to the dark thoughts depression tries to tangle my mind with, I am winning a battle that society has not made easy to win. I’ve learned a lot from my struggle with depression. Every day is another day of riotous and endless waves of transformation and as much as I wish it didn’t hurt so bad when it hit me, I can’t say that I’d change who I am or the struggles I went through.

Another thing: my tattoo is just slightly crooked when I look at it. It’s parallel with my arm, but crooked when I look down at it. At first that bothered me. And then I remembered that life’s a little crooked, too. And now I love it even more.

It’s hard to find a place to end this think piece, but I’ll end it with the quote that I keep on my computer screen at all times, so I never forget. I hope anyone that’s ever struggled with their mental health never forgets, either:

“You are worthy of breathing. Someday you will learn that.

So don’t ask yourself why you can’t be

Smarter

Stronger

Cuter

Because depression took a lot from you and you are still fighting to take it back.” 

If you need help, please check out online resources or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

And as always, ask for help. Never fear admitting you need more than you can give yourself.