You see me in the hallways and in class all the time; I have good grades, great friends and I seem to be your average high school student. I smile and laugh along with everyone else and everything seems normal, but that’s not the case.
When I wake up to start my day, my routine includes downing a handful of medications I need to make it through the day. Without them, I can’t function at the level I need to because of my mental illnesses.
My junior year I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, anxiety and depression. There are days that I struggle to get out of bed because the prospect of getting through another day seems like too much. Time I could be spending with friends is spent at the psychologist’s office every week, and at the psychiatrist’s office, too.
Coping with it is hard; the medicine doesn’t always help and sometimes I turn to things I shouldn’t. I struggle with self harm, but you’d never guess it. Self harm isn’t for attention, if it was I’m sure it would be done in a more obvious manner. Just telling someone to stop doesn’t help either; the brain releases endorphins when it senses pain, causing a high which becomes addictive. Over time, hiding the pain and the distress I’m in has become second nature because it’s easier than showing how I really feel. The side effects of the medicine can be detrimental as well; I no longer have an appetite and don’t eat as much as I should. I’ve lost considerable amounts of weight, almost to the point of being unhealthy. But like I said, I can’t just stop taking them, because otherwise I’d never be able to do basic daily tasks.
Unfortunately, I somewhat am your average high school student.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 20% of teens aged 13-18 live with a mental health condition. That’s one out of every five people, and those are only the reported cases. Yet, jokes are still made about almost every mental illness on social media and the topic of mental illness remains highly stigmatized. When The Morning Call published their article on mental illness in the East Penn School District, I was appalled by the crude comments made by students on social media. I personally believe part of the issue is the lack of education regarding mental health, and I’m glad that the district is attempting to amend that deficit.
I’m tired of hearing “just think good thoughts,” “be positive,” and “why don’t you just cheer up,” in regards to my depression. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain where not enough serotonin (the chemical responsible for happiness) is produced. It’s a medical issue that has overtime just become an adjective for kids to throw around carelessly. Usually it’s the kids that don’t understand the emptiness, anger, sadness, isolation and weight that depression places on a person. Imagine your boyfriend or girlfriend just broke up with you, that empty heavy feeling in your chest and numbness that seems to be everywhere and you struggle to smile. That’s what depression feels like, except it’s there all day, everyday on top of having to be a regular teenager. It’s consuming as it affects every facet of my life. My best friends at times just feel like people I pass in the halls. I’ve quit sports I’ve played since I was little as I struggle to find joy in things I used to love.
When I was a freshman, my cousin who was a year older than me committed suicide. That was when I realized that all of this was actually real, and not something you just hear about in health class or on the news. Actual living, breathing people with their own lives and problems deal with mental illnesses everyday. It can be hard to understand the pain they go through but just showing consideration and general compassion might mean more than you could realize. Asking for help is so hard, so giving someone a helping hand even if you don’t think they need it could mean more to someone than you realize.
One of the most important things to remember is that just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Feature photo: The EHS Counseling office.