In my recent visit to Ohio during the portion in which I was with my parents, I did a whole lot of just sitting around their house being a mom to my two kids without daddy around. During that time, despite the mommy brain distractions, I was able to do a lot of reminiscing. One particular time, I was sitting on the bathroom floor waiting for my 3-year-old son to make the tiniest tinkle in the potty. While he watched another episode of Daniel Tiger on my tablet, I decided to use the time to write my thoughts on the biggest breakthrough I’d had on my mental health journey.
Here were my thoughts:
So this parenting stuff really isn’t so bad. This life I have is amazing. I lose my temper and often just want to escape. I still struggle with anxiety, depression, a mood disorder, all my autoimmune issues, and now my more recently diagnosed PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. That’s a new story for another post another time). I get hurt and sad. But my life keeps getting better and better. God has had mercy on me and shown me grace. I see it especially if I think about where I used to be. How far I’ve come.
Especially when I think about high school.
No. Not that. Too complicated and depressing to even think about. Too scarring even.
At least, that’s the way I used to look at high school.
For so long, I’ve looked back at my high school years and seen nothing but pain. I got a broken heart so many times. Boyfriends, friends, not friends…so many put downs on who I was. Including who I was in Christ.
Those last two years of high school were especially painful. My junior year of high school I switched from being home schooled through a Christian private school all my life to a vocational school through my local public school, studying cosmetology. It was just in time, too, because my mom had just been diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer that summer. I was not prepared for the “real” world.
Long story short, I became more aware of the value of my faith in God. I made it known, too. Not in a loud obnoxious Bible thumping “The end is nigh!” kind of way because I still had a low self esteem after all. But in a quiet fashion. I was rejected by most of my school mates and eventually a long time friend (complicated story). I was told that people called me “God girl” behind my back (though I’m proud of that today).
Point is, 9th-12th grade I felt like each year was worse than the last. I see a pattern that led to me feeling a sense of happiness when I was finally in college.
So, up until [a couple months ago], I looked at high school in pain. It would give me a terrible pit in my stomach, especially when I thought of all the relationships I had during those four years, including those at the “Christian” school.
I had decided not to touch it until it made more sense why I would get that pit in my stomach. I found ways to forgive certain people from during that time, but there was still a sense of pain and resentment.
Then, a couple of days before I left for my trip to Ohio to join the kids, we found a huge box in my son’s unused closet. It was one that had never been unpacked when we moved to the house almost exactly four years ago.
It was full of memories for me. It had old music books from my flute days, as well as vocal repertoires and piano books from college. There were stories I had written about me, my friends, and the Monkees as a “tween,” pictures from my childhood through high school, and so many other random things. I had many good laughs and smiles going through all of that.
Then, there were the poems. Poems I had written all through high school. Poems about my depression, poems about the small joys, poems about lost boyfirends…I sat there solemnly reading every single one. Eventually, I started crying. When I finished reading, I went away to privately sob and cry out to God for a few minutes.
It was then that I realized a huge truth. A big discovery for me.
The pit in my stomach caused by high school was not a result of the people in my life during those years that hurt me. It was not old boyfirends, lost friends, or rejecting peers.
It was depression.
A little after the middle of my freshman year of high school, when I was 15, I was first diagnosed with clinical depression. I don’t remember if I was on meds right away or not. I do know I was on and off a couple of antidepressants throughout my high school years. I also know that as early as 11, maybe even younger, I had already experienced panic and anxiety attacks and gotten some therapy. I was also blessed to be raised by parents who taught me that mental illness was just that. An illness. not a weakness. And that it was nothing to be ashamed of.
However, it doesn’t matter the experience of those around you. A diagnosis of depression does not mean overnight understanding. Being raised to know there is no shame and to know how to get help doesn’t mean you automatically cope with it or share it with others. It does not mean you don’t experience shame.
Being in high school only added to the difficulty. Though I didn’t walk around bragging about my depression, I didn’t do well at hiding my emotions when the sobs wanted to come. I cried with my head buried in my arms in front of my friends at the Christian School. Many times they came to put an arm around me. But too often I depended on that. I think I subconsciously sought after that comfort from everyone and continued to be more open about my overwhelming emotions.
Now imagine that on top of all the other hormonal changes we go through already at that age! I started to learn that not everyone could handle it. I started to learn that not everyone realizes it’s nothing to be ashamed of. If I couldn’t even grasp my own illness, how could anyone else who’d never even been around it or aware of it grasp it? I began to overwhelm others.
Over the rest of those years, I became dependent on having a boyfriend. Over the course of each boyfriend, I would end up overhwelming them with my dependancy on them being the “meds” for my depression. As I gave my heart away, I also opened up deeply about my depression. Each time my heart got given back in pieces, I shut myself off more and more from others. I cried less in front of others for fear of being a burden and making things awkward.
To this day, I hate crying in front of anyone. I even hate crying in front of my own husband. The one boyfriend I ever had who immediately accepted and put up with my mental health after an anxiety attack in his car two weeks into dating. The man who took me in his back seat not to make out, but to pray with me in true faith to calm my attack. I can’t stand crying in front of him even after over 10 years of him never failing to comfort me in my tears.
Going back to high school and the rest of it in general, my depression fought me and trampled me almost every single day of it. While figuring myself out in general as every teenager does, it was too hard to figure out the depression with it. And typically, even with parents who guide well in seeing the signs and getting help, teenagers don’t really open up to their parents about what they’re going through. At least in my experience because, you know, I knew everything well enough, right? I did not have a great relationship with them in high school until sometime into my senior year.
My biggest testimony is that the reason I am alive is because of my faith. My God. He was my source of comfort and intervened several times when I didn’t even realize it. He gave me the gift of writing, poetry, and music. All three of those got me through and still do.
Why do I share this whole story with you? It is my deep desire to encourage and inspire others with the gifts God has given me to show that there is a way to get through. That no one is alone. The best way I can do that is by expressing exactly what I’ve gone through and learned.
This day in age depression is running rampant. Yet it is still so misunderstood and ignored. In adults, our military, teens, and even kids. I hear too many stories of suicides in all walks of life.
So what can you do? How can you be proactive? Whether you are going through it or someone you know is, these are the key things I think you should know.
1. Know the signs.
Loss of interest, unexplainable crying, sense of hopelessness…the list is endless really. But pretty much anything that seems out of the ordinary as far as character or behavior is reason for wariness.
2. No one is ever alone.
There is plenty of support out there. Support of trained professionals and support of those who have been through every feeling. We have all had our tough times. And then there is the One who will never leave you or forsake you.
3. Never be afraid to reach out to someone.
When I said I was realizing there were many who didn’t know how to handle my depression, this was not me encouraging to hide away all feelings. It was a take on how a confused teenager was handling her own depression. It is an example of how many need another person in their life to do the stepping up, as I did have some do. So if you’re noticing someone with the signs, take a step to reach out to them to even just help them find the help they need. But the person going through the depression also has to take initiative to follow through. Get that help you need.
4. This does NOT indicate weakness.
No, this doesn’t hit home overnight. Yeah, it’s hard to not feel weak or see it as weak. But this is just a phrase you have to repeat over and over to remind yourself. Tell yourself it is all ok. Because I promise it is ok. And it will be ok.
So stop overlooking this depression epidemic. Be aware of what is going on around you. And be especially mindful of teens who might be going through this in the cruel world we live in. High school is cruel enough as it is.
And if you are a high schooler who might be going through similar things as I did, be encouraged, love. Guard your heart and your mind. Use your gifts to release and talk to those you trust most. You don’t have to do this alone.