Living with a mental illness

Mental health
We talk a lot in our house about wellness.  Part of this conversation obviously has to do with what we eat, and how we spend our free time.
We also talk about mental health.
I have talked about seeking support for my daughter in When it is more than sadness. I have also asked her at times what it feels like for her so that I can better understand and support her.
The following are the words of a high school freshman, taking a moment of introspection to explain how it feels to have a diagnosis of severe depression and anxiety, not knowing if it will be a temporary situation or something to be handled her whole life.
*****
When I was in about fifth grade I noticed I had a newly developed short temper. I also found it harder to focus, harder to sleep or wake up, harder to talk to people or go without constantly feeling empty. I didn’t want to make things hard for my parents so I tried to keep it a secret until one day they started asking, “are you ok? Do you feel empty? Do you want to go to therapy to talk to someone?” My answer was always the same, “No I’m fine nothing’s wrong.” Truly I didn’t know why I felt like this so I couldn’t answer honestly.
Then came middle school. It was so crowded. I didn’t know many people and I was too anxious to make new friends so for most of sixth grade I traveled between friend groups trying to find one I fit in with.  By the end of the school year, I had gone through 8 different friend groups, none of them being people I wanted to be friends with in the long run. My parents kept asking me how I was, and I kept telling them I was “fine.”
Then seventh grade came around. I was put in honors E.L.A. and honors science, which means I was grouped with people who thought like me. A lot of them were smart and also too “shy” as we called it to talk to people. We now know we were anxious and afraid of what they would think. I had made friends and that group was the same for most of the seventh grade.
At the end of seventh grade, some people in that group started making fun of me and it made me feel worse about myself than I already did. Then summer came. I stayed inside all day, ate all day and never had fun. I had thought they were my friends but apparently not. Some of it may be normal middle school stuff, but to me, it felt like so much more.
I went into eighth grade not having a great idea of who to hang out with. I felt alone and like I could trust no one. Then I met a new friend and we started talking and she had the same feelings I did.
Finally, I could talk to someone without being afraid, but I still felt empty. My dad noticed and said he wanted to get me tested for depression. I begrudgingly went with my mom to the appointment and it turns out I have severe depression, a combination of genetic and situational and an anxiety disorder. Upon being diagnosed I felt like I could finally begin to understand my feelings.
Now I am a freshman and I feel great about myself. I know when I need to talk to someone and I know when I am having a bad day. My medication is for my depression and part of my anxiety. I still have bad anxiety and depression but now that I have medication to help control it I find it a lot easier to be myself and not be held down by depression and anxiety.
Oh and that friends is now one of my best friends and I am helping her get to a better place too. I had to make sure I was in a better place before I could help her.
*****
Through a combination of medication, some diet changes, and some other features, my daughter has come to a place where she is at peace with herself.  Even in the face of some recent bullying, she has not wavered from the person she has worked so hard to become.  The interactions still hurt, but girl who would have hidden away in her bedroom afraid to face the world is not there.  In her place is a young woman who went to a dance the night after receiving some pretty cruel messages.
We are nothing but proud of her.
Please talk to your kids about mental health.  Find out where they are.  If they need support, seek it.

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