I didn’t realize until many years after high school how many mental health disorders went completely un-diagnosed in my friends.
You know, I’m not sure being a teenager is truly easy for anyone. When I found my old Livejournal a few months ago from when I was 16 and 17, I was horrified to realize how incredibly angsty I was. The entries were showered with posts about feeling depressed or alone, which is especially mind-blowing because, looking back now, I don’t think I had an especially hard time those years. Yes, there was drama with romantic interests, both boys and girls, but my friendships were solid, I was a good student, I had a wonderful job in a bookstore, and my life was generally pretty great for a high schooler.
Many of my friends were equally as angsty. We bemoaned our perfect life in the quaint town of Palo Alto. Although none of our parents had trouble putting food on the table or clothing us in the outfits of our choice, we were riddled with emotion and general ennui. But in general, those complaints were superficial and comfortable, because they never really scratched at something true underneath the surface. Those real problems were the ones we didn’t really talk about.
Sitting in art class one afternoon, a friend and I noticed cuts running up and down the arms of another friend. When we asked her what they were from, she shrugged and said she cut herself, and didn’t everyone do it? My friend and I looked at each other and back and her, totally baffled at how to respond. We just dropped it, and never brought it up again. It’s one of my greatest regrets to this day that I didn’t reach out, that I didn’t tell an adult. I simply didn’t know how to handle something that overwhelming at the age of 16.
The next year I came back from a month at summer camp, only to find out that a friend of ours had been hospitalized from bulimia. The word went around our group of friends, hushed whispers about what had happened, but I’m not sure that anyone actually brought it up with her, offered comfort or advice or just a shoulder. It wasn’t that we felt it was shameful, we just honestly didn’t know how to confront something of that magnitude. We didn’t know how to talk about what had happened and seemed to think it was more respectful to just give her her privacy.
Since then, more of my childhood friends have been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder or confessed that they had anorexia. Now, maybe we found each other because so many of us had these mental health struggles, even if we didn’t talk about it, but I’m guessing that actually the common-ness of these conditions in our group is more a representation of the larger population. Because now I know that the truth is, these mental health struggles are absolutely everywhere.
At the age of 26, I’ve lived long enough to see some larger things in our society begin to change, and one of them is the way that we treat and talk about mental health disorders. In the last ten years, they’ve increasingly lost their sense of shamefulness. We talk about them more openly and frankly. No longer does the correct course of action seem to be making them a quiet, private affair. People feel comfortable admitting that they’re going to therapy or are taking medication. And as someone that spent high school in a time where that’s not what happened, that’s SO FRICKIN’ COOL.
Look, I think maybe we’re all just a little bit “crazy” – and I mean that in the most loving way possible. Most of have, at some point, struggled with some form of major or minor depression or anxiety or obsessive compulsion or body dysmorphia or addiction.
So even though we all don’t have Depression with a capital D or anxiety to the point where we can’t leave the house, I hope knowing that we are all fighting our own little mental health battles, to some degree or another, will allow us to have more compassion for each other’s personal demons. Even though our experiences vary, we really are all in this together.