Behind smiling eyes: mental health and misconceptions

By Kaitlyn McCormick

One week. That’s how long my dad gave me to find a therapist before he would do it for me. If I could not cough up a name by Friday then that meant I was incapable of helping myself, which wasn’t a bad thing, but after years of struggling with underlying anxiety and toying with the idea of therapy with no follow through, my parents decided to put their foot down for me.

One year. That’s how long I’ve been logging onto a telehealth appointment every Thursday at 4 p.m. on the dot to talk through my moderate anxiety and depression. I’ve always known that I had anxiety on some level, constantly running a tight ship, booking every second of every day in an endless cycle of burnout, a genetic predisposition if I’m being entirely transparent, but I’m still realizing at 20-years-old how misconstrued my idea of mental health was.

I wake up every morning and put myself together for the day. I perform well in my classes on a full-tuition scholarship, I carry a 3.98 GPA and work two jobs successfully. I have friends and ambitions and a family that loves me. That’s not what depression looks like – until it is.

I’ve always had some weird reverse imposter syndrome about fully acknowledging that I was struggling with something. This intangible feeling that followed me everywhere and yet slinked into the shadows when I tried to grasp it and pick it apart. Anxiety and depression did not fit into this gold-plated picture of perfection I had pigeon-holed myself into, and neither did being gay.

I wouldn’t say that my issues with mental health stemmed exclusively from my sexuality, but I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t acknowledge their linking I spent so much of my young adult life under this pretense that if I could get the best grades, be the highest achieving, have the most friends, be pretty and likable, be perfect, that it would make up for the fact that I wasn’t straight.

While I was lucky enough to grow up in a household that was loving and accepting, I would be lying through my teeth If I told you it didn’t feel like the world was crashing down when I realized that there were people in this world who would hate me for something I could not change. So I decided that I had to overcompensate, and that behavior is something that I’m still dismantling.

Additionally, I think as a college student, it is so easy to fall into this trap of thinking, “Well I’m supposed to be overwhelmed, this is what I signed up for,” or,

“It’s that point in the semester, things are just picking up right now.” And, while on some level those ideas are true, there is also a line at which you need to decide whether or not your relationship with your mental health is serving you.

Mine wasn’t.

I found it so easy to minimize what I was struggling with the second I started to feel marginally better – until the cycle started all over again. It was hard for me to fully see what depression was and how it presented itself in my life until I finally started going to therapy and allowed myself to acknowledge that I was not okay.

I may get out of bed everyday and step into the world seemingly ready to go, but my depression is the overwhelming mental and emotional exhaustion that makes that everyday process really, really hard, some days whether I want to admit it or not.

I may bounce from class to class to job one and then job two throughout the week and look like I’m handling everything fine, but my depression and anxiety, and the heaviness they bring are more often than not an incessant background noise that never seems to fully go away.

Depression and anxiety are the phone calls to friends through tears that say, “I don’t want to do this anymore, there’s nothing wrong, but it still feels like there’s everything wrong.”

They are the deep breaths and moments of grounding that weave their way into days that are particularly overwhelming.

To use the most cliche of sentiments, you really never know exactly what another person is experiencing or what hurdles they’re leaping over until they tell you – and sometimes they won’t.

Mental health does not have to be this taboo topic, and it certainly does not exist strictly in black and white.

No matter what you are carrying, you are not weak on the days that your struggles feel like the heaviest weights on the planet. You are not dramatic or attention-seeking for being vulnerable about your experiences. And you are never a burden for asking for help.

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