Abigail Ruhman is a freshman journalism and political science major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.
Speaking from experience, depression and anxiety are complex. Navigating the symptoms is like a marathon mixed with a corn maze. Before my diagnosis, telling people about my symptoms felt like lighting the cornfield on fire. After a doctor confirmed what I had known since sixth grade, it still took a long time for that fire to die out.
The fire flickered out when I learned something from my depression: It’s easier to just not care.
On one hand, this can become a threat to normal living. During the worst of my depression and anxiety, apathy took over my life. I didn’t care about eating, moving, hydrating or working. Excuses for missing events popped up all over the place.
Except this time, “I don’t care” turned into a valuable lesson I needed more than anything.
Instead of not caring about my health, the sudden disinterest in the validity of my experience changed the way I interacted with my mental health. Not only did I not care who knew, I didn’t care what they thought.
It’s my mental illness, but for a while saying that felt selfish. The American Psychological Association published an article explaining how to “cope” with a loved one having a mental illness. The APA has set standards for psychological care and even their articles make it sound like I’m an unsolvable problem.
Who am I to put that burden on anyone else?
After years of struggling, I told my sister about my deteriorating mental health. For a long time, that was the only person who knew. Anxiety convinced me that telling anyone else would result in a sudden loss of everything I loved. My parents loved their daughter, not a burden. I had friends because I was funny, not because I was depressed. To me, anxiety attacks didn’t count as excuses for missed assignments and meetings.
When I started explaining this to those closest to me, I got mixed reactions. When someone saw me as a problem rather than who I was, it hurt. But my mental health was my corn maze to navigate.
After one too many friends said that I should keep my diagnosis to myself, questions started to fill my head.
How am I supposed to find help if I can’t talk about the impact my mental health has on my life? Why should I focus on others more than myself?
The stigma surrounding these experiences was so strong that it was blocking me from seeking help.
I did what my depression had taught me and stopped caring. If they couldn’t handle hearing about it, what would they do if my symptoms started to get bad?
Once I started talking openly about my anxiety and depression, a support system seemed to come out of nowhere. I kept pushing it further; when mental health came up in a conversation, I talked about it. When people asked about it, I owned up to my experiences.
Personally, referring to it as my depression and anxiety helps to establish a responsibility. I have to be the one to inform others of my limitations. No matter how much others support me, it is my job to work with my mental illness. It’s not curable, but it’s manageable.
The realization that it didn’t matter if others don't like the state of my mental health allowed me to improve myself and manage my symptoms. Believe it or not, I don’t like my depression and anxiety either—but accepting that this was a major part of my life was important.
This process isn’t short and sweet.
Sometimes medication helps you run the marathon, or a total overhaul of your diet and workout does. Taking that first step leads to all of the others and then all of a sudden you’re running a marathon.
Finding a way to manage mental illness may take a while — and that’s okay.
When my mother decided to run 26.2 miles, she took months to train. She took that first step and now gets to live the rest of her life knowing she’s run a marathon. It’s time for those struggling with mental health to live their lives knowing that they not only took that first step, but ran a never-ending marathon.
So take that first step. Professors will never know that the reason you didn’t finish your assignment was because you had a panic attack if you don’t tell them. If your friends refuse to talk about it, how will they know what to do to help you get past a rough patch?
Support systems can’t exist without people. Finding them can be hard, but it’s our responsibility to seek out those resources.
Talking about it opens the door for others to help you, but it can also help others. When you talk about your symptoms, it may lead someone else to recognize that they are experiencing something similar. Sometimes, talking about how you manage your symptoms can help others manage their own.
Mental health can be hard to talk about due to the stigma surrounding it, but communicating your struggles to other people can make it easier to navigate. You may still be in a marathon and a corn maze, but at least you have company — all because you didn’t care.