My Battles With Mental Health

Content warning for suicidal tendencies, suicidal thoughts, and mental illness. Please skip this piece if these types of discussions are disturbing for you.

Mental health is something many people struggle with. It’s something I struggle with every single day. We all have our battles, from financial stress to relationship issues to battles with oneself that all put a strain on us mentally. It’s ugly, it’s brutal, it’s difficult. And mental health is often misunderstood, or not understood at all.

Many people view mental health as “just being sad.” If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve been told by friends and family alike to “just stop being sad,” “suck it up,” or “be a man,” I could probably solve world hunger in an instant. Anyone who’s dealt with depression and other mental health struggles can tell you that those pieces of “advice” don’t work. Thankfully, mental health is becoming less stigmatized. It’s more acceptable to be open with your struggles than it used to be. And that’s why I’m writing this today.

I want this article to be an exploration into what it’s like living life while dealing with poor mental health. I want to use my experiences with my mental health as a guide, and I want to share a story with you all that I’ve never shared on a public scale like this before. I’ll share an interesting quote that resonated with me here and there as well. These are my own experiences, and I recognize my battles differ from yours. I just hope that something in this piece helps you out, whether you’re struggling currently, or you’re a person who tells people to “just stop being sad.”

My Mental Health

When I was in second grade, I found out that I have an emotional impairment. In my home state of Michigan, this is a term used to cover many mental and emotional health problems. One way it manifests is through “a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.” This pervasive unhappiness and depression is something I’ve lived with, almost non-stop, for my entire life.

I genuinely cannot remember a time where I felt true happiness. I’ve had times where I’ve felt content, or where I wasn’t truly content, but I couldn’t say that I was truly unhappy either. Happiness, however, is something I’ve never experienced. And those moments where I was content or just not unhappy were short-lived. I feel like I’ve been living almost disconnected from life. Like I’m there, but I’m also not at the same time. It feels like I’ve lived in a perpetual fog of depression for the longest time.

I don’t have a very high opinion of myself. I can’t stand the way I look. I’m not fond of the way I dress, my sense of humor, etc. I feel guilty about being excited about the things that interest me because I feel like it bores other people. They could put a picture of me next to the word “burden" in the dictionary and the definition wouldn’t change. The amount of times that other people have had to help me and make sure I’m okay fills me with shame.

I am ashamed. Ashamed that my financial situation has forced me to take a year off from university. Ashamed that I don’t know how to do things that people my age have been doing for years, like driving a car. Any time someone helps me, I’m ashamed I couldn’t figure it out on my own. I don’t deserve their help. I don’t deserve anyone’s help. I deserve to go out into the middle of an isolated forest and rot on the ground.

I can’t remember the first time I thought about suicide. I’ve thought about it for years, even to this day, even though things aren’t as bad as they used to be. I’ve never attempted it, but I planned it once, back when I was 14. That’s the story I’ve never shared with anyone publicly until now.

My Planned Suicide

My grandma is the reason I am alive, writing this article. She’s one of those people that helped me when I needed it. She passed away when I was 14. Looking back, I knew she had little time. She was suffering from leukemia, and she was an absolute fucking warrior, let me tell you. I can’t remember exactly how many times she went into remission, but it was more than once. Towards the end, though, she was in and out of the hospital. She was an inspiration to me, and I wanted to do right by her.

When she passed, I was crushed. I didn’t know what to do. I was already struggling with my sense of belonging. My performance in school wasn’t great. I dealt with bullying and threats from other kids pretty regularly. It felt like I had nothing left to look forward to. And I was tired. Tired of the self-loathing, of fighting with kids at school and my family at home, of everything. So, I gave myself something to look forward to.

I lived in a trailer park. Across the street, there was this wooded area. I don’t know exactly how far this area extended, but it didn’t matter. It provided enough cover. My plan was simple. When everyone was out of the house, I’d take the sharpest knife I could find, go out into the woods, and take my own life. I didn’t plan on leaving a note. I don’t remember why I didn’t.

The night before, I had a dream. It was about my family. I saw the pain they were all in. My Dad, his then-girlfriend, her daughter, and my brother. I saw them asking why I would do it, why I didn’t go to them, why they couldn’t do more. I saw my aunts, uncles, and cousins crying and screaming for answers, even the ones I didn’t talk with much. It shook me. When I woke up, I cried. I think my family just chalked it up to my grandma’s death. I felt guilty for ever having this plan in the first place and quickly swore to myself I wouldn’t tell anyone about it.

I don’t believe in divine intervention or anything like that. I’m not religious. That dream saved my life. I don’t know what caused me to have that dream, why I was shown the pain my suicide would’ve caused my family, but I’m thankful. I’m thankful I didn’t cause my Dad to bury his son so shortly after having to bury his mother. I know I would’ve regretted it, and while things aren’t perfect or even that great right now, they got better. And I’m thankful to be alive.

External Truth vs. Internal Reality

Over these last few years, I’ve tried to figure out why I am the way I am. I want to know why I’m unhappy. Why I’m depressed. What caused me, at just 14 years of age, to plan to take my own life when no one was looking? And it wasn’t until a week ago that I felt like I could explain why.

I was watching a review of one of my favorite video games when the YouTuber brought up a quote by Jazz Thornton, a mental health advocate from New Zealand. I began looking into Thornton, and I found a TEDtalk she did a few years ago where she discussed her fight with mental health. And she reiterated the sentiment behind the quote I saw in the video game review, and it’s a quote I haven’t been able to get out of my head.

“The beliefs that I held tightly were that I’m unlovable and that I’m a burden,” Thornton said. “So what I did to fight was that I wrote them down on a piece of paper, I drew a line, and on the other side I wrote down everything that those closest to me said or did that contradicted those beliefs. So that every time my mind would say 'Jazz you’re unloveable' or 'Jazz you’re a burden,' I’d pull this list out and I would have rock-hard evidence in front of me that my internal reality wasn’t matching the external truth.”

It’s the last part, “my internal reality wasn’t matching the external truth,” that sticks with me the most. It made me see things in a new light. There are things we feel, and things we know. In the back of our minds, we know that one day we’ll be okay. We know things will get better, that life isn’t all bad and we’re stronger than whatever we tell ourselves. But often, we don’t feel this.

The things that we feel resonate with us more than the things that we know. We can see this in everyday life. It's part of the reason changing someone’s opinion on even the most menial, non-important things is hard to do. It’s the reason people freak out over something like a disagreement over a movie, musical artist, or video game. The things we internalize become part of our internal reality, and often our internal reality isn’t always the external truth.

If people get worked up over internal beliefs over something like a video game, imagine how someone feels when their internal sense of belonging is questioned. Picture how someone thinks when they internally question their sense of belonging. There is no voice louder than our own, so when these doubts arise, it’s easy to believe them, and then things spiral. These self-doubts and the negative thoughts keep repeating themselves and become louder and louder until they’re all you can hear. In psychology, the process of continuously thinking about the same negative thoughts is called rumination.

14-year-old me was ruminating long before I knew the word even existed. I had internalized these beliefs that I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t deserve to live, that no one could ever love me. And even though I had friends and family telling me I was good enough, that I was deserving, and that they loved me, it didn’t matter. My internal reality had already become rife with thoughts of ending my life, and the bullying and threats I had received while at school were the ones I listened to more because those voices matched my own.

It was easy for me to believe, at just 14, that the stroke of a knife would’ve solved my problems. Because that was so much easier than acknowledging that the road ahead towards being in a better place was long, hard, full of rocky terrain and wild twists and turns. Giving in to my internal reality was easier than facing the external truth.

Where I’m At Now

I still ruminate. This isn’t something that I’ve stopped doing, even if things are better now at 21-years-old. The thing that keeps me from spiraling as much is that I have more evidence that I can do better now than I did when I was 14. I don’t have it as a piece of paper, although I do like that idea. I have it in the form of life accomplishments.

Even after I decided not to go through with my suicide, 14-year-old me never expected to live to see 18-years-old. I figured I’d be dead face down in a ditch, broke and homeless, and probably classified as a John Doe well before my 18th birthday. And then I turned 18, I lived to see the day. My mind shifted to never getting out of high school and getting into a good college. And while my financial situation and COVID have forced me to take a year off, I did that. I graduated high school in 2019 with a GPA above 3.2 and got into my dream school.

There are still times where I spiral. I still have suicidal thoughts from time to time. There are still times where I feel as if things won’t get better. About two weeks ago, I made a Facebook status during one of these times where my thoughts just spiraled. “I know in my hearts of hearts that I’ll be okay someday, but at this point, I feel like I’ll never see that day," I said. And I feel like this often.

I will probably never be completely okay. And that is okay. It is okay to not be okay. I don’t know the way forward. I don’t know the way out of these thoughts and these doubts. I’m not sure I’ll ever figure out that path forward, but that’s okay. Because the strongest thing I can do is acknowledge that I am not okay, admit that I’m going through something. After all, the only way you can even solve a problem is to admit that there is one.

Conclusion

I know that my battle with mental health is not universal. My goal with this article isn’t to provide you with the answers to your issues, because I, unfortunately, don’t have those answers. My goal here is twofold: to give you hope and to give you confidence. I hope that my battles with mental health give you hope that things get better, as cliché as that sounds. And I hope that me coming out and talking about my story gives you the confidence you need to tell yours wherever you are.

I said earlier in this piece that it was becoming more acceptable to talk about mental health and be open about it, and it’s true. Just within these last few years, high-profile athletes like Simone Biles, Kevin Love, Eddie Kingston, Dak Prescott, and Naomi Osaka. In May, “Deadpool” star Ryan Reynolds opened up about his anxiety. “We don’t talk enough about mental health and we don’t do enough to destigmatize talking about it,” he said.

And Reynolds is right. We don’t do enough to destigmatize mental health discussions. However, with each story told, we help destigmatize those discussions. We make those discussions more and more acceptable, and we make them more and more mainstream. By sharing your story, you help destigmatize these discussions, and you provide a source of hope and confidence that other people might not have right now.

From Jazz Thornton to Eddie Kingston to Ryan Reynolds, these stories have given me hope, and they gave me the confidence to talk about myself. And I hope I’ve done the same for you. Regardless of where you are, what you’re going through, or what your struggles are, just know that you have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s perfectly okay to admit you’re going through something, or that you need help.

It’s okay to not be okay.

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I am pursuing a bachelor's in communication, and am using this blog to write about an array of topics such as sports and video games.

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Tristin McKinstry

I am pursuing a bachelor's in communication, and am using this blog to write about an array of topics such as sports and video games.