I am close or friends with many of the people you’ve seen write posts for me over the course of Shattering Stigmas. But today, I get to welcome one of my best, best, best friends, someone I’ve known for years and who has been there for me in dark times and vice versa. I’m so happy to welcome Silvia to the blog today. You can also find her on Twitter.
I’ve always been a big advocate for ending the stigma surrounding mental illness. In college I joined clubs and organizations that tried to educate my peers on mental health. Now, mostly through social media, I share stories of people struggling with mental illness and those who advocate for them. Yet, apart from those close to me, not many people know my own story.
I’ve suffered from depression ever since I can remember, and most recently anxiety as well. Sometimes I think I was born depressed. And maybe I was. Yet, it wasn’t until high school that I found the word “depression” and realized that it applied to me. Growing up, I remember hearing the laughter of my siblings and cousins running around my grandmother’s patio while I was locked in my room crying. I did not understand why I could not feel as happy as they were and simply assumed there was something wrong with me.
I’ve always wondered about the cause of my depression and it is what led me to study the brain and its inner workings. I decided to study neuroscience and psychology because I thought it would help me understand my own brain or more specifically what was wrong with it, although my own shame has never allowed me to publicly admit this to anyone. When someone asks why I decided to major in neuroscience I always reply that we need more women in science, and although true and something I passionately believe in, it is not the whole reason.
My parents migrated to the United States when I was very little. I was 2 when my mom left and had just turned 4 when my dad did. I did not see them again until I was 9 and by then I did not remember their faces. My maternal grandparents raised me until I was 11 and they did a great job. But I’ve always wondered if that early experience led to my depression.
When I was 12 years old, I had my first panic attack. By then I had already migrated to the United States and had started to assimilate to American culture. My parents used to fight a lot before they separated for good. During one of those fights, I started panicking and hyperventilating. I assumed it was because of the fight. It wasn’t until years later that I realized what had happened.
During my first semester of college, I had suicidal thoughts. Until now it has been the lowest I’ve ever felt. My downward spiral started since that summer. I don’t know what triggered it. I only know that by the second weekend in October, I wanted to die. I remember being in a friend’s car, the car speeding up as it reached the highway and wishing it would crash against the wall so that I would die. The week after, I had my first therapy session.
Studying the brain did not give me any special knowledge as to why I have depression. I do not know if it’s genetic, a chemical imbalance, hormonal, environmental, a mixture of all those or simply bad luck. I do know that depression is something I live with every day. Some days I forget it is there and I go through my day like nothing’s wrong. Other days I can’t get out of bed and have to lie to my boss or professors or friends or parents and fake a physical illness. There are days when I shut people out and withdraw myself. During those days it takes double the effort to do routine stuff like eating. And when my feelings go from extreme to numb, things become scary.
A few weeks ago, as of the publishing of this blog, I had another major panic attack. That day I had drank a lot of tequila trying to be in a festive mood celebrating Pride. When I got home, I started crying and hyperventilating. I ended up punching a wall and kicking a door. I woke up the next day with three purple fingers and a bruise on the bone above my wrist that still hurts when it is too cold.
I’ve always been able to hide the bad days. I am good at faking physical illnesses. Most days I can go to work or school and pretend there is nothing wrong. That first semester of college, I earned straight “A’s.” The door I kicked, I was able to fix the next morning so no one would notice.
Being good at hiding the not so pretty parts of yourself means that there is always a wall between you and others. I have always being afraid to push away the people I care about. Everytime I shut down or have one more panic attack I wonder if that will be the one that will scare people off. Dating was even more difficult. I was wary of getting close to someone for fear that they would run away as soon as they heard the word depression.
Recently I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and Vitamin D deficiency and that has brought more challenges to managing my mental health. Through all my research, I learned that women with PCOS are more likely to have depression. I also learned that Vitamin D has also an effect on mood. There are days when I wake up knowing it’ll be a bad day and I don’t know if it’s because of my hormonal imbalance, my depression or because I didn’t have enough sun the day before.
There is still a long way to go before I don’t feel ashamed of my depression. Before I can call in sick to work because I am having a panic attack and not because I made up a fever and stomach ache. Telling my story is the first step to getting there.
In spite of it all, I know there is hope. I’ve felt it.
I have supportive friends who are always there for me and who understand how I feel. I have an amazing girlfriend who has helped me see I am more than my depression. I’ve been privileged enough to have access to mental health resources from counseling and therapy to hotlines when I needed them the most. I am also changing the way I see myself. I would describe myself as overly sensitive; I feel everything too intensely. I used to think it was one of my weakness but now I realize it is one of my strengths.
I know there will be bad days ahead but I am strong enough to get through them.
And so are you.
Interested in more Shattering Stigmas posts? Check out this post that Ben, one of our amazing co-hosts, put together listing every single Shattering Stigmas guest post and giveaway so you don’t miss a thing!