One of the most stressful things about having a mental illness is dealing with what to tell people. When my symptoms became worse, I was starting to freak out more about being seen in public. I thought my lack of makeup, undone hair, track pants and lack of smiles made me appear as “crazy”, and therefore wanted to avoid seeing anyone I knew. When I withdrew from university the real stress began as I started to panic. How do I explain to people why I’m not in school anymore? The short term solution was to stay home and avoid all the people I knew and used to be friends with, but I couldn’t avoid everyone forever. In my mind I created go-to responses in case I ran into someone like, “Oh, I really didn’t like the program,” “It was too overwhelming for me”, or “I needed some time to myself to figure out my interests again.” I knew when I would give those predetermined responses people wouldn’t really buy it, and they knew there was something more, but no one wanted to probe.
Then it all happened again, withdrawing from school the following year, which made it even more difficult to explain. I felt like I was a laughing stalk to people. Of course I would be talked about, I was one of the top academic students from my high school, teachers and peers thought for sure I would excel. I was ashamed in myself. I felt like I let myself and everyone else down. My new go-to responses for not being in university anymore were, and still are, “oh, personal issues came up,” or “it didn’t work out for me.” No one really asks to dig deeper.
Now I am more open about talking about what really happened, but I haven’t fully come out of the mental health closet. If someone asks me I would answer, but otherwise I would only tell you if we are close. I still do get a bit nervous when people ask me what I did directly out of high school. I don’t even tell the new people that I meet in my college program now that I went to university, I just leave that part out completely to make things simpler. I would like it for me to be able to whip out my medication as easily as one would for taking out a Tylenol, or to actually tell people that university didn’t work out for me because I had high levels of anxiety and a major depressive episode. If I had to stop going because I broke my leg I would have just openly told everyone, right? Then why can’t it be that easy of an explanation for mental health?
My advice for anyone having this struggle of “coming out,” and the struggle of not knowing what to say to others, is to keep in mind that you can keep your mental health as private as you want. But by all means, if you want to just be open and not have to think of excuses and cover ups for what’s going on in your life then all the power to you.
About Elena B.
Elena is a 21 year-old college student, sales associate, and volunteer living with depression and generalized & social anxiety. Formally diagnosed with social anxiety in high school, Elena has struggled with it for the majority of her life. During her first year of university she experienced high levels of anxiety and had her first major depressive episode, which was followed by another the following year. Since then she has been recovered and focuses on her recovery daily. She currently runs a tumblr blog, where she shares inspirational quotes, images, and tips to help others with their recovery. Follow Elena’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds Blog.