Reading that blog post was a revelation. I had stumbled upon it as I was struggling to survive my second bout with severe, prolonged suicidal ideation. I can remember, even now, exactly how I had curled into myself in a corner of that retro plaid couch that graced the living room of my first post-college apartment. I read the post once – then twice, picking out the words that resonated the most: darkness, pain, fog. It was like I had been paging, for so long, through a book in a foreign language, only to find – finally – phrases that I understood.
By that point, I had been experiencing intermittent episodes of depression for nearly nine years – one of which had already brought me to the cusp of ending my life. I had rationalized my way out of most of those periods – had held on, somehow. But now I was caught in one of the scariest stretches I’d ever encountered. I could not see an end to the darkness. I was exhausted – and terrified.
I’d never spoken openly about what I was experiencing – about what I know now as the chronic illnesses of Major Depressive Disorder and Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder. I didn’t know how to find the right words – how can you begin to describe something that consumes you so completely, you cease to know where you stop and it begins? But I recognized myself in the few paragraphs I read that day: I knew what it felt like to be immersed in darkness, to see the world become foggy when all your strength must be channeled into continuing to breathe.
Of course, the blog post didn’t magically teach me how to talk about my pain; I didn’t close my laptop and immediately ask for help. It was a rocky road I continued to traverse before I could do either of those things. But what it did give me, for the first time, was the sense that I wasn’t alone. When your mind has ability to make you feel completely isolated in even a crowded room, this is a tremendous thing – a life raft in a treacherous storm.
Help, for me, looks like talk therapy and medication. It looks like owning my diagnoses, something I know may feel tremendously harmful for others, even as it helps me to make sense of the chronic conditions with which I live – conditions that are no less real than more visible, more “medical” diagnoses. And help, for me, includes sharing my lived experience.
The writer of that original post described how, as he began to figure out how to live with depression, he felt called to tell his story – he felt he owed it to those who had helped him. And so, as I reached a place of support and stability, I felt I needed to do the same – by writing a post for that very same blog.
That was the first step in a journey towards mental health advocacy I never thought I would embrace – or even survive to see. I recognize that feeling safe enough to share my lived experience is a privilege not everyone is afforded but it’s one I’d like to extend to all the writers – and readers – who will share this space. My hope is that this uLead blog – which we are introducing at the start of Mental Health Awareness Month but plan to continue for many months beyond May – personalizes our perception of “mental health,” this behemoth which is so often described in abstractions or depicted in certain – often inaccurate – ways.
I am holding a small piece of paper that’s been folded so many times that each crease could tear. It’s been highlighted and parts are handwritten. I’ve carried it in my school – and now work – bags for nearly a decade: and still, that first blog post feeds me. Its presence alone, tucked behind calendar pages and business cards, is my reminder: that my story matters. That my life matters.
Yours does, too. So I humbly invite you to share this space with us; your lived experience is welcome here, as a reader, a writer, or both.
Thank you for joining us in this opportunity to bear witness to each other’s humanity. Let’s start with our stories and, in the telling of them, continue the conversation about the healthcare, the healing and the hope we all deserve.
The Luv u Project Board of Directors
uLead Young Professional of the Year 2017