Happiness is Only Real When Shared
“Happiness is Only Real When Shared” – Christopher McCandless
For my whole life, I have been an anxious person. I remember when I used to obsessively write down my worries in Elementary School, bringing them home to my mom titling them “Feelings”. I was not sure what those feelings were until I learned about Anxiety. Sleeping was near impossible until after I delivered my “Feelings” to my mom. Depression came into my life at a later time, slowly creeping up in High School, but once again I was not sure what it was.
These things were not talked about to my classmates and I in school. I have played sports my entire life. Soccer was my passion up until senior year in High School when I decided to do Cross Country instead hoping I could get a scholarship for college. The pressure of athletics has been prominent my whole life but that was something I had to learn to deal with. You always have to be better, faster, stronger, etc. This did not help my anxiety, but I felt that I had to suck it up in order to be the best athlete I could be. I always have felt that my athletics were more important than school, something that I realize is not true. However, I do not think school is more important than my own wellbeing either.
There is a balance that can be achieved, and sometimes it is easier to find than others. I had not realized how much I had pushed down inside me until I began my Freshman year at Sacred Heart. Leaving my passion for soccer did end up getting me a scholarship to college, but it came at a price. That summer leading up to my freshman year, my anxiety was at an all-time high, with depression following.
What I knew best was to push everything down and begin my year as a Division 1 athlete to become the best runner I could be. The faster I ran the more money I got, the more I was valued, and the more I would be recognized.
From all of my years as an athlete, running had become my identity, and not in a good way. As the year progressed, I made the most amazing friends I had ever had and thought that I was really going to breeze through the year. Of course, I got injured and could not compete in my first season of Cross Country. I felt like a failure and this bump in the road sent me into a year full of Anxiety and Depression.
Anxiety and Depression can be hard to understand when you have not experienced it yourself, but it is a very real problem just like any other illness is. I made it to Christmas Break and began talking to my parents about taking a gap year. I felt that I needed some time off to work on myself and explore things that I truly enjoyed. Years of pushing my own needs aside, including my sexuality, had left me at the lowest I had been in my entire life. I continued on with my year, pushing through as best as I could, but began sleeping a lot, and skipping classes and practice.
This, of course, fueled my Anxiety and Depression even more with feelings of worthlessness and guilt. Thankfully, I had amazing friends to get me through, and I finished my freshman year with a gap year plan in mind. I thought that once I got home, my depression would lift, and I would be thriving with all of the time I had ahead of me. Just like anything in life though, things did not go as planned.
My depression continued to get worse and I struggled with who I was beyond running and school. Along with the feelings I had pushed aside for years before college, was also me hiding my sexuality from my family and friends.
I was lucky enough to meet one of my best friends who helped me come to terms with who I was and began to tell a few friends before I left college.
This contributed to my depression because I realized I would have to tell my family eventually and that was scary for me. The summer of my Gap year, I began seeing a therapist once every week, something that I was terrified to do in the beginning but now can say that it changed my life. Therapy helped me understand myself and come out to my family and friends. I became more confident and learned how to cope with my anxiety. I began to feel less depressed and started getting up early, doing things I loved, and working two jobs. Establishing a routine helped me tremendously. I even signed up for a 72-day Outward Bound Wilderness trip in Patagonia, the Everglades, and The Blue Ridge Mountains.
My gap year was turning out to be the best decision I had EVER made for myself, and it did not involve school or running. I learned that I was a whole lot more than an athlete and a student. I went on my trip in January and lived in the wilderness until April.
It was the hardest but most amazing thing I have ever done. A lot of people do not understand why I did that, but I think they would if they had experienced what I did during those 72-days. I came back a completely different person and continued on with therapy. I was the happiest I had ever been and even received school credit for the entire trip. I was so excited to go back to Sacred Heart. This was why it was a shock to me, when my depression returned a month after I got back and began sleeping most days away again. I stopped everything that made me happy and felt like I had relapsed into the same depression I had the year prior. I had talked with my therapist before about medication, but the stigma around it was so strong that I was too scared to try it.
Depression and Anxiety runs in my family, and I knew that it could help a chemical imbalance in my brain that I could not control. Just like a diabetic needs to take insulin, and just like diabetes is a real illness, so is Depression and Anxiety along with any other mental illness. I began taking an antidepressant and have been more myself than I have in years. I realize that just like journaling, meditation, exercise, and other self-help tools, medication is another way of caring for myself.
Caring for my mental health will be a lifelong journey and I am still seeing a therapist once a week. I have now started my sophomore year at Sacred Heart University in the best mentality I have ever been in. I am running on the Cross country and Track team again and use my running as a form of anxiety relief, not a form of stress.
Progress is not a straight line, and it took many ups and downs to get to where I am now. I would not change anything about my past because it has made me who I am today.
I am not the same person I was freshman year; I am stronger and still learning. I know that I am not alone in my struggles with mental illness and am one of many to tell my story. If telling my story helps just one person feel less alone, than I have done my job. We all have a story and every time we speak up against the stigmas of Mental Health, our voices get stronger.
Together we can #SHUtdownthestigma one story at a time.