“I need to do this on my own.”
“No one can know I’m hurting.”
“It would be a burden for them to hear about this.”
“I’m too broken to be loved.”
“No one would look at me the same if they knew.”
These were the lies I believed. I felt broken, let down, unwanted, and just plain rejected. Depression deceived me into believing that I was alone, and anxiety refused to let me reach out. I bought into the lies that told me no one wanted to hear about my pain, that they wouldn’t believe me if I told them, and that the knowledge of my sadness would be an inconvenience. And although I deeply ached to have someone standing with me through the pain, I refused to give in.
I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety in the fall of my sophomore year of college. I wasn’t sure what triggered that season of my life, and that lack of a cause spurred on even more turmoil. I felt guilt and shame over the fact that I didn’t have a “real reason” to be depressed or anxious. I was surrounded by caring friends, a supportive family, and I was pursuing my dream career. What was there to be sad about? If I couldn’t even rationalize my mental illness to myself, how could I ever explain it to anyone else?
Because of this, I spent a lot of time alone. I spent more time than I’d care to admit hurting in silence because I was too afraid and ashamed. I chose to live in isolation instead of letting anyone see the hurting parts of me. But by refusing to let anyone in, my mental illness thrived.
Community isn’t a catch-all cure for depression, but healing very rarely comes from isolation and hiding. For a long time, I desired nothing more than to be fully seen and loved without allowing myself to be fully known. I wanted someone to know all the dark parts of my heart and love me completely, but I wasn’t letting anyone close enough to see those parts. Although I often toyed with the idea of reaching out, I instead listened to the fear surrounding me.
The fear of people’s opinions prevented me from experiencing the grace they could offer. When I decided to accept that fear and tell someone anyway about the depression and anxiety I was experiencing, I was shocked and even overwhelmed by their support. “I still love you. This doesn’t change how I see you. We’ll get through this together,” I was told. There was the freedom and the space to be broken. No need to pretend to have it all together or to be whole. A community was cultivated when I spoke up and asked for help; people carried my burdens and loved me despite the parts of me I had grown ashamed of.
I won’t tell you that there are only sunny days to be had once you build a community. I continue to have hard days. I continue to wonder if I’ll always have these feelings. I continue to sometimes feel as though it’s all too much. But I am reminded that there are many parts to me, and the dark ones are not the only ones defining who I am.
Life will never be perfect or pain-free—of that, I am certain. But I am convinced that we are better together. When we refuse to let each other go through life alone, we become stronger. It isn’t easy to build a community, but extending a hand and welcoming the brokenness of others is a place to start. We are not meant to do this alone.