I have never known what it feels like to have depression. I have never personally dealt with self-injury. I don’t know what the experience of an anxiety attack really entails. I don’t know what it is like to be a slave to an addiction. I don’t know—but I care.
At the beginning of my internship with TWLOHA, I questioned seriously if I belonged here. How could I do anything to help others if I didn’t know exactly what it was like to walk through a fight within my own mind? It seemed like everyone else I worked with had gone through something so much bigger than them. They could offer firsthand experience and advice to anyone who asked for it. But how could I ask people to seek counseling when I had never walked into a counselor’s office in my life? How could I share in someone else’s pain when I had never felt it to that degree? I felt like I was an outsider to this experience I could never truly understand. And yet, I was here. And I cared about our cause more than anything. There had to be a reason, there had to be a purpose.
We talk a lot about our stories here, almost constantly. I know the stories of each one of my roommates. If you ask them to tell theirs, they know exactly where to start. “This is what I battled, this is how I fought, this is how I got here.” That’s how it goes. I listen, and I listen. But I never consider myself a storyteller, too. I have always assumed I had nothing to speak of—until I thought long and hard about why I am here and why I left everything to devote my life to this cause this fall.
I am a storyteller, because of the characters who share my journey with me. Early in my life, I developed an identity as a listener and a confidant. It was my instinct to leave my heart open and let anyone rest there if they needed to. I approached every relationship with a hunger to learn people. I learned happiness and hope, but I also learned a lot more about pain and fear.
I am thankful for the pain I learned. By being allowed to know the whole of a person, I can take a chance and fight with them. I treasure each wall I have seen broken down. I hold each story I have heard as a part of my own. They are the most delicate and precious gifts I can ever hope to receive. Knowing the truth and honesty of those around me also means they are healing, and they are trusting me to be in their corner. There is nothing in this life I value more than that. Nothing.
My purpose here is to show people that you don’t necessarily have to encounter these issues directly to be involved in the fight against them. You can still show people who are struggling that they need to give others a chance to fight alongside them. You both deserve to know each other, to know what the other is feeling.
For those of you who are afraid of being a burden to others, especially to those who you think might not understand: I urge you to reconsider. Honesty and truth will strengthen your relationships more than silence ever can. A fake smile will never bring you closer to healing than the embrace of a friend. You are giving a gift by writing your story into the stories of others. You are giving them the chance to love you and to learn from that love.
I know what it is like to love someone with depression. I know the feeling of hugging a friend who struggles through self-injury. I know the experience of watching a family member fight through an anxiety attack. I know what it is like to see someone battle with an addiction. I know the pain of hearing that someone I love would try to end his or her own life. But I have also seen people, in each of these situations, embrace and live in recovery. This has made my relationships meaningful, significant, and true. This has made me care about speaking up and breaking walls.
I care. I am here, because I care.
— Andrea, TWLOHA Fall 2013 Intern