“I suffer from…” are three words I never wanted to say. I didn’t feel comfortable finishing that sentence. I felt I would be admitting that something was indeed wrong with me, and that meant I couldn’t hide it or push it away anymore. My entire life I’ve tried to run away from myself. I’d think of what was wrong, and I’d come to the conclusion that it was all of me. Nothing felt right or in place. I had these unwritten labels on me: learning disordered, depressed, socially awkward, and more. For so long those labels defined me. More importantly, I let them define me. I was terrified everyone else would see the real me, so I built walls around me to keep others out.
I developed a nonverbal learning disorder long before I developed depression. I started feeling depressed in my teen years, in part because I wasn’t allowed to hang out with my best friend anymore, but also because I was finally in those quintessential years of growth. My best friend wasn’t a good influence on me, and I know that now, but he was the only friend I had at the time; losing him meant my cover was gone. There was nowhere left to hide, no one left to run to for safety. I used his friendship to mask the fact that my learning disorder was behind my lack of developed social and communication skills. Now my disguise was gone.
After that, I kept everything inside. It was better to be what everyone wanted of me. It seemed easier despite the exhaustion I faced. I spent long nights awake and days on the brink of a breakdown. I was a mess, and I knew no one would want to deal with the chaos. Eventually life became too much to handle. I didn’t know what to do anymore, so I let people in my life; I’m not even quite sure why. I let my walls down to my younger brother who, until then, was someone I kept on the outside. He was the closest person to me, but he knew nothing at the time. We were both in our own versions of darkness. I had my mind, and he had the barrier between us.
One day we walked toward the river near our college campus. We spent many a time sitting on fallen trees and talking about life. This time was different. I finally said that something was wrong. I told him how I felt. The response was different than I expected. He didn’t run. He didn’t leave.
Everything changed that day. I was ready to build back the walls from the rubble, but I left them down. I learned that I didn’t have to live with the darkness I felt. I didn’t have to live in that pain. My story was mine, and mine alone, but I didn’t have to go through life alone. I was not the only character on this journey. In order to live my life I needed to include other people in it. Not everything was as black-and-white as I had made it out to be. I now understand that we are not alone in these dark places. We do not suffer alone. And in that regard, we do not rejoice alone. We have no reason to hide.
Ask yourself when was the last time you gave an honest answer to, “How are you?” I know it took a long time for me to answer truthfully or even believe that those who asked wanted a real answer other than “fine” or “good.” These days I try to be honest, not only with others but also with myself. This is my story I’m living, but these are our lives we’re sharing. I don’t shut others away anymore. I reach out for help when I find myself falling backward again. I’m not ashamed of my story anymore, and I’ve learned the importance in sharing and continuing it. While I’m still growing, I hope one day we all find such clarity. I hope you let other people listen and listen to others. I hope you tell other people how you feel and what you’re going through. I hope you believe things will be okay even when you are unsure.