For most of my life, I’ve fought a battle I could never win – not on my own anyway.
Each day passed as empty as the next. Each week. Each month. Each year. And during all of this, I continued to force down the words I’d been so desperate to say. They clawed and ripped their way up my throat, but despite all the damage they had done, they never came. It didn’t matter what I knew in my heart was best for me; I remained silent.
I never thought I could live a life without depression. The very idea of feeling balanced, normal even, was absolutely terrifying to me. It still is.
Even now I have days where I panic because that feeling of hopelessness has been absent for so long. Sometimes I even worry that it’ll never come back. As awful as it was, depression had become a comfort to me. It was something I knew inside and out. It was a part of me; it was me. I’m a little scared of what it means to leave that part of me behind.
How will I handle my day-to-day struggles without it? How will I understand my emotions if the thing I’ve come to rely on is no longer present? Who will I be if that was never me at all?
It’s been nine months since I finally spoke out. Thirty years old and I’m still trying to understand what being happy means.
The passing of Robin Williams was the first time I really opened my eyes to the truth: that someone as seemingly happy and successful as a man I’ve admired all my life could find himself so lost and broken that he sought his own way out.
I felt the weight of that loss—a loss of a man I’ve never even met before. His death changed everything for me because that was the first time I’d witnessed the world truly acknowledge the heartache of suicide. It showed me how each of us, no matter how known or unknown, need people in our lives to help us break free of our struggles. It showed me how the stigma surrounding suicide has become more damaging than ever. People pleaded for those struggling to speak out, to ask for help, to turn to one another for love and understanding. Instead of spreading words of hate, I watched as people came together to support one another. Their words awakened something inside of me: a hope that had never been there before.
But before his passing, there was nothing but my silence, and within that silence I found TWLOHA. I’ve been an advocate of the nonprofit for the last six years, but you would never have known it. I was worried about what people would think if they knew, as if my support for this movement would allow them to see the truth I’d kept hidden all these years—a secret darkness inside of me that made me do things they could never know.
I hurt myself.
I pushed people away.
I self-medicated until I was numb.
I did things that made me as invisible as I felt.
But all of this changed when I found the courage to ask for help. After years of fighting this lonely battle, it was time for me to save myself. I told my husband first—I’ve been with him for years, but even he never knew what I’d been hiding. He helped me research doctors until I found someone I could trust. When that was done, I told my best friends. I told them everything I possibly could. I needed them to be there every step of the way because more than anything in this world, I just needed to know they were there. Next, I had to tell my parents. I knew that in order for my recovery to be successful, I would have to rely on a support system. I was going to need those closest to me on board in order to have the strength to seek change.
Admitting my secret was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My depression was mine and mine alone, but now my burden rests on others, and that’s OK. That’s because it’s not a burden to those who love me. Those people want me to be healthy. They want me to be happy. But more than anything else in this entire world, they want me to live.
I know my recovery is going to be a long road, but I’m more ready than ever. And in order to break the stigma, I now talk about my mental illness every day. Starting that conversation used to be so hard, but now the words flow as naturally and freely as anything else. Speaking out makes me stronger. It makes me braver. My heart feels less heavy, my soul less dark. And now I wear my TWLOHA T-shirt like a badge of honor. I am proud of what it means to be a mental health advocate, and I am honored to be here today telling you my story.
Even if you don’t believe it right now, please know you are worthy of happiness. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of this life. This world hasn’t given up on you, so please don’t give up on the world. From my heart to yours, I hope you find peace, love, and understanding. Recovery is out there, and it is yours. You just have to reach out and say the word.