By Brice Harlan '21
What do you know about me? How do you see me? I’ve heard that your perception of me isn’t important and that as long as I know who I am, I’ll be just fine. But here’s what I’ve learned recently: How others see you is actually important, but not for the reasons you might think. It’s not so that people can have a better opinion of you, or like you more, but so that they can be there for you when you aren’t your usual self.
Let me set the scene for you. It’s March 2020. We’ve all just been quarantined. I know you all are tired of hearing about this. Believe me, I am too, but it’s important for my story. Originally, COVID-19 was more of an annoyance than anything. It was going to prevent me from seeing friends, rehearsing the necessary amount for Little Shop of Horrors, and really that was about it. And it was only two weeks, which at the time felt like an eternity, but it couldn’t be that bad.
"I didn’t tell anybody that I was depressed. I wasn’t really willing to talk about it because I was afraid of how I might be viewed."
Life was going very well as the two week mark, and thus the return to school, approached. Until suddenly, it wasn’t. It wasn’t approaching I mean, as it had been announced that school would not be back in session for the year, and also it wasn’t going very well. I wasn’t doing very well. I didn’t handle virtual school, and being stuck at home indefinitely, very well at all.
Day in and day out, it was the same routine: wake up, virtual school, work out, go nowhere, go to sleep, repeat. It was exhausting. I am generally a very happy person, but good Lord was that a test. A test, might I add, that I did not pass. I began to dread waking up. I felt as though it wasn’t worth it, that there was nothing for me outside of my bed. Consequently, I also began to dread going to sleep, because that meant I would soon have to wake up and the vicious cycle would continue. Every day was another shovel of dirt on top of my coffin.
I remember this one time in late March, early April maybe, where one of my best friends called me and asked me the very blunt question, “Are you depressed?” I hated that word, the negative connotations surrounding it, and the stigmas. I didn’t know what to say. Well, actually I did know what to say, but in order to keep myself comfortable and not acknowledge what was really going on, I laughed and said no. And when she asked me if I would tell her if I ever got depressed, I simply answered, of course. I told her two lies back-to-back.
My mental state only got worse from there. I was more sensitive than I've ever been. The most insignificant event was enough to push me over the edge. I even remember crying my eyes out to a Kanye West song while I was driving one day. And still, I didn’t tell anybody that I was depressed. Of course, my family isn’t stupid. They knew what was up, but I wasn’t really willing to talk about it because I was afraid of how I might be viewed. Listen to that again. I wouldn’t talk about it because I didn’t want to be viewed negatively. As if depression is an issue to criticize one for having. Life got pretty dark.
To make matters worse, around mid-April, I stopped hearing from most of my friends. I didn’t know what I had done wrong, but suddenly I began to feel like everybody hated me. Like for some reason, people were mad at me because I was depressed. I don’t know. I tried reaching out to a few of them with no success. I was angry and confused. I would like to make clear that my friends and I are together again after some deep conversations about what went wrong and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. So, I’m not mad at anybody about this anymore, but again it’s a very important chunk of my story, a chunk which left me isolated, dealing with the worst time of my life by myself.
"There are infinite layers to your daily life and to the lives of every person you see every day. And I believe it’s time we start treating people like it."
I’d like to tell you that I rapidly opened up to everybody over the summer, that I went to therapy, that I magically became okay. But that’s not what happened. This was my April. This was my May. My June and July. This was the beginning of my senior year. But that’s when I reached my breaking point. I couldn’t handle the anguish any longer. I finally did what I knew I should have done all along. I opened up. It took some courage and a lot of reading from people with similar experiences online, but I finally had important conversations. First, with my family. I told them what they already suspected, but hearing it from me allowed us to move forward into a more open daily dialogue and put me on a better path. I finally reversed the lie I had told my friend all those months ago, and she was more supportive than I could’ve imagined. The most comforting of all these conversations was with my friend, Abhishek. I discussed with him the horrible emotional ride I had been through and he was shocked. He said he had no clue, and that he really wished I would’ve told him, because he would’ve been right by my side to support me through it. And that’s when I realized that I had been surrounding myself with the right people all along. I was safe, and all because I finally overcame my stigmatization of myself.
This still rears its ugly head from time to time, though I’ve learned to manage it now and I am once again generally a very happy person. I’m loving life. But I could have been loving life sooner if I had researched similar experiences and opened up to people who care about me. And whether I like it or not, I’ve contributed to the stigma before I experienced depression myself. And sadly, I think many of us have. Think about it, how do you view depression, bipolar disorder, or eating disorders for example? Would you tell anybody if you were experiencing these? How would you treat somebody who confided in you about it? Would you tell them that they don’t know what they’re talking about? That it’s all in their head and they’re doing just fine? That they’re seeking attention? Or maybe you think that it’s alright for everybody else to struggle, but not you. Maybe you feel like you have to stay strong, or that if hard times affect you, then you’re weak.
Guys, life is not simple, it’s not one dimensional. There are infinite layers to your daily life and to the lives of every person you see every day. And I believe it’s time we start treating people like it. Your friend, parent, cashier, waiter, or random stranger has something going on that you don’t know about. And you know what, it’s time we start extending the same grace to ourselves. We are so hard on ourselves and for what? It does no good. Change starts with us. When we open up about our problems, so will the people around us. And if we do that, we can end so many vicious stigmas.
And if you don’t feel like you can open up to the people you’re around, you are around the wrong people. If you are around somebody who makes you feel like your problems aren’t real, they are not your friend. When you find people who know the happy you, the sad you, the angry you, then you’re safe, then you’re in good hands. And you can finally feel free to be every complicated aspect of yourself without judgement.