Speak Your Mind
By speaking your mind and giving a voice to mental health, you’re changing the dialogue and personalizing this important subject.
Becoming a Mental Health Advocate
During my childhood, I experienced traumatic events that caused me to suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts. Because I had no treatment, I eventually acted on my suicidal thoughts as a teenager, but survived.
Life was really looking up for me after I graduated from high school and was preparing to attend college, when my 15-year-old brother died by suicide. He was extremely important to me. He was the one who lifted me through rough times. His death was a complete shock to me and my family. This started a seven-year cycle of depression for me. I stagnated in my grief.
For a long time, I hid my feelings because of the stigma associated with mental disorders. In my late 20s, I had a breakdown, and attempted suicide again. I felt alone, abandoned, and misunderstood by those closest to me. It was a process, but I eventually acknowledged my own pain and allowed myself to get to a place of healing. I have now been an active mental health advocate for almost 15 years!
As a minister, I speak boldly at churches to help break the barriers that keep the faith-based community from receiving help. I talk about how clergy are also affected by mental illnesses. As a writer, I have a mental health blog and have published a best-selling book of mental health memoirs that deeply describes my experiences with depression and being a survivor of suicide. Advocacy is a part of my purpose in life and I will continue to break the silence that hinders so many from reaching out to receive help. I encourage others to share their story, so others can also speak their mind!
Talking to My Boss Was Huge
My family and a couple of close friends have known that I have anxiety for years. My mom has been a huge support to me as I’ve gone through different therapists, and tried different treatments until I’ve found something that works for me. Even after I’ve found ways to manage my symptoms, I had been hesitant to share my mental health issues at work. As a professional, I worried that my boss or colleagues would look at me differently, or not trust me to take on responsibilities.
But after my grandfather passed away, I began struggling again with symptoms and needed to take some time from work. So I gathered up my courage, and asked to speak with my boss. I went into the conversation with a list of the things I wanted to say to help me stay on track, and only share what I decided to share ahead of time.
I was surprised when my boss told me she had a couple of people in her family who have dealt with anxiety and she understood what I was going through! We talked about how I could manage working from home a few days a week and taking time when I needed it. Looking back, I’m surprised I felt so nervous to open up! Not only did it allow me to take the time I needed, it deepened my relationship with my boss.
Finding My Identity While Battling Depression
I wasn't breathing when I was removed from my mother at birth. While that was the first real problem I dealt with, I’ve gone on face issues I consider to be much worse. Aside from being born "blue" I am also missing an enzyme that helps produce one of the happy chemicals in my brain. I wasn't aware of this until 4 years ago, but I have been aware of my chronic major depression for quite some time.
When I was very young, I liked to play outside with my best friend. I was constantly picked on and teased by people in school but I didn't care. When I was about 6 years old, my personality and actions changed and the teasing started to get to me. I stopped going outside unless I had to, and my energy dropped to minimal.
I began thinking self-defeating thoughts and crying a lot. The things other people said now had an impact on my thoughts and actions. I moved to a different school because the bullying became too much for me. I thought this would solve everything, but it didn’t and I was still very sad.
By the time I was in 6th grade, things had gotten even worse. My parents fought every day and I woke up to them screaming at each other, and hearing my father curse about my mother when he drove me to school. I saw this as my fault. I started cutting to punish myself.
In 7th grade I was in a destructive relationship with a boy that lasted a year and a half. He manipulated me to do things I didn't want to do. I felt dirty and wrong, but It took me until the end of the relationship to realize how much damage he caused.
I started seeing a therapist and shared with my mother how depressed I was. I was admitted to a psychiatric facility for treatment. When I was released I met who would become my first girlfriend. Because I was born female, dating another female went against my Christian upbringing and I questioned everything.
We broke up after a month and a half and I went back to dating boys. I was put on pills but stopped taking them without telling anyone, so I had a hoard of pills in my room. I confessed to my new therapist about my thoughts of suicide and wanting to take the pills and they were promptly taken away. I continued the self harm, believing that I was a failure who needed to be punished.
By the end of my freshmen year in high school, I learned about people who were transgender and everything changed for me. I realized that I am, in fact, a boy. I joined the gay-straight alliance at my school and even became president a few years later. I met a great group of friends and even reconnected with an old friend from when I was very young.
A local LGBTQA youth organization expanded my social network even more. Even with all that support, I still felt depressed and gender dysphoria hit me hard. I went in and out of psyhiactric facilities and survived suicide attempts.
Over the years I've learned that the way healing isn't linear. I've also learned that I have a lot more going on than just depression. I suffer from attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder, major anxiety, insomnia, and depression. There may be more. It's been hard with parents that don't support me being transgender and refuse to understand it, but on September 12, I started hormone therapy to change genders. I am aware that this won’t fix everything, but it will help, and I'm excited to really start living my life.
With My Brother in My Corner, I Can Do Anything
When I was first diagnosed with depression, it was a relief to have a word that defined how I had been feeling. It justified all the days I struggled to get out of bed, the times I canceled plans, and why I no longer cared about listening to music, which I always loved to do.
My psychiatrist told me that recovering from depression would be a process, and I knew it wouldn’t be easy. But, as we began talking about a treatment plan, I kept thinking about what would happen when my parents found out. In the past, they hadn’t seemed very understanding about mental health struggles, so I was nervous for them to hear that I had depression, yet I felt like keeping it from them was dishonest.
I realized I needed back up, so I called my younger brother. We met for dinner that week and I broached the topic. He wasn’t surprised to hear that I had been diagnosed with depression – he said he had a couple of friends who had depression and he recognized some symptoms in me. I asked him to be there with me when I told our parents and he agreed.
My mom started asking questions and saying she didn’t understand. Did she and my father do something wrong as parents? Did something happen to me? Was my life really so bad? But before I could get upset, my brother stepped in and started explaining that a mental health disorder is just like a physical sickness, and he had even come prepared with information about depression he could show them.
We all ended up talking for a long time, and even though I don’t think my parents fully understand, having my brother in my corner made all the difference. And maybe after we keep talking, we’ll get to a place where we’ll be on the same page.