Mental illness affects everyone, even the pretty girl who seemingly has her shit together, so stop the stigma

It’s okay, not to be okay

My name is Rachel Gold. My major is Community and Nonprofit Leadership. My dream is to work for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. My favorite foods are pomegranates, goat cheese, and anything from Bloom Bake Shop. I struggle with depression and anxiety.

Wait…what? Yeah-I read that last one twice, too. Not something I typically include in my bios.

I go to my dream school. I love my major. I have the greatest family and support system. I am the president of a student organization. I am interning at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital this summer. I get called out for being giggly, and people often come to me for advice. How could I be depressed?

I do well in school. I am fiercely passionate about advocating for people with diverse abilities. I run a charitable initiative with my mom to help those in need of comfort. How could I have anxiety?

See, for a while, I thought I couldn’t. I know people assume I don’t. I smile, I laugh, and I try to be funny–see my Instagram for proof. I am the epitome of a happy person.

I saw what depression looked like in the movies, on TV, and in the media. I learned about it in health classes and heard stories about people who were struggling with depression. That wasn’t me–it couldn’t be. Or so I thought. These stigmas–this negative energy that surrounds depression and anxiety had me suppressing my feelings for far too long, because according to them, I have everything I could ever want, therefore, I could not be depressed.

I attributed my feelings to phases: to the stress I felt from school, to the weather, to the sadness that overcame me every time a friend broke a promise or bailed on a plan, or to missing my grandpa so badly it hurt.

Then, there came a time where I could no longer pinpoint the sadness, the anger, the racing heartbeat, and the whirlwind of thoughts in my mind at 4am. I told my friend I was sad, and I didn’t know why. “So, you’re sad but you don’t know why?”, she said. I felt like I was crazy. I just wanted to stop feeling this way.

Even still, I tried to convince myself I was okay. I still smiled. I still had days that I genuinely loved life with all my heart. I was still doing well in school and having fun with my friends. If I had things to be happy about and things to be grateful for, there was no way I could be depressed, right? Wrong.

It is okay to not be okay.

I explained everything I was feeling to my therapist (YES, I see a therapist-there’s another stigma we can talk about some other time). I tried to attribute everything to exact happenings. I looked at her, crying, and said “maybe none of this is a big deal and I’m just fine!”

“You are not fine,” was the response, and I wish I was surprised by it.

Hearing her words were not as earth-shattering as I thought they would be. They validated everything I had been feeling–making me feel less crazy and helpless. There is this idea that happiness and depression cannot coexist–that they are mutually exclusive. However, I am a living example of this falsehood.

My intention in writing this wasn’t to gain sympathy or pity, but rather, to help validate peoples’, or even just one person’s, feelings. I can dream that no one else is as stubborn as I am, and no one else falls victim to mental health stigmas, preventing them from moving forward and letting themselves get better. However, I know this isn’t the case, so here I am being vulnerable, telling you that you are not crazy–your feelings are real, so let them be! We don’t talk about mental illness enough, but I am telling you: don’t be ashamed or embarrassed that you of all people may need help or may not be as perfect as everyone thinks you are. It’s okay.

I am writing this in hopes of spreading compassion. It is so easy to quickly judge our peers–to write them off as terrible, annoying, mean people without knowing how they truly feel. Almost every time someone asks me how I am, my response is “good!!” I surprisingly don’t go for the “well I cried myself to sleep last night and would rather be in bed,” answer–and neither does anyone else. My mom always taught me that you don’t know what happens behind closed doors, so stop assuming. Show compassion towards everyone, even if it seems like it doesn’t matter–I guarantee it does. Maybe you compliment someone’s outfit. Maybe you tell your best friend you love her. Maybe you ask if someone is genuinely “okay.” And, maybe, just maybe, you can help instill hope within someone or restore some sense of self-worth. You never know.

Before publishing this, I was warned that one day, if future employers decide to Google me, this article may resurface, and I may be discriminated against for publicly announcing these mental illnesses. I argued with myself for days. However, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults experiences a mental illness in one year. That means that this future employer, without a doubt, has been or will be directly or indirectly affected by mental illness. So, if there is someone out there judging me right now: think about how you would want your mom, dad, brother, sister, husband, wife, or children to be treated, if, heaven forbid, they too, were struggling with a mental illness. There is a very broad spectrum of mental illness, and contrary to popular belief, they are not solely disabling. I have proven, along with so many others, that I am capable of being successful and contributing to society and I will continue to work and fight for what I believe is right. No one should be defined by a mental illness, so ask yourself if it were you how would you want to be treated?

Finally, I am writing to say that I am here for you with every ounce of my being. Coming to terms with everything I just wrote made for one rocky semester, and I will never be able to thank my friends enough for their support–the friends who knew I was struggling or the friends who even had a hunch. It is okay to not be okay–and when you are not okay, remember: you are not alone.

University of Wisconsin