Meet Brandon. His journey with mental illness began when he was 19-years-old. His story may sound familiar to something you or someone you know is experiencing.
When I graduated high school, I was the happiest kid on the planet. It’s not that I hated high school, as I actually loved it; I was popular, played on the football team, had a girlfriend, and was always getting good grades. But I thought if I was happy in high school as a kid, surely I would be over-the-moon ecstatic as a young adult heading into the workforce on my way to full-fledged adulthood.
I couldn’t afford college, but my plan was to work at my grandfather’s construction company learning to build houses and learning how to run a business for a few years, and then I’d think about taking some college classes and really focus on what I would want my future to be. Yes, I was a clear-headed, logical, and determined person.
All that changed by the time I turned 19. I lost interest in my job. I lost my girlfriend to another guy. I lost my car due to a car accident, which wasn’t my fault. I lost my apartment due to another company buying it out and kicking out all the tenants. I had even lost a lot of my friends because they had gone off to college out of town or joined the military. I seriously felt like I had lost everything important to me in my life and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it because I just had no control.
My whole outlook on life changed, but at that time, I didn’t realize it. All these things I lost didn’t happen overnight; it was gradual. Because it was gradual, my perspective on life changed gradually also, and this is why I didn’t really realize I was any different than I had been just a year prior.
But within one year of graduating high school, I stopped hanging out with friends because I just didn’t feel like it. I stopped going to work regularly because I just didn’t feel like it. I stopped showering regularly because I just didn’t feel like it. I stopped doing all the things I had enjoyed, such as running on the beach, playing basketball every day at lunch, spending time with my little nephews, and reading (I had been a huge book lover!).
People who still stuck around in my life after all my efforts to avoid them began to say I was just “going through a phase” and “it would pass.” But with each day that went by, I began to feel more and more worthless and I developed high anxiety whenever I had just the thought of having to be around people. I became a recluse in my parents’ basement, with only my negative thoughts in my head, which eventually began to take a dark turn toward self-harm.
Thankfully, I never attempted suicide although the thoughts did creep into my head. And thankfully, one person intervened who made all the difference – my aunt. My aunt Charlotte wasn’t around very much when I was growing up, but she decided to move to my town because she was going through some hard times and wanted to be around family. When she learned about my transformation from an all-around happy kid to a young man filled with depression and anxiety barely able to leave his room, she stepped up and slowly began to pull me back into the land of the living.
You can be sure that I resisted her. Oh, I resisted her so hard that I was cruel to her. But she didn’t give up. She made sure to talk to me every day, even if I didn’t talk back. She talked, and talked, and talked! It was like she was pushing her voice into my head so I didn’t have to hear my own negative voice that was always yelling in my head. Believe me, I wasn’t thinking about how much I wanted to down a bottle of pills when she was talking endlessly about everything under the sun simply because I couldn’t hear my thoughts. I only heard her.
Her persistence worked. The more she talked, the more I realized I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only one facing adversity. She opened up to me about the reasons she moved to be closer to family, and her adversity far exceeded anything I could imagine happening in my own life. My aunt Charlotte began to coax me out of the house to attend family functions and to play with my nephews once again. She coaxed me to help her get physically healthier by insisting I take her to the beach to go running. And she always encouraged me to talk about whatever I was thinking. Lastly, she got my parents and other important people in my life to understand that I wasn’t just “going through a phase” but that I needed love and support, not to be ignored.
Two years after my aunt Charlotte showed up at my door, I was back to feeling like my “old” self, my true self. Are there days I still struggle with small ripples of depression and anxiety? Yes. And I accept those feelings may never go away altogether. But I’ve learned a more positive approach to dealing with those feelings, and if things get really bad, I find someone to talk to, whether it’s my aunt Charlotte, another family member or friend, or a counselor. There’s no shame in getting help. Love and support are within grasp. You just have to be open to receive it, like I did. I promise it will make an awesome difference in your life!
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, know that there is great strength in reaching out and asking for help. We’re here for you. Learn more about mental illness here.