As a teenager, I struggled to understand mental health. At 14 years old, I learned my mother suffered from a series of schizophrenic, bipolar, obsessive-compulsive, and depressive symptoms. Her doctors didn’t fully comprehend her condition, either. It seemed every psychiatrist she saw had a different, detailed diagnosis. Things like depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder were already difficult to comprehend at this age, so how could I connect with how my mother felt?
I wanted a mother-daughter relationship like my friends had with their moms. Although we were closest when she passed away nearly a year ago now, I felt my mother’s mental health was a barrier. For instance, when I left for school in the morning, my mom would be in bed watching television. When I came home in the late afternoon, she’d be planted in the same spot, staring at the screen. At the time, I didn’t know this behavior was a result of her mental health. I thought she chose to stay in bed all day, which now I know was never true. I’m not proud of these feelings I had, but in hindsight, I understand the unfortunate circumstances.
I felt alone, singled out. Naive as it sounds, I truly thought I was the only daughter out there in this situation. When my own mental health started to overwhelm me, I felt even more isolated from my family, friends, and peers in high school. I started experiencing panic attacks, triggered by smells and sounds from traumatic moments in my life.
In college, I started reading stories about mental health. Some were listicles, others were compelling first-hand narratives. Soon enough, these stories started to change my perspective about mental health. Not only did it affect so many people (including those around me), but these people weren’t that different from me. Some experienced traumatic events, managed to overcome them, and were brave enough to write about their experiences publicly.
Nearly a decade later, as I mourn months after her death, I find myself mimicking the same habit: staying in bed all day on Saturdays, except with my smartphone instead of a television. For months, I’ve dreamt of something — running the first mile ever since my mom passed. I’ve laced up my Nikes and slipped on a sports bra, but every time, I can’t bring myself to do it. Not yet, at least. Although my symptoms are not the same as my mom’s, I now suffer from physical side effects from my own mental health issues.
Because of these stories, I understand I’m not alone. Five years later, there are so many more outlets for discussing mental health. With social media, it’s easier to connect and talk about mental health. If mental health stories weren’t told, I could be in that confused state I experienced throughout my adolescence. Mental health stories matter to both those affected by mental health issues, and those that are not.