Many years before I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder I felt like there was something wrong with me. As a teenager I often felt an emptiness that was inexplicable and found it hard to feel genuinely happy most of the time. I felt guilty because my loved ones tried their best to make me happy, to no avail. That was a major sign that it was time to talk to a professional.
The first time I started going to therapy was during my junior year in high school. No one aside from a couple of very close family members knew about it. Not even my very best friends. I had heard about kids in my school who had depression and I remember thinking “What do they have to be depressed about? They have it so easy. They have parents who have money, a stable home, money for college, etc” all things I didn’t have growing up. In my lack of understanding about mental illness, I thought that the kids with whom I went to school in our predominantly white upper-middle class town had nothing to be depressed about. By the time I became a teenager I had lived through, what I later learned had been, years of psychological and emotional abuse during childhood. Even though I thought I had more reasons to feel depressed than the other kids around me, I still didn’t feel comfortable sharing the fact that I was seeing a therapist.
One day a week, I would be dropped off at the train station after school, take the train into the city, switch between two subway lines, and walk about 25 minutes to my therapist’s office. None of my friends knew about it, and when anyone asked I’d say I had a doctors appointment. I was terrified that anyone, including my closest friends, would judge me for going to therapy, label me ‘crazy’ or think there was something wrong with me. I was afraid to be judged just like I judged the other kids who were depressed.
I judged others therefore I was afraid they would judge me.
Ironic, isn’t it?
It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I learned that in order to end the judgement surrounding mental health treatment I had to start with myself. I had to first recognize that there’s nothing wrong with seeking treatment for my mental illness and stop judging myself for it. That meant finally opening up about my struggles with depression and talking about going to therapy without self judgement and without fear of what others might think of me.
The most powerful thing that happened after I started openly talking about depression and therapy is that so many people reached out to me and shared similar struggles. These were people whom I had known for a long time and all along they were also suffering in silence, maybe for fear of being judged as well.
It has taken me a very long time but now I understand that going to therapy is nothing more than a way to care for your mental and emotional well being. No one should be ashamed to say they go to therapy, and no one should be judged for it. I plan on dedicating my life to teaching people the importance of taking care of their mental health and helping end the stigma surrounding mental illness. I wholeheartedly believe that someday we will all live in a world where people will be praised for taking care of their mental health just like they already are praised for taking care of their physical health. I will keep doing everything I can to help make that a reality.