Abby's open letter
Dear mental health,
These are the adjectives that best described me growing up. I was raised by a wonderful family and was surrounded with people who only had my best interests at heart. I was always in the presence of adults and it was not until I turned five, when one of my younger brothers was born, that I had another kid in my life. Even at a young age, I was taught to always be the better person – no matter what the situation is. Needless to say, I had a great childhood. There were some memories I would be better off not remembering, but in general, I couldn’t ask for more.
However, it was during the latter years of high school when I felt a different kind of ‘darkness’ creeping in from time to time. At that time, I didn’t know what was happening. All I know is that there are nights when I couldn’t sleep, and I also started losing hair, literally. I developed the habit of pulling my hair when stressed and I wasn’t even aware that it was happening. It got worse to the point that I had to cut my hair really short. As a teenager, such a petty thing seemed to cause me more sadness. At that time, the happy-go-lucky me that people knew was still there, but deep inside, I felt like I was drowning.
Fast forward to a couple more years, I was in college. We all know how the transition from being a teenager to a young adult is stressful enough as it is. Just imagine if you are having some problems mentally. I was in a constant bad mood. I was rebelling against every principle I had, and I began to resent some of the things I thought were best in my life. Not to mention, I was taking a major (Nursing) that I absolutely had no interest in. Slowly but surely, I built this ‘dark hole’ that I would ‘enter’ when I wanted to shut off the rest of the world. My mistake, I guess, was being sucked into it. What else could I do? At that time, I didn’t think there was anything or anyone that could’ve helped me.
I grew resentful, anxious and bitter about many things. There were nights when I would actually pray that I never see the light of day. That definitely made me hate myself, thus, making me feel the worst. I stopped opening up to people. I became the person people opened up to, but I lost interest in having to meddle in other people’s lives. I felt so detached from the world – my family, my friends, and sadly, myself. I was drowning in something so awful, but I couldn’t pinpoint what it was, nor could I tell what I needed to get out of that sinkhole or that ‘dark hole’ that I came to love so much.
When I started working, I only continued to go downhill. I found myself in autopilot mode most of the time. I was doing things not because I wanted to, but because I NEEDED to. Everyone thought I was okay, because that was what I was portraying, what I was leading them to believe. Anyone who asks me if I’m okay would only hear what they wanted to hear. It was easier for me that way. I had toxic relationships with people whom I would be better off without, but I stuck with them for years. I somehow accepted that I am not good enough and that I will never be good enough. I settled for less than mediocre. I felt like no one would understand me, so I never really talked about it with anyone. It killed me every. single. day.
” It’s just a bad day, not a bad life.”
“Cheer up; everything will be fine!”
“You’re stronger than you think.”
“It’ll be okay; smile.”
Don’t get me wrong – I appreciated the people who tried to cheer me up or make me smile when I was having one of my mood swings, but when you are there in that moment of mental chaos, it is doubly difficult to find the silver lining. Most people are either ignorant or allergic to anything that comes close to mental health. Hearing words like ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’ has somehow become a bad thing. Being mentally unwell has become a stigma and most of us love being ‘well’ or being ‘normal’. This was probably the reason why I stayed mum about my own struggles for years. Let me remind you that the next time you feel someone is not mentally stable or is going through something more serious than you think, please do not invalidate their feelings. That is just wrong. Read up, do your research, and empathize if you really want to know what is happening with them. Do not be one of those people who are just curious and who just want to pick on others’ flaws and struggles just to affirm that they have better lives.
After everything is said and done, there ARE good days. Prayers surely work great wonders during my dark days, but music became one of my greatest ‘worldly’ therapies. Whenever I feel too anxious, I put on my earphones and just blast music away. Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard, Mr. BIG, The Killers, Dream Theater, Planet Shakers, Tori Amos, Radiohead, Urbandub, Backstreet Boys, Westlife… the list goes on and on. These are the people whom I turned to when no one else was there. Not that it’s anybody’s fault – it was just a matter of preference. For me, music would always be a magical thing. I listen to it, I play around with it and make my own, or I simply just play the guitar or piano and sing my heart out. As cliché as it might sound, some songs just really speak for you when you don’t know what to say. I will always be thankful to music because it can make me cry when I needed to, and it also reminds me of the best and worst times. When you are in that ‘dark hole’, you cling to whatever you can – music was my thick rope. I am also big in writing; it really works therapeutically, believe me. My journals through the years will show you how it’s like being inside my head. I wrote down whatever it was I was feeling – no matter how dark or bright it was. It made me feel things genuinely, and it can be both good and bad to feel things in that manner, but that reminds me that I am, after all, alive. The bottom line is: Whatever it is that attaches you to your sanity, hold on to it tight.
Never mind the oppressors, downers and the toxic people. At the end of the day, YOU are what matters. It is YOUR life – fight for it for no one else would. It’s never easy talking about mental health because it is not something that we know how to fully fight off just yet. I am still learning the ropes on how to fully free myself from all the anxiety and depression that I have unfortunately embraced through the years. I am welcoming, once again, the good and bad. I am reminding myself every day that I am not the only one going through all these rough patches in life, that I am not alone in this journey of loving and understanding myself. I am starting to open myself up again – this letter is a start.