It’s only been six minutes since Kevin Breel concluded his speech but somehow those 360 seconds tempt to erase the ideas I developed during the past hour. My computer screen blurs as my mind screams to write before I forget, the millions of tiny feelings and memories of the past seven months coming to the forefront of a mind that aims to forget. The tears fall faster than the words appear and soon its too hazy to continue typing, though I keep on regardless. Maybe its okay to cry, I think briefly. Maybe, moreover, its okay to feel things… to feel everything.
No one explains what its like to have a mental illness, nor does anyone prepare you for that turmoil before it arrives. Knocking on the door of your happy little world dressed as your next adventure, wanders in despair and confusion, and suddenly you’re faced with an issue that you could’ve sworn would never happen to you. Sure, there’s stories of the kid a town over who committed suicide, or the dramatic Lifetime movie you watched one Sunday afternoon in which the characters all seemed to be clinically insane. But until it hits you, there is no understanding.
All the world tells us to do, in this day and age and especially in an environment such as Boston College, is to succeed and make it look easy. Here, I have often found, there is no room for unhappiness, no time for dwelling on the past, and very little readiness to admit such a downfall. When I first began to struggle with depression and anxiety in the second semester of my freshman year, I had no idea why I felt the way I did, but even worse, I had nowhere to turn.
I was convinced that I could not admit my struggles to myself or anyone around me. There were no professors that would care, no friends that would understand, and my boyfriend would surely dump me if I were to admit any kind of mental instability. It was simply easier to love someone who was happy, a statement I have repeated over and over, and I have often apologized for my anxiety and depression.
Kevin Breel, presented as part of UGBC’s Mental Health Spotlight, touched on similar issues in his presentation tonight. In one of his most gripping monologues, he explained, “to be loved means to be vulnerable, to be vulnerable means to admit you’re imperfect.” I would be the last to ever admit that this is a simple task, but the revelations it has brought me to tonight are far from complex.
Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are not talked about in today’s society. Before these issues affected my own life, I was not made aware of the toll they take on so many others, nor did I quite understand what either of these diseases truly did to those they afflicted. Therefore, mental health had quite a stigma, even in my own mind. When I became engrossed in my own tumultuous journey, I hated myself even more.
In the beginning, I hated Boston College. It was simple enough to blame my issues on the school I was attending, to pack up my tiny dorm room and leave, than to suck it up, stick it out, and look inside myself for more concrete solutions. Next, I began to despise my classes, blaming it on my major and the department I was in. I had a few bad professors and chalked it up to just that. Third, I began to hate my friends. While I had a few superstars in my life who held me together when I was incapable of doing so myself, I was ultimately alone. I believed I had fallen into the wrong crowd, and this might have very well been the truth.
Upon the arrival of second semester, I hated myself for the very first time. Coming back to school, I had expected it all to be better, with the snap of my fingers and the making of a wish. Obviously, this was not the case, and the only part of the equation left to despise was myself.
I hated that I couldn’t be happy with the wonderful life I was living. I hated that my family no longer made me smile, and neither did my friends. I hated that I couldn’t hold a conversation nearly as well as I had before. I hated everyone who tried to talk to me when I couldn’t get out of my own head long enough to hear a word they were saying. I hated the way I looked, the decisions I made, the content of my personality, and the content of my soul. But most of all, I hated that I couldn’t solve it.
I blamed myself for everything. For the way I was feeling, the friends I was losing, the classes I was struggling in, the intramural team I never actually played for, and the parents who were worried. Hell, I even blamed myself for other peoples problems, always believing that I must have done something wrong to warrant them being unhappy.
I was never told that it was okay to feel the way I did. I was always told to just get over it, to feel happier, to smile again. They were not addressing the root cause but simply curing the symptoms of the issue. These solutions were well intentioned but poorly executed, and never made a single day any less abysmal.
It wasn’t until Kevin Breel himself came to Boston College last year that I realized I wasn’t alone, and that I realized I was depressed and it was going to be okay. No, I was not personally affected by his talk because I didn’t go. My roommate went, and being as naive as I was about my mental state, I denied the relevance of the event at all. But upon arriving home, she couldn’t keep quiet about how amazing his story was, and I watched the TED Talk in the silence of my dorm room, with headphones on and the volume turned all the way up.
Through the sound booming in those headphones, I could still hear myself crying. I was sobbing. Up there in the top bunk of the shittiest dorm room at Boston college, I, Kate Chaney, a perfectly put together girl, sobbed. I sobbed over a video I saw on the internet, of a man I had never heard of; simply because he told me it was okay to not be okay.
If you ever meet anyone struggling with depression or anxiety, those words mean the world. I haven’t heard them enough recently. Everyone wants to be a hero and solve your problems but that’s the last thing I needed back then, and the last thing I need now. All I need is someone to admit that its alright; its alright to be unhappy now and again, its alright to feel the way I do, I’m not broken or irreversibly scarred. It is going to be okay. Two words that mean so much.
As I rewatch Kevin Breel’s TED talk to refresh my memory, not a single thought rings a bell; all I can recall is the way he made me feel in those 11 minutes. All I can recall is sitting alone in my bed on a cold Monday night and not feeling so alone for a minute. All I can recall is the voice in my head telling me that it was okay, that its still okay, that everything is going to continue to be okay.
My life has been filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows since that cold night last year, but what I haven’t lost is the hope that it’ll be okay. I tend to reside on the side of dramatic negativity, but what I don’t buy into is the idea that it’ll never be okay again. I’d be lying if I said that I have never wanted to stop existing, that I have never wished I was dead, that I have never felt so hopeless and alone that all I wanted was to end it all. But I’d also be lying if I said I would ever hurt myself. I’ve never completely lost the hope that it’ll all be okay.
I was once touched by someone who informed me that admitting the intent to harm yourself is a good thing. I was floored when I heard this because in my mind, what happy person would want to hurt themselves, what kind of goodness and light does this thought bring into the world, where is the good? The good is in the crux of the statement itself, the confession of the pain, that somewhere deep inside the mind of that person, there was a standstill. That standstill means they didn’t want to hurt themselves, means there was a roadblock between wishing to die and actually carrying through on that action. I’m lucky enough to say that all I ever wanted was for someone to tell me it was okay, and to be with me through it all, rather than to be gone entirely.
“You think when people find out that you’re depressed they’ll think less of you; they’ll like you less, respect you less, etc.” Kevin Breel highlighted the issue on all of our minds during his talk tonight, regarding the stigma that surrounds the conversation of mental illness. But what I took from this is the part he left unsaid.
I distinctly recall a time when I was first struggling with my depression, when I didn’t want to tell my boyfriend about it, refusing to say the words. I was sure he wouldn’t love me after that, wouldn’t see the sparkle I still had in my eyes, wouldn’t be able to find the girl he loved in all the rubble. I felt weak, I felt helpless, I felt worthless, and those are all feelings that the ‘perfect girl’ I imagined in my head was not supposed to have. She was supposed to be headstrong, resilient, and worthy.
“You think when people find out that you’re depressed they’ll think less of you; they’ll like you less, respect you less,” but maybe, just maybe, they’ll respect you more. That thought boomed in my head, echoing throughout my body, and it was the first time I had ever thought so optimistically about myself. Kevin Breel didn’t speak the words that I heard, I spoke them myself. Somewhere beneath the self hatred and fear of rejection and insecurity, lies a layer of strength that only became clear tonight.
I’ve spent seven months denying myself the freedom of admitting my issues. Sure, I’ve declared them vaguely in several articles, spoken them to my loved ones, but never to the degree to which I now understand them myself. I guess this is the first, and hopefully not last, time I declare what it means to be depressed.
I struggle with depression and anxiety, and that’s okay. There’s no cure and I know I will be dealing with them in some capacity for my entire life, and that’s okay. Depression and anxiety are part of my story, part of me. They are not something I need to deny, push beneath the surface, or ignore. They have made me who I am today, and for that I am grateful.
There is something admirable about someone who admits their issues and becomes stronger as a result. There is something beautiful in feeling every emotion so strongly that you are brought to tears, that being unhappy only heightens the happy moments, that being imperfect is an art only you yourself can master.
My tale isn’t over, and I’m sure it’ll be a battle I fight until the day I die. But more smiles are inevitable and I’m ready to tackle the new challenges that come my way, thanks to the inspiration of speakers like Kevin Breel.
The fight is not over, nor will it ever truly cease. But I am ready to start fighting, keep fighting, and never ever give up. This is my story, and I hope it compels you to tell yours.
As Kevin Breel put it eloquently on stage tonight, “Own your story so your story doesn’t own you.”
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It’s Okay Not to be Okay: My Struggle with Mental Illness