This project has been on my mind for a long time, and after sorting some things out, I’ve decided to talk about it a little bit.
When I was 18, I was severely mentally ill. I think there had been spurts of it throughout high school, but I thought they were totally normal occurrences and attributed them to being a stressed-out high school student. I had my first panic attack (and two ER visits in 12 hours) a few weeks before leaving for college in Washington, was prescribed some anti-anxiety medication, and thought that was it. During the spring semester of that school year, after cruising through freshman classes in the previous semester that were nowhere near as challenging as the ones I’d taken in high school, my brain decided it could only hold out for so long and quit on me. For about four months, I rarely went to class and spent most of my time asleep. At the end of April, I had another panic attack — The Big One — and instructed my roommate to call 911. I spent the next week in the psychiatric unit of the hospital, where I was formally diagnosed with depression and anxiety, put on new medication, and left with a slightly better outlook on life.
That’s the short story. That’s the story that I’ll share if someone I trust asks about my history with mental illness. But I don’t think that’s the story I want to tell anymore.
While I was in the hospital, I wrote a lot. Aside from group activities, meals, meetings with several psychologists, and visits from my aforementioned roommate, there were still several hours of the day where I had nothing to do except write. I wrote journal-style entries, letters to friends, and loads more in a journal I try to keep in a safe place wherever I live.
I think I’m finally ready to adapt those entries, along with events leading up to their writing, into something. An autobiography, a memoir, a novel, something. I’ve tried in the past to write about that point in my life from memory because I didn’t think I was strong enough to reread that journal, but I know now that I am.
I’m not saying to expect anything concrete soon. I’m not even sure if it’ll happen. Hell, I don’t even know what “it” is yet. All I know now is that there is a forceful stigma on mental illness and the mentally ill, and one way to break through is by talking about it. It takes a strong person to be able to discuss their own struggles with mental illness, and I think I am finally at the point where I can share it with the detail and emotion it deserves.