Content Advisory: Please note the following content can be directly or indirectly related to topics about mental health, depression, suicide, and or self-harm.
From age sixteen to eighteen I suffered from melancholic depression. I was never diagnosed for it because I never went to see a doctor, but just from doing simple google searches and then taking a psychology elective my senior year, I knew I had it. I believe that I was born with a mild form of anxiety, although I’m unsure if i always had it or if I had developed it in early childhood. From the age of three I had a rare form of epilepsy known as occipital lobe epilepsy. I would often experience disturbing visual hallucinations, and in some instances would go blind for ten to twenty seconds. Moreover, I usually would never know when these seizures were about to happen, which I think certainly would have given me anxiety if I did not have it already. I would also have numerous vivid nightmares that likely only made me more fearful as a child. Although I was having these seizures and I did see a doctor, they wanted to wait for me to have one more seizure before giving me an EEG because I guess they were unconvinced. That seizure occurred in school when I was seven years old. It was a grand mal seizure that left me on the ground, unconscious, seizing for several hours. I actually had to be airlifted by helicopter from my elementary school to Boston Children’s Hospital. I took medication for 3 years following the seizure and did blood work once a month, and never suffered another seizure. However, it is still a mystery to me how much it factored into the mild form of anxiety I carry to this day.
At age sixteen I developed melancholic depression for numerous reasons, but the biggest one was sleep deprivation. My father always used to tell me how important it was to get sleep, but for me starting around age twelve or thirteen I naively felt like sleep wasn’t that important and that I could get away with staying up late and procrastinating. Fast Forward four or five years later and all those hours I lost eventually caught up to me. The perfectionist in me would take loads of AP classes that I really could not handle, varsity soccer became tougher and tougher to balance, and getting home late feeling exhausted with hours of homework to complete and a toxic alcoholic mother to deal with did not make things easier. It was really a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances that ultimately gave me melancholic depression. I would routinely get only three to four hours of sleep a night, be exhausted and super anxious throughout the school day, and would have close to no energy on the soccer field which would land me right on the bench, destroying any self-confidence I had left.
It was hands down the darkest period of time in my life and it felt like it was never going to end. It felt not only like everything was going wrong in my life, but that there was this invisible force that was actively working against me. Although I was never truly suicidal, I absolutely wanted to just give up on life, and give up on my pursuit of getting into an elite college. However, no matter how much I always wanted to just give up, for some reason I could never bring myself to do that. Giving up on anything has never been in my nature, and I guess I always thought that I had made it this far and it would make all the late nights I suffered through in the past all for naught if I threw in the towel. Moreover, I always felt deep down that this misery would eventually end and I just had to get through senior year. The main reason I never resorted to drug or alcohol use was because I didn’t want it to affect my academic performance, and I also saw what alcohol had done to my mother and I knew I didn’t want to go down that path. I never consulted a doctor because of the stigma of mental health, and I didn’t want anyone to think there was something wrong with me, or that as a young man I was “weak” for not being able to handle it myself. So ultimately I did everything I could to power through, taking things day by day, surviving instead of thriving, and putting a fake smile on my face when friends would try to joke around with me.
I got into my dream school, Bowdoin College, and once I left home and got to campus, I was finally able to start healing. Being away from my mother helped me immensely, and I got much better sleep with late-morning start times as opposed to having to wake up at six every morning. I once more started to feel like my old self again. I believe it’s very important to share mental health stories because mental health is something almost everyone has issues with, even if it doesn’t seem so on the surface. One of the worst parts of my melancholic depression was feeling like I was the only one going through what I was going through. Like the universe for some sick reason only wanted me to suffer. One of the outlets that helped me to survive every day was music. Without it, I’m not entirely sure if I would’ve been able to endure the pain. The beauty and power of music is that there are a lot of songs that aren’t even about depression that you can still resonate with in some way to help you get through the day, whether it’s specific lyrics or just how the song sounds. Even classical songs or film scores with no lyrics can simply reflect your mood and make you feel less alone. If I could offer any advice to someone going through what I went through or perhaps to my younger self, I would say that you’re not invincible, it’s okay not to be okay, and believe me, you’re not alone. You’re not any less of a man for needing help, because a lot of men who don’t need help haven’t been through what you’ve been through. Lastly I think everyone can benefit from some form of therapy, whether they feel like they need it or not.