Episode 1: Wellness is Trending Upwards

Dear Olivia,

I know it’s tough right now. I remember clearly how painful it was when your best friend told one of the school counselors about how you self-harm. You feel betrayed but, even worse, you feel alone, like no one would understand or care about what you’re feeling. You feel like you’re about to become a big burden to the people around you. That’s simply not true; in a few years, your experience with mental health may even help save lives. But that doesn’t change how you feel now, and you’re certainly not to blame for how you’re feeling; you’ll grow and gain a lot of new experiences in the next decade.

Stigma is real, and it’s harmful. Your best friend saw what was left behind after you self-harmed, and you explained as best you could what happened. You also asked them to keep it a secret. You didn’t freely offer the information up to them, and you certainly haven’t shared your mental health concerns with family members, teachers, or coaches. You feel like opening up to other people would be useless, if not outright harmful, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In a few years, you’ll receive inpatient treatment. As part of that, you’ll be “strongly encouraged” to attend group therapy sessions. For the first day or two, it will be scary. You’ll go because you want to get out. You’ll curl into yourself into the chair and shake. But you’ll also pay attention to what the other people are saying. After a few sessions, you’ll start to open up, too.

When you’re released, you’ll start to attend DBSA meetings in your hometown. When you make the difficult decision to go back to college and try another semester, you’ll start going to NAMI meetings every other week. But imagine this: you will find that isn’t enough. Peer connection and support will become so important to you that you’ll start a DBSA chapter in college. You’ll facilitate meetings weekly and do everything you can to make the people who attend feel comfortable, safe, and heard.

You have a lot of love in your heart. For years, you’ve bottled in your worries and struggles because you think sharing them will make you a burden. Eventually, you’ll learn that sharing your experiences is liberating… and even helpful to those around you. Every time you share your story, the stigma around mental health breaks down a little more, both in the people around you and in yourself.

It may be hard to believe, but in just six years, you’ll be standing in front of a group of more than 50 of your peers in college, sharing your experiences, offering guidance for reaching out to loved ones, and directing them to campus resources. And get this: you’ll do that more than once. Perhaps most surprising of all, you’ll never have a negative reaction. In fact, people will walk up to you after the presentation, the next day in the food court, or even months later at a party. They will thank you for being so open and honest. Sometimes, that’s as far as it will go. Other times, they’ll share some of their own experiences with you. And every once in a while, they’ll ask if you could come to their dorm or apartment and help them talk to their roommate, to help direct them to resources, and to let them know there’s nothing to be ashamed of and that they’re not hurting alone.

You should also know that it will take time to get better. There will be setbacks. Some will feel impossible to recover from, but your past experiences have made you strong and you have a lot of people in your life who are willing to provide support: a listening ear, a personal story of hope, or even a simple distraction like watching a funny movie or going on a walk. The path to wellness isn’t a straight line, but it’s trending upwards.

Love,

Your 23-year-old self

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I’m Living Proof created to share inspiration for young adults living with mood disorder. These archival posts represent the stories shared between 2015-2020.

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