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Mental Health

Navigating Mental Health From Childhood to Adulthood

“No, I’m not ok. But I haven’t been ok since I was 11, maybe 12. I am still here though. I’m still breathing. For me, sometimes, that will have to be enough.”

                                                                                          ― Clementine von Radics

Hey collegiate! So…you are trying to get better mentally. Trying to glow up. Told yourself this was your year. Firstly, I’m so proud of you!  If you’re like me, being depressed since you were a kid has left you feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of getting better. The road to recovery is a long one, but you don’t have to do it alone. Here are some things I’ve learned about getting better.

Getting better takes time AND effort

Let me start off by saying I don’t want this article to turn into some emo soliloquy. Nor do I want to sensationalize the immense tragedy of mental illness and how crippling it can be, nor do I wish to put it on a pedestal by romanticizing it. I only wish to give advice to those, like myself, have been sad for so long, happiness seems something of the past.

I wish the saying that “all things healed with time” was true, but here I am still fighting my mind (at times). The best thing that helped me was changing my environment. Of course, not everyone has the luxury of doing these, but removing yourself from toxic things can make all the difference. Changing schools was what I had to do, but also getting better friends, learning to appreciate myself, and protecting my energy allowed for better healing.

My own depression began around twelve. Bullying, my family life, and my impressionistic attitude on life led me to isolate myself. While other children were playing outside and enjoying autumn's beauty, I was inside. I came home everyday from the freak show that was middle school, laid in bed with the lights off, listened to music, and wished to die.

My parents had determined this wasn’t normal, but they didn’t know what to do either. Being black, mental illness is often seen as taboo. The idea of being ‘a strong black woman’ only cements this, excusing any pain as something we will overcome because we always have. It doesn’t always work like this. We all have our times where things go dark. Understanding this will help you.

Nothing Lasts Forever- even this

When you’re depressed, everything seems so infinite. The day, the years, life itself. Not in a beautiful way, in a dreading misery way. I wish I could tell myself that life goes on after high school. You will go to college (despite that big fail) or whatever you want to do after graduation. You will accomplish your goals in due time. The only thing that stops that is your own demise.

Talk It Out

Despite having a big mouth, I found going to a therapist was like pulling teeth. I thought it was cliché to lay down on a sofa and talk about all the bad things going on and then be told, “Okay, Makeda, and how does that make you feel?” It took me not one, not two, but three times to even be ready to try therapy. I finally started seeing one, but she didn’t work out. That’s totally normal. You might not always be compatible with the first person you see- so try again. 

In my case, like so many others I know, I was the therapist of my group. The one everyone came to for advice. The guru with endless wisdom... but what happens when the mom of a group needs a shoulder to lean on? It can be quite difficult. After getting rid of toxic energy, the best thing you can do is focus on yourself. One way of doing that is talking to someone! You’ll be surprised how a good vent and good feedback can really make all the difference. You don’t have to have immediate trauma to invest in counseling, sometimes the best time to see a therapist is when you’re already on the road to brighter days. It means you have decided to put in the work-you just need a coach to help you along the way.

Just because your life was tragic once, doesn’t mean it always has to be

As an African-American woman, it appeared that tragedy was just in my veins. Everywhere I looked, there was suffering of girls who looked like me. My mother, and her mother before her, either by society, the men in their life, or themselves. I’m not going to lie and say getting better is this instant eureka moment because it’s not. Getting better feels weird.

It feels like missing a deep hollowness that has become so familiar, it feels like it’s apart of you, and upon losing that deep dread you have come to call beautiful, you feel like you lose apart of yourself. Being depressed since childhood means growing up feeling like it’s normal to be sad. A life outside of that trauma can be terrifying, but you must understand you are more than that sadness that was apart of growing up. You don’t need tragedy to be an interesting person.

Life can exist without your depression. For the first time in about a decade, I’m not periodically suicidal. The feeling is of this strange uncertainty. But that unknown doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As my therapist has told me, “YOU now get to decide how you want to feel.” My depression doesn’t determine who I am anymore. I do. That authority is a hard thing to wrap one’s head around, but look at it as a new adventure.

Me, Myself, and I

In the words of the great Beyonce, “I’m gon’ be my own best friend.” Getting better means being more mature. And maturity means being stable and sure of yourself. It is great to have a circle of friends for when things go astray, but you must focus on being okay within yourself. Be kind to your body and spirit, just as you would your own best friend. You can kill a part of yourself you don't like and still keep living. Eliminate the parts that weigh you down, hold onto tight to the light that you see, and you'll survive.

Makeda Phillips is a writer with too many dreams to count. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, she attempts to weave humor, integrity, and beauty through her work. Her poems have been published in Vox Teen Newspaper, GSU's Underground, The Wren's Nest's teen journal Smoke Signals, Georgia's Best Emerging Poets, Northumbria University's magazine The Edge, and her first play, 2.97, was produced by the Northumbria Drama Society in Newcastle, England. Makeda is currently studying English and Art History at Georgia State University. She plans to take over the world upon graduation, or whatever people do with their degrees nowadays.
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