“Hello, I’m Bana Yirgalem and I’m a 19-year-old young woman who struggles with mental health.” One sentence people never hear me say but, it’s the honest truth.
If you were to ask anyone who has come into my life at any point to describe me, they probably would say Bana is “kind, funny, empathetic, selfless, cares and puts others before herself, etc…”. While all this may be true, they don’t understand the other side of me that I keep hidden to stay sane and not seem fragile. The other side of me is that I struggle with my mental health.
My friend Sania told me in a Whatsapp voice note that, “You’re very good at making everything seem like it’s okay but it’s okay to make things seem not okay.” She was right about that.
It may be very surprising to those who are reading this and think they know me so well. What they don’t know is that I have a special talent: the talent to appear strong but be broken inside.
My mental health has always been something I’ve steered away from expressing because of the fear of judgment. I didn’t want to open up to people and tell them about how broken I am, mentally and emotionally, and for them to use it to hurt me.
Social media and school are among two of the reasons why I’ve never felt happy and always hated things about myself. Scrolling through TikTok and Instagram, seeing all the girls with curly hair, a drop-dead gorgeous clear face, nice slim bodies, having the perfect assets, makes me look at myself with disgust. No, I’m not hating on these girls, they are beautiful and I don’t tolerate hating on others. It’s just the fact that I would constantly bully myself for not looking like them. My appearance isn’t ideal, I’m not the skinniest nor tallest. I’m on the thicker side, I have 4c hair, I have a bigger nose along with big lips, my head is huge and I have a curvier type of body. I always wanted to look like the girls on social media so I could appeal to the public’s perception of beauty. I would tell myself: “Imagine if you could get plastic surgery, you would be able to love yourself.” I continuously carried this mindset from middle school until now. It’s not healthy and it was something I wish I had control of.
School on the other hand was a mixture of struggling with academics and being surrounded by hate. I wouldn’t say I’m not intelligent, but I would often give up on myself, not believing that I could achieve great things academically. I don’t think my teachers would have said “Bana has a bright future ahead of her” because I didn’t believe that for myself. Being surrounded by students who were always smarter than me made me feel like an idiot. I would constantly struggle, and during big tests or projects, I would just completely shut down because I didn’t believe in myself enough to do them.
When it came to my classmates, from first grade to the end of high school, the kids would find something to hate me for. When I was younger, it was because I was chubbier. When I was in middle school, it was about my appearance, and in high school, it was about my race, appearance, and a bunch of other shitty things. I would have things said to me like “Your hair looks like the hydro line” because of my braids, or that wearing hoops was“ghetto”. I even got my hair pulled in school. Imagine coming home from school and trying to act like everything was okay? I would lie to my mom telling her that I was fine but once she would go to work, I’d spend the night crying in a dark room wondering why bad things were happening to me.
My mental health has also made it extremely difficult to date. I’ve had a fair amount of ‘situationships’, one-sided talking stages, and whatnot. Let me tell you, they all ended terribly and my mental health continuously got worse. I would talk to guys and always put them before myself and my well-being no matter what. They could treat me terribly, lie to me, along with making me feel like I was crazy for expressing my thoughts and feelings. At the end of it all, they would gaslight me because I would tell them my weaknesses (why I ever did that is something I ask myself every day). After all that emotional abuse, I still would try to see the best within them so I didn’t feel like a terrible person. Little did I know, and I had to learn this the hard way, the more I would keep toxic relationships in my life, the more I was losing my self-worth.
Losing myself through everything that broke my strength and self-worth just led me to shut myself off from everyone. There were nights when my friends would text me, “Hey how are you?” and with tears in my eyes hitting my phone, I’d just reply with an: “I’m doing fine.” I would lose myself and just feel dead inside. At a couple points I even thought to myself, “If I wasn’t alive, life would be so much better.” Like, how could anyone think they could help me if I couldn’t even help myself?
I always hear a constant voice in my head asking ‘Am I good enough?’ and it’s like the devil magically appears replying “No, you’re not.” A fight between good vs evil in my head constantly replays like a horror movie, an endless cycle that I feel won’t ever end.
The screaming, tears, self-doubt, pain, insecurities, troubles and feelings of being worthless are just some of the things that affect my mental state.
I carried all that harassment and pain throughout my life and always felt trapped. I felt like I was stuck in a cage that was constantly filling with water until I couldn’t breathe anymore. My own emotions made me feel suffocated and weak because I didn’t know how to deal with them.
To this day, I always wonder, “Why am I like this? Why can’t I just be happy with everything?”. The harsh reality is that I can’t. I won’t magically be happy in a day. It’s been 14 years and I’m still struggling. I probably will continue to struggle for a while because although pain isn’t permanent, it takes time to heal.
Coming to terms with how my mental health has never been an easy thing for me. It is never easy to admit to myself and to those around me that I’m struggling and need help. However, sharing stories of my struggles may help others feel like it’s okay to share their stories. I always thought sharing my own story wasn’t worth it, but I’ve learned that it is okay to share your struggles and stories with mental health. It’s tough but this is a side of me that makes me the Bana I am today. I would say that my imperfections are my perfect imperfections.
Don’t be afraid to speak up – your voice matters, and your imperfections matter. Everyone deserves to feel loved and appreciated. Don’t think your mental health only defines you as a person. It’s a part of you, yes, but that’s not all. It’s something that shows others you are human too.