A question I asked myself for probably the entirety of my teenage years is: “Is this mental health related, or am I just being a perfectly normal, hormonal teenager?” And since I never knew how to distinguish between the two, I always blamed my emotions on the latter. Feeling so depressed that my heart physically aches? That’s hormones, obviously. Being unable to get out of bed for days? Hormones! Believing I’d be better off dead? I was just being a teenager.
It took a long time for me to figure out two things:
1. I wasn’t just being a hormonal teenager; and
2. Even if I was, suicidal ideation is NOT something to brush off.
I grew up in a family that had its share of mental health issues. But because the adults were of a generation that was very silent about mental health, I didn’t know that. I thought I was alone. I didn’t realize how common it is, and what may have been hereditary for me.
My Dad Said I Was “Just Being A Girl”
Regardless of what was causing my “problems,” I realized at around 15 that I needed some sort of help. I tried going to my dad first. He took anxiety medicine himself, so I figured he’d understand some of my struggle and support me. So I told him what I was going through and feeling. He listened for a few seconds before saying, “Julianna, you’re fine. You’re just being a girl.”
Just being a girl? Fighting back tears, I mulled on his words for the rest of the evening. I knewhe was wrong. I just didn’t have any facts to support my argument. I suppose he took my silence as me agreeing with his opinion.
I didn’t have my dad on my side, and his reactions discouraged me from attempting to open up to any other family members in fear that they would react the same way. I struggled a lot during this time. Having little to no support with my mental illness made things a lot worse for me. I’d dropped weight without trying to and became 15 pounds underweight. I seldom left my room. And even then, I didn’t do my research. I had to force myself to be content with the fact that hormonal or not, depressed or not, this was just how I am.
My First Psychiatrist Said I “Just Needed Vitamins”
Then I approached 18 years old and came to the conclusion that the longer I put off the truth and the inevitable (I had depression), the longer I was going to suffer. And there was no way I was going to spend the rest of my life that way. I forced myself to see a counselor who diagnosed me with general anxiety disorder and persistent depressive disorder. She told me to see a psychiatrist about medication.
The results of my psychiatrist visits were less than satisfying. The person I saw did not take me seriously. She ordered all sorts of testing — which came back normal — and then concluded that I just needed to take vitamins. I repeatedly told the doctor of my struggles that continuously grew worse with each visit, but she blamed everything on my “deficiencies” and told me to come back in a month after buying $150+ worth of vitamins. She told me that those should help with my “mood problems,” while making quotations with her fingers and giving me a wink.
I felt worse than I had when my father told me I was just being a girl. Because she was a professional, I never felt so invalidated. I took the long way home, so I could cry it out before heading to school. Even if vitamins would help me, I had no way of affording them as they weren’t covered by insurance.
But I didn’t give up. I simply decided I needed a second opinion. So I visited another doctor. I explained the symptoms, showed her the results of my treatment plan and diagnosis from my initial intake by a counselor at the mental health center, the results of the various testing the psychiatrist ordered and the psychiatrist’s proposed method of action.
“Who gave you this?” She asked when looking over the psychiatrist’s papers. “You don’t need any of these vitamins. Your levels are fine.”
“I know.” I said. “But she thinks it’ll make me better.”
“Where is her office located? Do you mind if we make a copy of these?” She said in reference to the paperwork I brought. I allowed her, and by the end of the appointment, I was prescribed an antidepressant.
A few weeks later, I got a call informing me that the first psychiatrist I saw, who was actually a nurse practitioner temporarily hired to fill the demands of the area, was no longer working there.
My struggle wasn’t over the first day I took the medicine. There were a lot of bad days in the coming weeks. And I still have them. But thanks to my new team of medications and biweekly therapy, I learned how to be okay. I still have depression. On those bad days, validation helps me a lot. Understanding my mental illness, being accepted for it and learning how to cope have been essential. Organizations like NAMI have given me tons of resources and tips on mental health through their websites and social media pages.
I’m not cured. There will always be bad days, just as there will be good ones, too. The difference is that I’m okay now, which is a lot better than being where I was.
Julianna is a junior in college studying English with a concentration in creative and professional writing. She has a passion for spreading mental health awareness and is involved in mental health advocacy in her community.