Hannah Maine (Story)
Growing up, I always felt different. It seemed like I “felt too much”. I was “too sensitive” or “emotional”. I felt like everyone else’s emotions had natural limits and mine were like a bottomless well that dug down into darker depths than most.
I was always an anxious kid. I’d cry and clutch onto a photo of my parents for comfort at sleepovers with my best friend, even though I’d known her for years and wanted to be there. I often struggled to eat and was a “picky eater”, not because I didn’t want to eat but because my throat was often tightened by held-back tears and my stomach was sick with what I now know was anxiety.
As a teenager, the intense darkness settled in. I felt isolated, surrounded by friends and family. I felt crippling despair with no clear cause. There was a consistent undertone of hopelessness. I would stay up until 2-3 in the morning distracting myself with tv or books to avoid the thoughts in my head before falling asleep. And while some of this I’m sure can be attributed to teenage moodiness – I knew this wasn’t how all my peers were feeling, at least not to the extremes that I was. Which is true, but I also thought it was *just me* and I was some uniquely dark unicorn that needed to hide any and all feelings – which I did pretty well. I was an excellent student, played sports year-round, had a few friends, and did my best to keep the facade from slipping.
It wasn’t until I moved to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan that I could no longer pretend my depression wasn’t affecting every element of my life. Of course, I was incredibly anxious leading up to the move. I learned from my summers at sleep-away camp that that would happen. I kept thinking “I want to go home. I want my mom,” but I knew I didn’t actually want to leave U of M and transfer to another school. What I didn’t realize is that I just didn’t have the words to explain that I didn’t want to go home, I just wanted to feel okay again.
As the months went by, I continued to get worse. I was crying constantly. Without even a clear thought in my head. I couldn’t eat anything. Every time I tried to, my throat would tighten and tears would come. Getting out of bed was the hardest challenge. I was struggling to keep up with aggressively harder school work and trying to make friends, all the while thinking to myself “What is wrong with you? These are supposed to be the best four years of your life? Why are you like this?”
Thankfully, after three months of this I went to the student counseling center. I answered all but one of the screening questions for depression with “extremely agree”. When the counselor told me I had depression, I was surprised by how relieved I felt. Because she also told me just how common depression is and that there are resources to help. I finally had someone to tell me – it’s not just you, you’re not alone.
I started on medication, which I like to think of as lowering the hurdle. It doesn’t make everything immediately amazing, but it lowers the hurdle closer to the level that everyone else is jumping. I really thought that taking a pill would be the cure. With everything else in my life, when I took medicine, it fixed the problem. But I learned that is certainly not the case.
I went on the next few years of college thinking if I took my medicine, I wouldn’t have to deal with my mental health anymore. It wasn’t until my senior year that I began having panic attacks after months of being constantly on edge and an inability to turn my mind off. I went back to the doctor and changed my medicine to help not only my depression, but also my anxiety. Which is no small feat, might I add. Switching medicine is one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever gone through in my life.
This was when it really clicked for me, that I would be dealing with my mental health for the rest of my life. And although mine may have more intense ups and downs than some, everyone has mental health just as everyone has physical health. Some people have physical conditions they manage, just as I have mental conditions I manage.
I will likely deal with depression and anxiety, in different periods and intensities, for the rest of my life. I know this. I also know that, as isolating and personal as that feels, depression and anxiety are the most common mental illnesses and there are millions of people who are like me. Which also means that there are people and resources out there to help me. I’ve found that no one thing - like medicine, therapy, or meditation - is the answer. As my mental health changes, so will the tools I use for support. However, I know that the one thing that always helps me is breaking down the shame and stigma around mental health and telling someone what I’m going through. Because much more often than I think, I hear the response “Me too.”
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