It’s Okay if You’re Not Okay
November 17, 2020
Low Entropy Volunteer Writer Gurleen Mann, shares the moment she opened up about her mental health struggles, and how she learned to trust those who cared about her.
I’ve had depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. As someone who comes from a family and cultural background where mental health is not something you discuss aloud, I always felt alone in my struggle. I always felt the need to mask my issues to avoid being stigmatized. My smile would often be the brightest in the room so that no one would be able to see how lifeless I felt inside. I kept to myself, my head always in a book, never letting anyone get close enough to take a peek inside my mind. This came easy to me because I was high-functioning most of the time, doing well in school and extracurriculars, so no one ever really noticed that I didn’t feel okay.
Whenever I was debilitated by my anxiety or depression and couldn’t make it to school, work, or a commitment with friends, I would just say “I’m sick,” rather than admitting that my mental health was suffering. I could never ask for a “mental health break”, because just saying the words “mental health” seemed like too much information. For years, I silently suffered while maintaining this facade of happiness.
It wasn’t until one day, about six years ago, that I finally opened up. I was at a particularly low point and finding it more and more exhausting to hide how I felt. I had just driven myself and one of my best friends to soccer practice. As I was getting out of the car, I dropped my cell phone, and the screen cracked. I don’t know why that moment was the turning point for me, but it was. I picked up my broken phone and, before I knew it, I was crying.
My friend told me not to worry and that I could get the screen replaced. Through tears, I told her I wasn’t crying because my phone was broken, but because I was. I remember finally saying the words “I am not okay.” I told her how sad and hopeless I felt, and how difficult it was to continue to keep things inside me. My friend said the words I’d needed to hear this whole time: “It’s okay if you’re not okay.” She normalized my experience and provided the emotional support I needed. She suggested I go to counselling, which I agreed to try.
Gradually, I opened up to all my trusted friends and my mental health was no longer a secret – I finally started getting the help I needed. It was a while before I mustered up the courage to sit down with my family and explain what was going on with me, but eventually, I did. They didn’t quite understand at first, but that was okay – I knew it would take time. The important thing was for me to speak up, because the only thing worse than having depression and anxiety was having to hide it.
What I’d like to share with others who are struggling to acknowledge and speak out about their mental health, particularly due to cultural stigma, is that it’s important to not keep it a secret, because problems grow in the dark. When we’re ashamed of our mental health and hide how we’re feeling, we suffer alone and we suffer more than we need to. When we talk about how we’re feeling, even to just one trusted friend, we can find the support and acceptance needed to fight our demons. So please remember: there is nothing to be ashamed of! It’s okay if you’re not okay.
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