My Mental Health Journey
I never thought I would be someone with a “story.” But I think it is important to share the one that I have lived.
In 8th grade, I took a deep downward spiral.
While some of my friends were absorbed in Abercrombie and Twilight, my mind was consumed with self-loathing and feelings of worthlessness. It was depression and it manifested in many ways. I didn’t have the energy for long conversations. I struggled to sleep at night and I was exhausted all day.
It was in this state of mind that I went to camp the summer after I graduated. But after a few days, I started to feel differently than I had at home. There was this warmth inside me and I came to the realization that it was happiness and that I was happy. I relished in that happiness, basking in the sunlight of life for the first time in months. But the camp found out about the fact that I had been experiencing depression, and didn’t know how to deal with it. They sent me home.
When I got home I felt so alone.
I was afraid to reach out to my friends in camp, thinking that they might not want to be my friend anymore. I was afraid they would hate me. I was so afraid that when I started high school, I didn’t want to tell anyone about that I had been sent home from camp, even though I was in so much pain from the experience.
I thought that the fact that I had experienced depression made me unfit to be a friend.
After that I felt insecure in new friendships. I wanted to feel authentic and fully me– but I struggled with what people would think if they knew about that camp experience that felt shameful to me. I still struggled with depression and anxiety that I didn’t understand. Some nights, I would have nightmares about that painful experience of feeling rejected. Anything that remotely reminded me of camp would leave me in tears as I experienced flashbacks and the flood of emotions that came along with them.
As I got older, my good days were better, but at the same time, my dark days were worse. Because the longer it was since that summer, the worse I felt about that memory still being a part of my life.
As time went on, most people saw me as a happy, quirky musician with a love for deep meaningful conversations. But internally, I felt that I was living in black and white; there were people who knew about what I thought was my core identity of pain, and there were people who didn’t. I felt that there were two parts to my life, one that I showed the world and one I felt had to hide.
At the end of my sophomore year of college, I started seeing a great therapist. I expressed my frustration that one night when I was 13 dictated so much of my life at 19.
She told me I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
What? PTSD? Me? But then I thought about it and came to the realization that she was right: I was experiencing trauma.
I spent hours thinking about this new diagnosis. I kept thinking “Now what?” Where do I go from here? What do I see when I look in the mirror? Who am I really at my core?
It took a lot of time to internalize this. I needed to develop a new core identity now that I no longer felt like I had something to hide. One thing that really helped me was reaching out to other people who were open about their struggles with mental illness. They empowered me to start healing and reassured me that it was possible to recover, even though it isn’t easy. Slowly, I began to feel like a new person.
I learned that there was more to me than just a diagnosis. There was more to me than just that night in camp. It is just a part of me, just as so many other things are. I was able to compartmentalize it and think of myself as a whole person– with that event being only one piece of the puzzle.
I started to feel like the happy girl everyone knew and loved. I understood that even when I have hard days, from depression, anxiety, or PTSD, there is more to me than my diagnosis. I feel fully myself in my friendships.
My senior year of college, I spoke at an incredible event, Stomp Out The Stigma. At this annual event, organized by the Active Minds chapter at my university, peers share their struggle with mental illness in the hope to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health. I applied because I realized that the people who had helped me most in my journey were people who had been in a place similar to me and reassured me I was going to be OK. When I got up to speak, it felt so right. I know who I am, and there are so many parts of me. This is one part of my story.
We all have struggles, but we are so much more than that. I am a pianist. I am a teacher. I am a roommate, a family member, a friend.
I am me. And I’m more than OK with that. I’m happy, accepting myself for who I am without anything holding me back.
Adina Knapp is a special education teacher in Manhattan, working with students with learning disabilities and simultaneously studying for her masters in special education. As a music and piano aficionado/enthusiast, she has channeled this passion towards teaching piano lessons to young children in her neighborhood. She currently resides in Washington Heights with everyone else she’s ever met. The Big Bang Theory, icing, and chocolate are just a few of Adina’s guilty pleasures.