“What’s This?”

As a high school kid I remember learning about drug addiction in one short class by watching Requiem for a Dream and talking about the movie as a group. The teacher wanted his students to be exposed to the destructive effects of various drugs before we headed off to college, where problems with recreational drugs are much more present.

In addition the topic of drugs, I wish I had been introduced to the topic of mental disorders earlier on as well. Mental disorders such as depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, OCD or PTSD are unfortunately not too uncommon in today’s world. It affects 1 in 4 Americans. Depression, however, was not a familiar concept in my adolescent mind at all. I had never experienced such emotional condition, ever, until the second semester of my college freshman year, when the disease completely debilitated me. Without prior knowledge of any mental disorders back then, I couldn’t help myself at all – or even reach for any help from family, friends, or professionals.

Clinical depression was a strange and terrifying feeling. For weeks and weeks, I felt I was absolutely worthless and pathetic for every moment I am awake. Living was painful day by day. My mind slowed down noticeably and couldn’t recall simple information or finish complete sentences, especially in front of people. Every person in the cafeteria seemed to be making fun of me for no clear reason; eating became an unbelievably difficult task. So was taking a shower. The only place where I felt safe in the world was in my dorm bed under the blanket with my phone off and when I was asleep to escape reality. I was extremely afraid of any social interactions, in and out of classrooms. Every morning I thought how hard another day would be and couldn’t think of why I should continue to live. With my disorder, I fell down hard with no strength to stand back up by myself, searching yet desperately for some hope and reasons to live.

With immense help from my parents and friends, I then left college and went home on a medical leave. In midst of the chaos, a New York psychiatrist handed a piece of paper with my name and ‘Major Depressive Disorder’ written on it. What’s this? I had no idea what mood disorders were, never mind how to deal with one myself. Scared of the uncertainty, I thought I would be consumed by my disability forever with no chance at recovery. When I broke my clavicle from a snowboarding accident, it was also excruciatingly painful – but at least I knew what was wrong. It was clear that the broken bone near my left shoulder was the problem and that time would heal the fracture. On the other hand, I simply didn’t know what a mental disorder was, or how recovery took place, until I received a diagnosis myself.

When I recall that moment when I first heard I had ‘Major Depressive Disorder’, many thoughts rush to my mind. I remember how frightened I was – physically shivering with fear as I walk out of the psychiatric evaluation room – then how clueless I was for the next four months of clinical depression. My medical diagnosis then changed to a ‘Bipolar Disorder’ after I experienced symptoms of mania after my long and painful depression. What’s this? Another mental disorder I had no idea about or even heard of. I wish I had learned more about what mental disorders were before they were triggered in me. Knowing about the symptoms won’t prevent diseases, but it can certainly help accept and manage symptoms better by earlier treatment with more awareness in students, teachers, and parents.

In the personal journey of living with mental disorder diagnoses, I am slowly discovering more reasons to have hope and carry on through the struggle. One reason is to contribute to the open discussion of mental disorders and to educate about prevention and recovery. I wish there were times in my high school when, just like the drug education class, students and teachers had an honest conversation about common mental disorders and taking care of one’s own mental health. Mental disorders affect many individuals and should be talked about more without stigma and shame. No changes in society, after all, have been ever made by not talking about an issue.

– Jack P.