The Moment I Realized I Needed to Take Off My 'Happiness Mask'
Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.
Smiles, laughter, friends, good grades. These are reasons why people are surprised when I say I have severe anxiety and depression. Because mental illness is easy to hide when you dedicate every ounce of energy to keeping your inner demons to yourself.
I tried for so long to conceal my anxiety and depression and honestly, I did a great job. My life consisted of me waking up, putting on my mask of happiness and struggling through every moment. I would spend time with friends, go to parties, dance and laugh. I was friendly and outgoing and on the outside, I looked healthy and happy. I smiled and laughed my way through debilitating panic attacks unfolding inside of me as I sat at a coffee shop with my friends. I shuddered and shook and pushed my way through the anxiety as I sat in my classroom. I got out of bed at 7:30 a.m. even though I was awake until 5 a.m. crying my eyes out.
The reality? Concealing the pain and torture going on in my head was making it significantly worse. The anxiety and depression reached a point that was unbearable. It was hard for me to eat. I got compliments about how great and skinny I looked and I would take them with a forced smile, knowing my silent cry for help was going unnoticed. I started skipping class, but professors didn’t pay any mind to it. They only acknowledged the fact I was going to fail for being absent so much.
I reached a breaking point at the beginning of the second semester of my sophomore year. I was rushing sororities which was a major time commitment and required more talking than you can imagine. I was doing well in the beginning, until one moment I was sitting in a chair talking to another girl and began to have a massive panic attack mid-sentence. I was struggling for air, my eyes were filling up with tears and I could barely get words out. The girl had a strange look on her face, but smiled through her confusion as I tried to laugh it off and pretend I was just choking on nothing. I left the house, walking quickly through crowds of girls with tears streaming down my face. I didn’t even care if people saw my weakness anymore, I needed help and it was time to come clean.
I’ve learned so much through my experience with mental illness, but one of the most important lessons I was taught is that it’s OK to be honest about your struggles. I thought faking it would make my symptoms disappear, but the exact opposite happened. As I became more vocal about my illnesses, I realized not all people are cruel and judgmental. Sure there will be many who don’t believe you or think that mental illness isn’t serious, but there are so many people going through something similar and who are there for you to lean on. When you come clean about your battles, it can bring a great sense of relief. You can get the proper help and accommodations you need. You can finally give yourself permission to begin healing the way you need to.
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Thinkstock photo via OGri.