The Value in Sharing a Variety of Mental Health Narratives
As a mental health founder, I feel it is my obligation to not only tell narratives of redemption. I think these narratives can be alienating to people who are in the throes of depression, who don’t see the light right now. So I’m here to tell my truth.
I have been using my story of struggling and getting better as the inspiration for my company, Centered, for the past year. I started dealing with depression and anxiety in my teens, but it really spiraled downward in my early 20s. I fell into a dark hole and didn’t know how to get out. I got help and did a DBT therapy skills group, where I learned therapeutic exercises for restructuring my thoughts and getting relief. Now my company Centered makes those exercises easy to learn and save, so you always have a toolkit when you need it.
But I was not a poster child for resilience and recovery. So many times I simply could not see the light on the other side. I felt like I could not make it through. I was not resilient, I would not find joy or normalcy again. I was pretty convinced that my life was forever going to be filled with pain, sadness, strife and feeling like everything was difficult. If it wasn’t for my family, I probably wouldn’t still be here.
I took a break from my job and things changed. I rested. I explored myself. I traveled. I started telling my story differently. I told my work story as one of success (that we built a company from $0-20m in three years) rather than how it looked in my head (I struggled for two years to scale a product that my competitors had scaled faster). And I started telling my personal story heroically as well; I had struggled but I learned the tools to recover and thrive, and I now wanted to share those tools with others.
In reality, I tried many other ideas in the mental health space before Centered that failed. But with the tools narrative, something changed; therapists and coaches loved it and wanted to be involved. People were excited, they saw its disruptive capabilities to the existing mental health landscape. I launched the product in December, and they told me they were proud of me. How “mental health is important” and that it was “important work that I was doing.”
Then January hit. The Capitol happened. I got afraid to leave the house. I started imagining violence everywhere. I was so nervous around leaving the house that I ran out of my antidepressants and couldn’t get the prescription refilled until two days later. It’s only two days, I thought. I was so wrong.
I entered darkness. Every day I kept trying to buy myself space and time for rest. If I looked at my computer, I’d start crying. I would just sit there looking at my emails, weeping. I kept telling people “I’ll get out of this soon” but I didn’t, and each day felt like I was just failing.
For the first time in my career, I legitimately couldn’t work. I just got in my bed and cried. I felt incredibly hypersensitive to everything around me. I was convinced my boyfriend didn’t love me, that something was permanently wrong with me. That I wasn’t fit to build a company. and that I was failing.
I know from all my experience in therapy and also building Centered that these are negative thought patterns, which get worse with depression. I knew from all my tools there are ways to challenge these negative thoughts. But in my depressed state it was much harder to convince myself otherwise.
I started my mornings with a routine of journaling. I would write for 10-20 minutes, trying to convince myself that I was OK, that I had strengths, I had love in my life and I could be strong. Then I’d try to work and just start crying.
I felt like I was letting so many people down, but also like nobody cared or noticed. The worst parts of both of those feelings simultaneously. I wondered if I would ever get better. I feared that my boyfriend would leave me for being a burden, and that I didn’t have the mental capacity to build a company.
I changed psychiatrists and changed my antidepressant dose. I had headaches and buzzing in my head for a few days, and then it started to lift. I felt less overwhelmed by things but they were still hard; it was just a bit easier to tolerate. I would love to write that I am now better, but I still feel quite vulnerable. I still fear failure, personally and professionally. But I feel OK enough to write this story because I feel that it’s important.
I feel it’s important to not only frame mental health stories as ones of heroic recovery. That sometimes we are massively, embarrassingly unproductive, for longer than we’d like to admit. That we don’t feel resilience through all of it; that it feels like giving up is the only answer.
If you are struggling, I am here for you. This is a lifetime journey you are on, and you might not ever feel that heroic “after.” But please, I am begging you to try and get help. It’s help, through tools on Centered, but also professionals and my family, that helped me get through the darkest moments when I could not see clearly. Even if you can’t see the light on the other side, just rest and trust that it’s there. Hold on.
Getty image by Natalypaint