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What It Was Like to Talk About My Mental Illness in Front of Students

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I did a thing today — something I would not have been able to do a year ago. In fact, a month ago — when I was initially approached — I wasn’t sure if I could do it.

My psychologist (I’ll refer to him as Dr. F for this post) is amazing. He has helped me tremendously over the last six months. I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be here anymore if it wasn’t for him. A month ago, he asked me if I would like to speak to the psychology class he teaches at a local college. At first, I wasn’t sure. My anxiety is horrible and even the thought of speaking in front of people terrifies me. The idea I would be talking to people about my depression and mental disorders made me even more anxious. Fortunately, on the original date he asked for, I was not available. The following week was their spring break, but the week after, both his class and I were available. So I agreed, figuring three weeks was plenty of time to prepare myself mentally for what I was going to do. Over the last three weeks, I actually started to get excited about speaking to his class.

This morning arrived and I was both nervous and excited. I met with Dr. F before class to go over what I could expect. He would introduce me to the class and have me give an overview of my story. He would ask me questions and allow the students to ask some also. He asked if there was anything that was off limits for me and I said there wasn’t. He told me I could choose not to answer a question if I didn’t want to, so I knew I had an out if I needed it, which made me feel secure. From there we were off to the school to talk to the class.

I sat at a table in the front of the class — on display, not knowing where to look or what to do with my hands. I checked my cellphone, texted my husband “here we go” and then put it face down on the table next to my soda. It sounds silly, but my soda and my phone on the table gave me something to hold onto when I felt nervous. The class all filed in; it was a smaller group than I had expected, which helped with my anxiety. I won’t lie, my hands were shaking. I wonder if they noticed. As planned, Dr. F introduced me to the class and gave me the floor. I started off with the basics — “Hi, I’m Krista. I’m 32, a wife and mother. I’ve known I was depressed since I was 18, after my grandmother passed away.” From there I told them about the major breakdowns I’ve had, the many medications I’ve tried, the suicidal thoughts, the attempts, how good I am at hiding it from everyone and how I’m doing currently. Dr. F asked some questions and explained some things to the students. A few of the students not only asked me questions but also shared some of their experiences with certain things.

By the end of the class, I realized I wasn’t nervous anymore. I was being completely open about my mental illness and my struggles, and my anxiety was gone. It was an amazing feeling for me. I faced a serious fear of mine and I made it through! After the class was over, most of the students left but a few stayed to talk to me. One of the students, who I had noticed many times during my talk because she was nodding her head along with many of the things I had said, came up to me to me to thank me for coming. She explained it was really helpful for her to hear someone who is going through the same things she is. I connected to her today. I made a difference to her. It was an amazing feeling.

Over the last few months, I’ve been very open with my battles with my mental illnesses. Today, it wasn’t from behind the safety of my computer — it was face to face with real people who could respond to what I was saying immediately. I had no barriers to protect me. It was such a freeing feeling. I’ll be going back to talk to his next class in the fall, and I can’t wait!

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via kzenon

Originally published: April 13, 2017
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