I have battled depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and ADHD for much of my life. My first diagnoses came in the ninth grade in the form of PTSD, mild social anxiety, and severe depression. I knew I needed help and that what I was feeling and going through mentally should not be a forever feeling.
My depression was more of an environmental depression (while also caused by genetics). Simply put, I was in a high school environment that did not make me feel safe, but actually made me feel scared and helpless. They taught harmful and false messages about Judaism and stigmatized mental health. A teacher even told me that G-d would not love me if I had suicidal thoughts or feelings of sadness. “Why be sad when Hashem gave you all these wonders to be thankful for? It doesn’t make sense!” This question from my teacher had me thinking about myself every day. On the one hand, yes; I should be thankful for all the wonders Hashem blessed me with. On the other hand, my feelings of depression overrode any feelings of happiness and thankfulness.
Due to my school’s attitude, I had to learn for myself that it was normal to have these feelings. Hashem understands mental health. He does. In fact, He is the one who created us with the ratio that 1 in 4 people have a mental illness. I learned that He knows how much I love him and to appreciate what He gave me, even though I wanted to take myself out of His world.
Later in the ninth grade, I started having obsessive thoughts. I thought I was crazy. As a way of explaining, I need to wear shoes even in my house because I don’t feel like any floor is clean enough, and I can’t stomach even myself sitting on my bed when wearing clothes that have just been outdoors. Another example of my OCD’s manifestation goes for thoughts involving things that gross me out. If I see mold on my food, chances are that for the week after, I will think of that image first thing when I wake up. This obsession will continue throughout the day, of course getting particularly bad when I eat. It used to be that when something like this mold incident would happen, I would obsess about it for a month. But now, it has decreased to a week.
Shortly after my initial diagnoses, I started going to therapy and continued for four years. I don’t even want to imagine what life would be like if I did not start therapy. My therapist taught me many critical coping skills to help with my mental illnesses. Along with my previously mentioned diagnoses, I also learned that I struggled with Misophonia (as can be common with those who have PTSD). Misophonia is a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable given the circumstance. I experience a negative emotional reaction and dislike (e.g., anxiety, agitation, and annoyance) to specific sounds (e.g., ballpoint pen clicking repeatedly, tapping, typing, chewing, breathing, swallowing, tapping foot, etc). I learned coping skills to help me not be as agitated when hearing some of these noises. Over the years, I have been able to work towards improving my mental health. With learning coping skills and with help from therapy, things might take a while to get better, but with these skills, they do get better.
It is so important to find a support system so that those of us with mental illness have people to turn to. For me, I am very grateful to have my parents who wanted to get me help. To this day, they listen to my struggles and help me get through them. My mom is my number one advocate. She understands that my happiness comes before anything.
I do still have nightmares sometimes. It started off by me going up to my parents’ room on Friday nights terrified from the nightmares. I would dream about the gehenom (hell) that my teachers would tell me I’d be going to for not covering my knees. I remember crying out to my parents, “Why am I having these nightmares? Why did my teacher have to repeatedly say that I am going to hell? Am I really causing boys to sin by making them have impure thoughts if I wear red nail polish?” My mother would cradle me in her arms, and I could hear her voice shake as she said to me, “It’ll be okay, sweetie. We’re getting you out.”
Everyone knows I am an open book when it comes to my mental illnesses. My old school shut out the talk of mental illnesses, but the truth is that these types of illnesses should not be stigmatized because they are so normal. Having been in an environment unwilling to discuss mental health has made me more determined to speak up. I like to think that if I talk about my experiences, then it will help other people realize that they are not alone.
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