In all of my 24 years on this earth, I never really understood what mental illnesses were, specifically anxiety and depression. My friends always talked about feeling anxiety or depression as they explained crisis in their lives but I never thought too much of it. In my mind, they were overreacting and being dramatic, and even when I walked in on a co-worker who was literally shaking from her severe anxiety, I thought it was an over-exaggeration. Whenever I saw symptoms of any mental illness, no matter how severe, I would always think to myself:
What was wrong with them? Why can’t they just calm down? Why are they being so dramatic?
Little did I know, I’d soon experience exactly what so many others were going through, so that I could understand.
Growing up, mental illnesses like anxiety, depression and even ADHD, weren’t spoken about in my community – or at least, I never heard about them. Sure, some teachers would tell my aunts and uncles that their kids suffered from ADHD, but in our world, that just meant you were hyper, just like depression meant you were sad. And because I was an overly optimistic and happy kid, I couldn’t relate to these things because I thought they were fake or calls for attention. That is, until my cousin “T” suddenly died this summer.
In a family with 22 cousins, “T” and I were the closest. He was the oldest out of all of us, and I was the baby, so he was like a big brother. We bonded over everything from video games, to music and stupid memes, and if either of us were in a bind, we had each other’s backs. He was my best friend, and when he died, I felt like all of that was stripped away from me.
Despite being close with my immediate family, I shut down. I wouldn’t talk to anyone, I couldn’t sleep and there was a dreadful feeling in my gut that I couldn’t get rid of. A feeling that reminded me of being in trouble, is the best way that I can describe it. There would be moments when my heart would race for no reason, and I quickly realized that I was no longer in control of my body and that thought alone made me feel hopeless.
At my worst, my mother decided it was best to go away for a while, so we packed a couple of bags and hit the road. We were supposed to go to Buffalo to explore and relax but messages from co-workers, managers and friends (some of which were discouraging) only stressed me out more. The whole ride north was plagued with feelings of disappointment, hopelessness and fear. Despite leaving to help myself, I was afraid that I was letting everyone else I was obligated to down.
I put everyone else over my own emotional and physical well-being, and I think my mother realized this and so she did the best thing she could, she drove. The morning we were supposed to head home, my mom said that she had a surprise for me. After eight hours of driving, she handed our passports to an officer in what looked like a tollbooth and I realized what that surprise was.
From Florida, we had driven to Canada to view the Niagara Falls. We got through the border pretty quickly and found a spot to park five minutes away from the falls that we walked to. The spray of the mist hitting us on the sidewalk was refreshing and for the first time, in a long time, I felt happy and excited about something. But when I viewed the falls, there was something else.
You see pictures of the Niagara Falls all over the internet but seeing it in person just takes your breath away. It’s so much bigger than I anticipated, and much more beautiful, and it made me think about my life: why I was here, what I wanted, and ultimately who I am. More so, it made me realize how much I was putting everything else over my own well-being. I hadn’t given myself any time to grieve. More or less, what had really happened was he died, and that was it, back to work.
That damaged me more than anything.
Because I was trying to meet these expectations of everyone else, I dug myself in a deeper hole than I started out with and I was on the verge of crashing and burning. Traveling helped me heal.
There is so much to be sad, anxious and depressed about in this world, but there is also so much greatness to experience and despite how strong we think we are, sometimes we need help.
When I got home, I sought the help I needed from friends, family and my therapist, and even though it has only been a month, I’m already feeling better.
Now, my mother deserves a lot of credit for taking me so far, but seeing the falls gave me life again. It made me realize that there is still a lot of inspiration out there, and still a lot to enjoy. More than anything, I now understand that it was OK to ask for help even if you think you can handle it on your own.