Editor's note: The Palo Alto Weekly has chosen not to identify the writer to protect her privacy.
When I was first diagnosed with depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I was 12 years old. At first, I thought my episodes of panic were simply a part of puberty. Shortness of breath, blurry vision, nausea and the overall feeling of overwhelming anxiety are just a few of the symptoms I experienced during regular panic attacks.
Before long a more consistent feeling set in: sadness. Every day, walking through the halls of Jordan Middle School, I felt like a pariah in my own environment. Over the whispers of perverted jokes and discussions of grades and curriculum, I heard a voice in my head telling me I was different from my peers. I told myself the voice would silence itself in time, and yet it only grew louder.
My first therapist recommended I start antidepressants, but being on antidepressants at such a young age made my family and me a little nervous out of fear of my becoming reliant on them. So we decided to try a new therapist before resorting to that treatment.
I went away to boarding school my freshman year, and once again I had told myself that the voice would calm itself and the sadness would go away in this new environment. But unfortunately this was not the case. Although I was surrounded by people in the dorms, in classes and just about everywhere I went, I'd never felt so alone. Most nights I cried myself to sleep, dreading the day ahead and wishing I could feel as content as the kids around me appeared to be.
There are few feelings worse than feeling misunderstood and fearing being honest with those you trust and respect. Because of the stigma around mental illness, I felt afraid to share this major part of my life with even my closest friends, as I felt they'd judge me or isolate me out of fear of making my condition worse. I still have this fear; in fact, many of my closest friends are unaware of my mental health issues today.
In my sophomore year the symptoms persisted, and yet I stopped seeing a therapist and attempted to cure myself with other distractions. I invested my time in friends more than ever, and although I was surrounded by people, no words can begin to express the loneliness I felt. Even in a roomful of people, I felt sheltered and insecure. I constantly told myself that I was unwanted unwanted in this social situation, but even more importantly, unwanted on this earth.
This year, my junior year, I decided to take my feelings seriously and take steps forward to improve my condition.
At the beginning of this school year, four years into my journey, my state had only worsened. After meeting and performing tests with specialists, I once again was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety disorder. I have recently begun treatment with antidepressants and have appointments with various doctors one to three times a week to check in on my condition. I have come to terms with the fact that it will take time and patience to improve my state, but it's better than giving up altogether. The fact that I can say that now is proof that my treatment is making a difference.
Throughout my life, when I have chosen to share the truth about my depression and anxiety with others, the most common reaction I've received is, "Wow, you don't seem like it." It has taken me years to master the masking of my symptoms and at this point I'm an expert in this craft.
I am positive I am not the only one who has felt obligated to mask what is going on behind closed doors, and because of this I hope to encourage a community where my peers feel open to unmasking themselves. After all, no one deserves to feel as if they need to hide the truth about themselves.
I'm an outgoing individual by nature and am programmed to cloak my emotions and pain with humor and distract others from the truth. Family and friends who are conscious of this part of my life have told me that I am the last person they'd expect to have depression, and I'm sure this is true for many others who struggle with mental illness as well.
I've told you my story, and mine alone. Not everyone's struggle is the same as mine, and the point of this article is not to make it seem as if it is. The point I'm attempting to get across is that mental illness is not something to hush up about. Depression is not something you choose; it is an illness, just like mono or anything else you can acquire without deliberately trying to.
As a community we don't need to celebrate mental illness, but we don't need to be ashamed of it either. Today, one in four teens suffers from some form of a mental illness, so I'm clearly not alone. To those of you fighting the same battle that I fight, I wish you the best of luck on your journey to recovery. While we aren't in control of the spread of these illnesses, we are in control of how we approach them.
If we can create an environment in which those around us feel open to sharing their disorder, we're one step closer to a fast recovery for those individuals like me. I've learned that communication and the willingness to be honest with myself and others are key components in my recovery, and so this article is benefiting not only myself but hopefully the community as a whole.
The Palo Alto Weekly has created a Storify page to capture the numerous voices, opinions and our news coverage on teen well-being. This page will continue to be updated. To view it, go to Storify.com.