It all began with the mental health unit in my eighth-grade health class at Hamilton Middle School. I had self-diagnosed myself with depression and anxiety earlier that year and had been assuming I was mentally ill since I was in elementary school. Besides researching coping mechanisms online, I had never done anything about either issue. Yet, for some reason, reading signs and symptoms in a textbook impacted me more than the repetitive results of severe depression I received from free online tests. I was tired. I found no pleasure in things I used to enjoy. I was hateful towards myself and others. I blamed myself. I didn’t sleep. I was impulsively hurting myself when upset. I was only thirteen, and I had been struggling for years. Reading all those terms on a page given to me by a teacher hit me harder than my ‘perfect score’ online in twenty different tests. It was a real problem. I needed to do something about it.
Two obstacles prevented me from reaching out to my family. The first was fear. I imagined two extremes and each equally terrified me. I thought they would blow me off, tell me I was being overdramatic, and say that everyone goes through this. Maybe I was just weak. I was also concerned they would take it to the other extreme. Lock me up in an institute and throw away the key because no one wants a crazy daughter. The other aspect that was hampering my cry for help was the concept of how to even begin the conversation.
“Hi, I’m so depressed and anxious I can’t sleep or eat. Could you maybe put me in counseling or on medication, so you won’t have to pay for my funeral?”
However, Mrs. Feight had given me an opportunity to talk to them when she handed me that sheet of paper. I never thought to thank her until I put it all down on paper.
Sitting at the kitchen counter, I could feel myself shaking. It was a common occurrence for me until I received anti-anxiety medication. It was worse than usual as my mother turned around to look at me in the midst of her cooking dinner.
“Do you need something?”
“Could you help me study for my health test?”
“Sure. Give me a second.”
The classic case of waiting for her to stop cooking changed from annoying to dread-inspiring. The longer she kept cooking, the more I desired running away. I could just go study in my room. Sizzles and warm smells from the stove-top made my stomach turn. I wasn’t going to be able to eat regardless.
“Ok,” she announced while wiping her hands dry. “Do you have a study guide?”
“Yes, ma’am. Could you quiz me in the blue room?”
My home’s little island paradise was in the room beside the kitchen, separated by double glass doors. It was the only room in the house that was painted blue, and we had filled it with succulents, grasses, and two trees acquired from my mother’s friend. It was a safe place. My mother sat on the cream-colored couch with her back to the bright windows, and I kneeled on the rug. She began to quiz me, and my stomach dropped to my feet when she read the question I had been waiting for.
“What are the ten signs of depression?” I easily listed them, and my mom looked into my eyes with concern as I finished.
“Blames self or others, low mood, thoughts of death, irritable, pessimistic, low energy, sleeping issues, eating issues, loss of interest, trouble concentrating and remembering.”
My abdomen was twisted into irreversible knots as I watched her try to compose her thoughts into words.
“Shelby,” she began slowly. “Did you realize you have most of these symptoms?” Against my will, I began to tear up. My mother always made me cry. I could hold them back around anyone else, but the environment her presence surrounded me in always bought my emotions out.
“I have all of them.” A weight lifted, and another put on my chest. Now she knew. Now I waited for the response. Luckily for me, neither of my two imagined outcomes came true. Instead, she asked me what kind of person she should look for to be my therapist if I thought therapy would help. We sat in the sunlight, surrounded by windows and green plants. I felt safe and terrified all at once, but I’ve always been glad that it happened. I’m very grateful for the way she handled my problems at that moment. No one is perfect, but the time I needed her the most, she was.