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Not exactly the phrases most people would typically use on social media to highlight their year. The majority of social media users choose to ring in the new year by regaling their friends and followers with the past year’s adventures and accomplishments—tales of vacations, graduations, promotions, accolades and successful career changes.
When reminiscing on the past year on social media, mental illness virtually never receives a mention. It’s not glamorous enough. It’s not flashy enough. And, in a world focused on who took the most expensive-looking vacation and who outshone the rest in their extremely successful career, it could be seen as a real downer.
Every New Year’s Eve for the past few years, despite my constant struggle with anxiety and depression, despite spending a significant portion of the year feeling panicked, numb and emotionally shattered, I, like so many others, have posted a happy-go-lucky recap of my year on social media. My year was amazing, incredible, wonderful. I became president of an honor society. I attended a conference. I discussed climate change with members of the United Nations. I graduated college a full year early, Summa Cum Laude. I traveled across Europe. I became a published writer. And, most importantly, I was happy. Not anxious. Not depressed. Definitely not mentally ill. Wholeheartedly, unflappably happy.
Until this year, when I chose to be radically, unapologetically candid about my mental health.
This past year forced me to reevaluate my approach to discussing and treating my mental health. It was my first year post-college, a tumultuous whirlwind of temping through a series of agencies, frantically searching for a permanent job, and, with every rejection, sinking further into depression and a perpetual sense of anxiety over my uncertain future. For the first time, I realized that in order to improve my mental health and garner hope for the future, I should remain open and honest about my struggles with mental illness, particularly on social media.
In the wake of the anxiety and depression that threatened to numb my mind, I wrote about the unending worry that consumed me. I shared my sense of hopelessness with social media followers. In opening up about my mental health, I had never felt so free, but my sense of liberation was not without consequence.
Social media soon became a minefield. As my mental health faltered, I remained inundated by a sea of perfectly posed, smiling pictures and proud status updates about graduation ceremonies and dream job offers. I lay in bed, my chest throbbing and my eyes damp, as I witnessed my former classmates moving towards careers before me—without me. I wrongfully assumed that their bright smiles could not possibly hide any traces of depression or anxiety. They appeared happy and healthy, already living the life I had been attempting to build myself for nearly a year. And I was mentally ill, struggling to stay afloat in the wake of the storms that sent my mind adrift. I was open and honest about my health, but I felt completely alone.
Even though I may have felt alone, I was certainly not alone. 1 in 4 American adults lives with mental illness. 40 million American adults live with anxiety and 15 million live with depression. But, under the guise of carefully selected social media pictures, it’s easy to make any trace of mental illness vanish, which can amplify symptoms of anxiety or depression, particularly in those living with mental health conditions.
Which is why, this New Year’s Eve, I resolved to share an unfiltered, honest reflection on my Year. I wanted to break down the unhealthy facade of perfection that inundates our social media feeds. I strove to remind others with mental illness that they are never as alone as they feel. I hoped that speaking out about my experiences with mental illness would encourage others to share their experiences, ultimately working to mitigate the mental health stigma.
I acknowledged that this year was difficult for many people, and that I was no exception. I wrote about hitting rock bottom with anxiety, depression, and my lengthy unemployment. I revealed that this year, I learned to prioritize my mental health. I confessed that 2017 didn’t truly start to feel like a “good year” until October. And, naturally, I shared the highlights of the year, too, to remind others that even in the most difficult times, there are always moments of joy and light.
My candor resonated with others, particularly those living with mental illness. Some admitted that their years had been challenging, too. Honesty bred honesty. Hope bred hope. In challenging convention by openly discussing our mental health, we all began to normalize being unapologetically mentally ill online.
This may have been the first year I shared the challenges of my mental illness in my end-of-the-year reflection, but it certainly won’t be the last. I strive to continue to openly discuss my personal experiences with mental illness online, in the hope that I can encourage others to do the same. Together, by defying convention with our unfiltered honesty about life with mental illness, we will shatter the mental health stigma.