From the moment I was born until the end of high school, I did not fully understand mental illness and I honestly did not think anyone I knew personally struggled with one. Mental health was not a topic talked about in my family because no one seemed to be affected by it. It was also not a topic talked about in my schools: elementary, middle, or high school.
So, when I began struggling with depression, anxiety, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder during my freshman year of high school, I did not have words for what I was feeling. I believed I was alone and that no one else felt the emotions (or lack of) that I was feeling. This was obviously not the case, but because it was never discussed, it is what I concluded. So, I hid my struggles behind a “mask”. I kept my illnesses invisible to everyone around me.
If I could give one word to describe what I felt during this time, it would be: numb. I felt nothing and I believed what my illnesses were telling me- that no one cared about me, I was a burden to others, and that it would be better if I were not alive.
Unfortunately, it reached the point of a suicide attempt and hospitalization, for me to realize I was not alone. Being surrounded by individuals in an intensive outpatient program, showed to me that, although we all have different stories, we all do struggle and we are not alone. I was surrounded by other teenagers who were diagnosed with eating disorders, bipolar disorder, anxiety, OCD, and more.
Once I was receiving treatment and beginning to cope positively, I made it my mission to help those who were struggling, like I once was, to know it can get better. During my first three years of college, I shared my story with others and found that they began confiding their stories to me.
Fast-forward to my senior year of college, I wanted to take this a step further and share others’ stories. I created Lost Got Found – a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to educate high students about mental health and suicide prevention. With the help of expert psychologists, I developed a curriculum for teachers to educate their students about mental health in a positive and interactive way. The topics covered include the stigma of mental health, coping skills, myths about mental illness, negative self-talk, how to reach out for help, suicide prevention, and more.
In addition to the curriculum, Lost Got Found shares stories weekly of those affected by mental illness or suicide to help those silently struggling. These stories are featured from across the country and around the world to show that anyone can be affected by mental illness. To learn more about Lost Got Found’s mission, you can watch my TEDx talk.
Mental illnesses can be lifelong battles. They do not just go away like the common cold or a stomach virus, as much as I used to try and convince myself. They may never go away, but you can learn to cope with them and deal with them in positive ways.
Although I have not overcome everything and still struggle, I know that I have overcome a lot and I will work to overcome everything I am faced with in the future. I have learned that it is okay to show weakness. It is okay to cry. Sometimes you have to struggle and feel empty, in order to appreciate the days you feel full.
Most importantly, you cannot and should not be afraid to ask for help. There is nothing weak about needing help. It takes strength to realize you need help. It is okay not to be okay.
If you are reading this and going through anything that I have felt or am currently still feel some days: know that you are not alone. Don’t give up on this life. Not tonight. Not tomorrow. Not ever. My illnesses may be invisible, but I am not. You’re not either.
Emily is the founder of Lost Got Found, a mental health nonprofit dedicated to eliminating the negative stigma surrounding mental health. LGF exists to educate and inform students about mental illness and suicide prevention through their curriculum. They encourage individuals who have been affected by mental illness and suicide to share their stories and connect with others.Check them out on instagram: @lostgotfound