The Grumpiest Ginger


Gunter Kleist

Her eyes see through your lies

When I was in high school I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which in my case meant that my knees would occasionally and randomly swell up and make it nearly impossible to walk. My teachers were all very sympathetic and didn’t mind my having to miss classes to go to a physical therapy session or a doctor’s appointment. My friends would ask me questions and joke about it and the whole environment surrounding my illness was open and relaxed and supportive.

That’s great, but the reactions to my mental illness were totally different. I’ve been dealing with anxiety and depression for about six years now, and back in high school my teachers could not possibly have cared less. I was yelled at for missing assignments that I was not mentally capable of handling at a certain point in time, I was told that I was probably “just feeling a little sad” because of “hormonal stuff,” and I even had a friend tell me that I needed to just get over my issues because I was really bumming him out. Nobody wanted to talk about it, nobody wanted to support me. They mostly just wanted me to shut up and be happy.

I think that’s probably why I’m so open about my anxiety and depression now. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed and it’s upsetting to me that other people are socialized to think that they can’t talk about this stuff. This isn’t something anyone can just “get over.” It’s not something that gets better if you ignore it.

There are people who can work through these issues on their own, but I can promise that it is so much easier if you have people to help you and remind you that you are worthy of being happy and whole.

Mental illness ostracized me from some of my peers in high school and made it difficult for me to participate in class. Many of my friends went to parties and socialized outside of school, but on my worst days I could barely even talk to my best friend, let alone be in a room full of near-strangers without panicking. Even now, anxiety can turn me into a stuttering, shaking mess the second I have to talk to somebody I don’t know well. Thank god for being able to order food online or I would never be able to get a pizza without crying.

Anxiety also makes me incredibly paranoid. A lot of the time I am convinced that people I barely know hate me or I’m worried that somebody will be offended by anything I say. Once I said hello to a coworker and after she didn’t answer me I spent the next six hours of my shift convinced that she despised me (actually she just didn’t hear me, which she mentioned to me later when I somehow managed to mention it). It’s not that I’m self-centered; I just read too much into what other people say and do and skew it in my mind so I end up thinking they hate me.

While anxiety turns me into a sweaty, stammering disaster of a human being, depression just saps me of all energy and personality until I feel I might not actually be real. Aside from the usual depression symptoms – loss of interest (in everything in my case), difficulty with memory, concentration and sleeping, and self-loathing – I also had a pretty big problem with depersonalization.

There were times in high school – and even now – when I would find myself forgetting that I am an actual person living an actual life. I would feel so drained that I would completely disconnect myself from everything around me. This is when the existential crises usually start. My brain turns into one of those wild episodes of “Cosmos” where you have a mind-blowing realization that the universe is ever-expanding and the concept of time is just something that humans came up with to explain something we can never understand or something like that (don’t take my word as law on the time thing – I’m not a scientist).

Granted, this actually sounds pretty cool, but it’s hard to focus on math homework when you’re contemplating the inevitability of the death of our galaxy and how it’s plausible that nothing is actually real in the end.

There are some days when I can’t even get out of bed in the morning because I don’t have the energy or the will or because I spent all night unable to sleep because I felt like I was expanding molecule by molecule along with the universe every time I breathed in (I’m concerned that I keep making this sound awesome so I should probably reiterate that it’s genuinely terrifying and is decidedly not awesome most of the time).

So basically teachers, students, family, and friends: if you know somebody who is struggling with mental illness be patient and be kind. Assure them that you support them and know that they may need time for themselves to rest and heal.

And to other readers who are having a hard time: take deep breaths, stay hydrated, take a nap – do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. It’s totally okay not to be okay all of the time. It’s okay to take some time for yourself. It’s okay to take care of yourself before working on homework.

Your worth as a human being doesn’t rely on having a great GPA or a fancy office or making a lot of money. Just being alive can be really scary and really exhausting and that alone entitles you to a break when you need one.