I’ve never considered myself to be an extroverted person. In large groups, my ‘social battery’ as I call it runs out before most people even arrive at the party. I prefer to listen to the stories and updates of my friends rather than share the events of my life, especially the not-so-spectacular sides of me and my mental health.
This secrecy was born out of necessity. As the youngest of four boys, all of whom went on to be college football players and fraternity presidents with girls always at their sides, growing up in the closet as gay was difficult. I had to hold who I was close to me and hide it behind a wall of feigned athleticism and confidence. However, my lack of congruity with my persona and my identity eroded my mental health and my emotional well-being. From the age of fourteen to seventeen, I struggled with suicidal depression and anxiety that were sometimes too much to bear.
Struggling with my identity and my mental health alone was incredibly difficult and painful, so I finally decided to reach out. It went against the grain of my upbringing and my private habits, but I decided to find a therapist. I spoke to my closest friends about my sexuality and my mental health. I quit the homophobic environments of the football and baseball teams. It never felt good in the moment, but little by little, I found myself feeling more hopeful and happy than I ever had.
Now, as a senior in high school (maybe? I guess I’m graduated as of last week), I’ve made efforts to help others who are struggling with their mental health in solitude and silence. I joined YouthLine, a teen-to-teen crisis and support hotline, as a call worker. I started a nonprofit, Live To Tell, to provide a student voice in the suicide prevention movement in Salem. I spoke out to the legislature and started clubs and events at my school to raise awareness. In January, I joined ASHA International to share my story and encourage my peers to do the same, speaking to students at Westview High School as a youth storyteller. As I found my voice in this movement, I realized how many of my peers were struggling as well. Reaching out and finding connection helped show them that they were not alone and that things would get better.
Now, in this strange time of social distancing and quarantine, it is more important than ever to stay connected with our friends and loved ones. Check in with your friends that you haven’t heard from. Reach out to others if you are feeling alone, down, anxious, or afraid. From the hotline and from my own social group, I see people struggling with the isolation of the quarantine. It can be so difficult on someone who is challenged by mental illness. Surround yourself with what makes you feel okay, whether at home or on social media, and remind yourself that it’s okay not to feel okay during this difficult period. Talking to someone about how you feel is the first step in finding hope and strength to endure and overcome the struggles that you face. It saved my life, and it can change the life of you or someone you love.
If you are in crisis and need to talk to someone your age, you can call, text, or chat with YouthLine from 4 to 10 PST. Outside of that time, you can still call and talk to someone!
TEXT ‘teen2teen’ to 839863