April 5, 2017 – I can clearly remember the moment that I first realized what depression felt like. I was in the eighth grade and my grandfather, who I was very close to, passed away after months of suffering in the hospital. I had lost my other two grandparents the year before, and his death left me feeling empty, angry, and painfully sad. I was afraid to tell anyone how I was feeling, so I kept it to myself and tried my best to push through. When I started high school, it became more difficult to simply persist. From the typical high school boyfriend drama to incessant bullying, I found myself feeling worthless, hated, and hopeless. I did not know how to handle those feelings, and I soon turned to self-harm.
It was not until I was a sophomore in college when I lost my uncle to suicide that I found the courage to speak up about how I had been feeling. After seeing the devastation it brought to my family, I knew that I needed to do something before my condition worsened. I finally reached out and told my mom, who made sure that I began seeing a counselor and a psychiatrist at my school health center at the University of South Carolina. I was diagnosed with chronic depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I was placed on a few different medications, spent a year in individual counseling, and two months in group therapy. I had a hard time adjusting and feeling comfortable with my mental health conditions, but I ultimately understood that my decision to seek professional help saved my life.
While I was in counseling, I discovered the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and attended the South Carolina Chapter’s 2013 Columbia Out of the Darkness Community Walk. I took comfort in joining hundreds of other people who had felt the sting of suicide just as my family had. I was able to relate to both sides of the loss: losing someone you love and wanting to give up. I was able to make it through that very difficult year and finally got to feel what it was like to be truly happy.
Since then, I have participated in several Community and Campus Out of the Darkness Walks and have even chaired a few of them. I am now also on the board of directors of the South Carolina chapter of AFSP and often share my story in public forums. Being a part of this organization not only gives me an outlet to honor and remember my uncle and my personal struggles, but also the opportunity to help prevent this from happening to other people.
When I was approached about filming the AFSP-produced documentary It’s Real: College Students and Mental Health, I was excited for the opportunity to share my story with students all over the country and hopefully make a difference in someone’s life. However, once the film crew arrived at my campus and was ready to start shooting, the nerves hit. I asked myself, “Am I really going to put it all out there on camera where my story will be shown to strangers? Am I ready for my entire family to see me this vulnerable and speaking so openly?”
Those fears soon went away as I began to get to know the crew and received so much support from them, my fiancé, and the area director of our AFSP chapter. Once we began filming, it all came very naturally to me. Those behind the camera helped me out by prompting me with questions and making sure what I was saying was coming across clearly. They never pressured me to share more than I felt comfortable sharing. After the first day, all of the fear and reservations were gone and I was ecstatic to be a part of this project. I am excited to share the film with everyone and continue doing all that I can for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
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