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Finding Strength, Help, and Hope by Having a #RealConvo

27 Apr 2018 — 4 min read

BY Nicole Kolenberg

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Finding Connection Through Vulnerability: AFSP’s Overnight Walk

Apr. 27, 2018- By the end of my sophomore year in college, I was unraveling at the seams. I was struggling academically, dealing with a parent’s illness, and I had just experienced my first real breakup. Needless to say, I was a mess. I was overwhelmed and in a terrible mental state. However, while most people were concerned, no one really knew what to do or say. The truth was, I was dealing with something much bigger than anyone could have guessed.

I felt like no one could possibly understand how I felt, like I was the only person in the world going through this pain. Deep down, I knew that there was a deeper issue. I had struggled with anxiety and depression for many years before I was ever formally diagnosed. It was so easy for my parents to assume it was just hormones, PMS, or simply part of my being a teenager. But I knew that couldn’t be it.

It wasn’t until talking to a friend of mine that I truly began to realize what I was struggling with.

It was the end of finals week. I had barely made it through them. I had walked out during two of my exams, experiencing full blown anxiety attacks. I had most definitely failed the rest. The entire week I couldn’t eat, sleep, or control my ever-escalating emotions.

One day that week, someone I knew through a club I was involved with sent me a text asking if I wanted to grab coffee. She had heard about the breakup. We went for a drive to get coffee, and then went back to her apartment to chat. She told me she was worried about me, and that she saw a lot of similarities between what I was going through and the way I was acting, and what she had grown through herself in a very similar situation. She opened up to me about having been diagnosed with depression, and confided in me that she had sought therapy to help her through everything.

This all came as a huge surprise to me. I never would have expected this from her. She always seemed to be such a cool, calm, and collected girl. Throughout our conversation, I began to realize what I think I had suspected all along, but couldn’t yet admit to myself. Everything she was describing was exactly how I felt. The hopelessness, the anger, the sleeping all the time, the lack of motivation…it all made sense.

Within days of that conversation, I gained the courage and strength to reach out for help, and started seeing a therapist and psychiatrist. Together, they worked on a plan to help me with my depression and anxiety.

To this day, I’m not sure if this person has any idea how much our conversation meant, and still means to me, and the effect it had on me. I can honestly say that she very well saved my life from the dark road I was on.

Looking back, the best part of my conversation with my friend was that I realized I wasn’t alone. I now knew that someone else understood the way I felt, that there wasn’t something wrong with me, and most importantly, that there was help and hope.

As difficult as it was to go through all of this, the hardest part was admitting I needed help. Reaching out for help was one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do, but I knew it had to be done. No one wants to admit that they’re struggling, and that they’re not okay. The truth is, there is so much strength in reaching out for help.

I’ll be honest. Finishing up college after all of this was no walk in the park. I ended up taking a semester off, and completing an extra year of college to graduate. But it was necessary.

I still struggle to this day. Depression doesn’t just go away; it’s not something that can be fixed like a broken bone. Although I’m in a much better place now than I was back in my sophomore year, my depression and anxiety are still here. The difference is that I now know how to deal with them, and live my life without being consumed by them.

I’ve sometimes struggled over whether to be open and honest with my friends and significant others about my mental health condition, out of fear that they’ll see me as crazy or broken.  But I’ve also discovered strength and passion within myself that comes from being open and sharing my story. I’ve been able to help friends of mine who have subsequently felt comfortable enough to open up to me about their own struggles.

What some may consider to be my weakness, I consider to be my strength. Through these experiences, I discovered my passion and chose a career path in the mental health field. I now work at The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Most importantly, I’ve discovered an amazingly supportive and caring community that inspires me to be my best, and encourages self-care.

To the person reading this now, I want you to know that if you are struggling, it’s okay. What you are going through and feeling is valid and real.  Please know that it does get better. It won’t happen overnight, but through time and treatment, the support of loved ones, and by believing in yourself, you can make it through this.

That one conversation four years ago saved my life. I encourage you to reach out and have a #RealConvo with someone you’re concerned about, or to ask for help if you’re struggling yourself. It might just save a life.

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