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DOMBROWSKI: Confronting my mental health

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I live with anxiety and depression. Over the past year, I have become comfortable with this fact.

A couple of years ago, comfortable was the last word I would have used to describe how I felt about my mental health. I felt weird. I felt embarrassed. I felt different. Thinking about sharing my thoughts and feelings with other people made me feel nervous, vulnerable and most of all, it made me feel alone.  

I have always prided myself on being a joyful and fun person to be around, yet I live with these anxious and depressing thoughts. What does the future hold? What’s my place in life? All of this having feelings of loneliness, emptiness and uncertainty. I did not want people to think these thoughts and feelings defined who I was. I did not think people would understand, and even worse, I thought people would judge me.

My experiences up to now have made me realize that as intimidating as it was to talk about and acknowledge these thoughts and feelings I have, it has been so incredibly rewarding. I feel more comfortable with who I am and more in control of my life than I ever have. I understand that having anxiety or depression does not make me a sad person to be around.  

I want to share with everyone what I went through to get to this point in my life. With doing that, there’s a worry within me that people might judge and not understand.  

I cannot describe how tremendously vulnerable sharing this makes me feel. I know there are people out there who will benefit from hearing my story, so I am choosing to share my struggles with mental health despite this worry I have. I am not sharing my story for attention or sympathy, but instead because someone out there might be going through something similar and I want to help. I want nothing more than for people to not feel weird, embarrassed, different or alone if they are going through their own mental health struggles.  

I have no idea when or how these feelings of depression and anxiety started to control my life. All I know for sure is that they did. What some people would call “late night thoughts” seemed to last all day for me. Days would pass and I felt no real involvement in my life; things would just sort of happen to me. I was surrounded by a loving family, great friends, teammates and neighbors, yet I felt so alone.  

There were nights when my brain never shut off and my thoughts never stopped. There were days where just getting out of bed, going to school and acting like everything was OK seemed impossible. I questioned why I wasn’t happy and wondered what was wrong with me.  

While days were filled with ups and downs, the downs were always controlling my life. I consistently found myself doing or acting in a way that didn’t reflect who I was. I found myself coping with my thoughts in unhealthy and sometimes dangerous ways. I had allowed depressing and anxious thoughts to take over my life. All this became such a burden that I began to isolate myself and feel that I was in this alone.  

Exactly what my thoughts and feelings were is hard to talk about. It is difficult because when I have these thoughts, they are not only personal, but random. They build on each other, making it difficult to put into words what exactly is happening inside my mind.  

Oftentimes, I worried about the future, wondering what was going to happen next, what should happen next, what if this thing happens and what if it doesn’t. I was always concerned with planning everything, worrying far into the future over aspects of my life I could not control. I knew I should live in the moment and not worry and stress about the future, but it’s the just way I thought.

Feeling as if no one would understand, I kept those thoughts to myself, feeling more and more alone. The more alone I felt, the more frequent the thoughts became until they started controlling my life. Once they controlled my life, the caring, energetic and fun person I could be became less common and was replaced by an uninterested, unenthusiastic, empty-feeling person.  

I think people reading this will be surprised to hear this about me and never would guess this was going on. There may have been signs, and maybe a few people thought this and would not be surprised. I place no blame on anyone for not getting me help or not noticing because I tried to hide it. I tried to act like things were OK because I was scared and I was embarrassed.  

From the outside things looked OK, and why wouldn’t they be? I was an A student, talented athlete and overall a kind person, yet I lived with anxiety and depression. You would never expect it to be your classmate, your friend, your son or daughter, your brother or sister feeling like this, and you certainly never expect it to be you.  

It’s OK if it is you. It took me most of my life to figure that out. It’s OK if things aren’t going well. It’s OK if you need help.  

I’ll never forget when I realized I needed help. It was about a year or so ago. I was having a rough week for no apparent reason, which is common when struggling with mental health issues. As I walked to class one Friday, my thoughts were racing, and my “late night thoughts” hit me at 10 a.m. in public. My thoughts just kept going and going until they overwhelmed me, and instead of going to class that day, I just kept walking right past my class. My walking eventually came to a stop, and my stream of anxious thoughts came to an end. That’s when I knew I may need help.  

The only problem was that I had absolutely no one who I felt like I could go to. I have the best family in the world, along with the best friends, and I know they are wondering why I felt like I could not go to them. I have no idea how to describe that. These anxious and depressing thoughts had built up inside me for years and years, and sharing them with friends and family seemed extremely daunting to me. I felt like I was letting my friends and family down by confessing that I was not always the happy version of myself that that they thought I was.  

I worried that it would scare them. I was worried they wouldn’t understand. Mainly, I did not want to be a burden to them or anyone. The whole world seemed happy but me, so sharing my worries and fears felt like I was ruining everyone else’s happiness.  

It felt like I could not escape feelings of anxiety and depression. My thoughts had consumed me. I hated it. But now, I know there are people I can go to for anything in my life. At the time, I felt so alone and the only place I felt I could go to for help was the Counseling Center, so I did. I thought I was embarrassed before about my thoughts and feelings, but it was absolutely nothing compared to the embarrassment I felt going to counseling.  

That embarrassment is absolutely ridiculous, and I cannot stress enough how perfectly OK it is to need help. No matter your circumstances, background or personality, it is OK if things aren’t going well. It is OK if you feel you need help. Counseling was intimidating at first, but within five minutes of the first session, I felt extremely comfortable and relaxed.  

Going to counseling has been the best thing I have ever done in my life. It helped me become comfortable with what I was going through and who I was. It helped me let others in. I am not exaggerating when I say that counseling gave me tools to become the happiest and healthiest person I can be.

Mental illnesses are so common in society today. About one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. There are people willing and able to help anyone with any mental health struggles. People should not be afraid to speak up and talk about their thoughts and feelings. If you live with a mental illness or think you might, you are not alone and you do not have to fight it alone.  

The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers a HelpLine at 1-800-950-6264, and the organization offers its 24/7 Crisis Text Line at 741-741. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Students can make appointments at Marquette’s Counseling Center. In a crisis situation, students can call 414-288-6800 to reach an after-hours counselor through Marquette University Police Department. Students can explore other counselors in the area, and there are a variety of other resources available as well. 

Do I live completely without anxiety or depression? Of course not, and I probably never will. Anxious and depressing thoughts happen to everyone on some level or another. Where I needed help was learning how to control my thoughts and feelings so they don’t control my life. Have I learned to do that? Yes. The hardest part of everything I went through was feeling that something was wrong with me for thinking and feeling the way I did. There is nothing wrong with the way I think or the feelings that I have. There is something wrong when the thoughts or feelings I have control my life.  

Each day presents new challenges, and being happy and healthy takes a conscious effort. The effort is worth it, and I encourage everyone to put forth that effort. Remember that is OK if things are not going well. Remember that is OK if you need help. Most importantly, remember everything is going to be OK.

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6 Comments

6 Responses to “DOMBROWSKI: Confronting my mental health”

  1. Dave on January 22nd, 2019 9:55 pm

    It’s important that thoughts and feelings like yours are shared. Thanks for stepping up Cade.

  2. Adam on January 22nd, 2019 10:54 pm

    The hardest decision I ever made in my life was realizing I couldn’t fix it alone and all my efforts to try weren’t enough. Getting help is the first step worth taking, and it’s never too late to take. Being honest about the way we feel is hard, but worth the work. Very well put, Cade.

  3. Holly Glainyk on January 23rd, 2019 11:35 am

    So proud of you for doing this Cade! It will help so many other people. You are not alone. 🙂

  4. Terry on January 23rd, 2019 5:16 pm

    Thank you for sharing your common but often-hidden story. By sharing you make it safer for others to do the same, and to ultimately get the treatment and support they need. A MKE-produced podcast, Giving Voice to Depression might be of interest: https://soundcloud.com/givingvoicetodepression/season-seven-in-review

  5. Jody Henderson-Sykes on January 25th, 2019 11:01 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Cade. I am so glad you sought help!

  6. Nancy Kealy on January 30th, 2019 8:22 am

    Thank you sharing your story. very brave of you to do glad to see the topic of mental health is coming to the forefront thanks to strong individuals like yourself.

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