About briannadalej

In the American society, many subjects are considered taboo and we are taught at a young age not to talk about them. Two of these topics are depression and suicide. I wanted to give people a place to talk openly about this subject and delve into why this topic is not talked about and what can be done to help raise awareness.

Five Years in the Making

One of the best aspects of my life over the past three and a half years, has been the opportunity to listen to people’s stories. Everyone in this world has an amazing, inspiring, but often, tragic, story. I believe that by sharing our story with others we not only gain strength, but empower others to share theirs as well.

For some of you, today might just be any other day, but for one particular person reading this, it’s a step to a new life. It’s a step to working through the depression and the events that life has thrown their way and turning the page.

Earlier this week I was approached with the story below and, with their permission, I am sharing this with you. Thank you for being brave. Thank you for sharing your story.

Dear Friend,

It’s February again. I keep waiting for the depression to seep in. It always follows me around like a dark cloud on a rainy day this time of year. No matter how busy I keep myself, no matter how much I try to distract myself from the negative thoughts and emotions, the rain cloud grows and grows and grows until it reaches its peak on February 25th, the day I was raped five years ago.

Five years ago, I didn’t understand what had happened to me. Five years ago, I didn’t know how to deal with what had happened to me. Not much has changed today.

I will spare you the specific details, but there are some things about my rape you should probably know. It happened in my own house, in my own room, in my own bed. The person who raped me was a friend, someone I had once liked.

After it happened, I immediately started shaking. I felt physically and emotionally dirty. After he was gone, I texted my best friend and explained to her what had happened. I told her things had gone too far. She told me I was raped. She told me I needed to go to the hospital. Instead I put my sheets in the washing machine and went to school. I sat through my classes and acted as if nothing had happened. I came home from school and did my homework and ate dinner with my family as if nothing was wrong. Meanwhile, depression and confusion were numbing my entire body. I wanted to explode from the guilt and regret I felt.

I dealt with what happened by binge drinking and cutting. They usually went hand in hand. I would drink to numb whatever pain I was feeling, but instead it would intensify those emotions, and at the end of the night I would slip into a nearby bathroom and delicately cut my thighs or my forearms.

Today, I have completely stopped cutting. Although I consider myself a healthier person emotionally, I still don’t know how to deal with what happened to me. Maybe that’s why I’m writing this letter, as a way to cope.

I think the hardest part for me is not feeling like I have anyone to talk to about it. I have tried to open up to friends, but no one has seemed to understand or support me the way I wanted them to. Even after I confided in some of my friends they still continued to make rape jokes or make light of rape while I was hanging out with them. This made me want to run from the room screaming but instead I would usually sit silently or pretend to laugh it off with everyone else.

The word “rape” makes me cringe or freeze up. Regardless, I still find myself immersed in books, movies, and news stories that deal with the topic. Maybe other survivor stories will help me to understand my own. And maybe my own story will help another survivor.

I’m not sure if the emotional pain from my rape will ever go away. Sure, it has dulled with the years, but it’s still there. And every February, it soaks back stronger than ever, maybe just as a reminder that I survived, and that I’ll keep surviving. Here’s to making it through another February.

The darkness has to end & give way to light

What does depression feel like? I received an email and was asked this question the other day. That’s a loaded question and, for everyone, it’s different. For me, it has felt like the end of everything; being numb to anything and everything. Sometimes wanting to feel something, being aware that there are no emotions packed deep down inside, and worrying that it will stay this way forever.

  ————————————

Have you ever walked through a dark tunnel or road at night all by yourself? It’s just you and the darkness pressing in all around you. When you speak out loud your voice echoes and, maybe, you can hear the faint sounds of someone in the distance, but you see no sign of anyone around you. You think that, if you can just get to the end of the road, you’ll see you’re not really alone. Eventually, you know the darkness has to end and give way to light, but the longer and further you walk, the more afraid you get that maybe you were wrong. Maybe darkness only gives way to darkness. That, to me, is what depression feels like.

When I was little I would go swimming, I would always try to swim the length of the pool completely underwater. The only problem is that I had terrible lung capacity, so I never made it that far. Most times, as I was swimming to the top, just seconds before my head would break the surface of the water, my lungs would feel like they were on fire. I’d go into a panic worried that, maybe, I wouldn’t make it to the surface in time. My heart would race and it would feel like pins and needles in my arms and legs while I broke into the world again, gasping for air. When I was at my lowest, there were days I would have begged to feel something so real again.

 ————————————

Over the course of the past three years I’ve had the opportunity to talk with so many different people, ranging from people that I’ve known for years, to complete strangers. Hearing someone’s story about their life, their struggles, their success and frustration, that, for me, is one of the greatest things about this life. Listening to people who, maybe, wouldn’t have been heard otherwise. I have worried about people I’ve never met and sat shaking at my computer as I wrote down my own story. As I wrap up another year I am grateful for an outlet and for the opportunity to speak with so many amazing people. I hope 2015 brings everything you need, but mostly, I hope it brings you happiness.

Speak Up.

I’m at a loss for words tonight. I received a phone call notifying me that someone from the community I grew up in committed suicide this weekend during his first semester at college. I didn’t know him personally, but my heart is heavy for his friends and family. It’s in these moments that we need to remember that suicide & mental health need to be talked about.

So hug your loved ones a little tighter tonight and be willing to open up and
listen to those around you. The more awareness there is the more we can work toward helping those in need.

We matter as much as the oxygen we breathe.

World Suicide Prevention Day.

Many people have no idea this day exists, while others, can’t get it off their mind. I fall into the latter category. My heart is so heavy today.

Three years ago I knew very little about this day, if I was even aware at all that it existed. I knew about depression and suicide, I’ve had my very own struggles with both, but I never stopped to think about a day or a week dedicated to this subject.

What I also didn’t realize was how much of a stigma is tied to mental illness. Sure, I wasn’t willing to open up about my own past or share my own story, but I never stopped to think that others were feeling the same. I thought that I had made the subject taboo in my own life, but I’ve come to understand in the past couple of years that it wasn’t just me, it’s the society that we live in that makes this subject so unmentionable.

Depression. Suicide. Anxiety. PTSD. Why can’t we talk about these?

I’ve heard these called the “invisible disease” because at first glance, you have no idea that the other person is enduring a daily battle inside. But the same can be said for cancer, right? When my mom was first diagnosed with melanoma, you couldn’t tell by looking at her. We talk about cancer, why can’t we talk about mental health? We have telethons and months designated to bring awareness to cancer and other diseases that are widely known and shared, so why isn’t a day like today shared just as openly? Because it makes people uncomfortable? That’s not an answer I’m okay with.

Battling with a mental illness doesn’t make you less of a person. As I was reading through stories of survivors and those who have lost their battle I came across a post that read, “we matter as much as the oxygen we breathe.”

I don’t know if reading that has much power for you as it did for me, but it was enough to make me stop and really take in that statement.

We matter.

You are here for a reason. And so is the person sitting next to you. We’re alive and that’s something we should be proud of. Unfortunately, many people battling with mental illness aren’t able to see that. I was once one of those people. I was convinced that my scars told my story, but the truth I’ve come to realize is, that I have the opportunity to change that story. I had to come to terms with the fact that I will never be able to change my past. There are things I would have done differently, or not at all, but I can’t go back. What I can do, though, is change my future.

Maybe no one needed to hear my story. Or maybe just one person did. It’s worth it, though, because if I could have an impact on that one person, then my job is done.

I’ve loved someone who lost their battle. And that is a weight that I carry around with my every day. The what ifs, the what-could-have-beens, those are questions that, if I give them the power, will easily crush me. But I know there is a purpose to this life and to his. Maybe his story isn’t mine to share, but I’m willing to share mine.

 

Tonight, at 8pm, light a candle next to a window for all the people who couldn’t fight any longer and for those who continue to battle their illness every single day.

IMG_1563.JPG

Character Flaw or Disease?

addictionAddiction, like mental illness, is a topic that is highly stigmatized. Is it because we’re scared of it? Or because we think addicts are all bad people? Maybe some of them are, but to generalize that all addicts are bad people, would be a mistake. Many people see an addict and blame their actions and decisions on a character flaw, but if we really looked closely, we would see a disease.

I’ll be the first to admit that I know little about addiction. It is such a huge topic to fully wrap my head around that I’ll never know the half of it. But that won’t stop me from trying. I fell in love with a person who was an addict and that was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Instead of blaming him for his addiction, I blamed myself and other medical issues. But now that years have passed, I can take a step back and understand that his addiction was a disease. And it needed to be treated.

I came across a really great article this morning from a woman who grew up with parents who were addicts. The article goes into detail about the healthcare system and the lack of treatment for addiction. If you’ve got a minute, I recommend giving it a read and maybe next time you come across someone who struggles with this disease, you’ll think a bit differently.

“But, their addiction wasn’t their fault — not just because addiction is a disease, which it is, but because we’ve never treated addiction like a disease, either culturally or in our health care system.”

I’m Here

I have a very heavy heart this week. The flood of emotions raging inside of me is almost as bad as the literal streets flooding outside from this week’s endless rain.

Thursday marked the beginning of Mental Health Awareness month and I’ve never felt the need to spread awareness as much as I do right now.

I was approached yesterday for advice to give a young person who is cutting. Twelve years old and this person is already trying to escape the pain they are feeling inside. It makes so sad to hear these stories, but I can relate. It takes me back to my younger years when I turned toward physical pain as an outlet to escape the torment of emotions I couldn’t deal with at the time.

I didn’t have advice. I wish there was a magic wand I could wave and this person would no longer want to harm themselves. But no such thing exists. All I have to offer is this:

There’s no perfect phrase to say to make this situation better. People cut becuase they’re unhappy with themselves or what they’re going through. They cut because what they’re feeling is so much to bear that they’d rather feel physical pain than emotional pain. Sometimes it’s a cry for help. The only thing you can do is make sure they know how loved they are and that, whatever they’re going through, will eventually pass. Make sure they know that you can see what they’re doing to themself and give them resources. Be willing to be an outlet with open arms and listening ears. Sometimes, that’s all you really can do.

A person that is close to my heart, and is someone I grew up with, was recently affected by suicide. All of a sudden I had a flood of messages coming in asking what could, or should, be said in a situation like this for the grieving family members. I was at a loss along with everyone else.

I sat. I cried. I reflected on this family and on my own past situation. I could feel my heart breaking.

What do you say?

I love you. I’m here. We can talk; we can sit in silence. I’m here.

That was the best that I could do.

The Chemistry Behind Depression and Mental Illness

Last month I received a phone call from my sister out of the blue. We often catch up weekly, but on this particular week, I had already spoken to her. When I answered the phone, the voice on the other line was full of passion and frustration.

My sister is a chemist who has only a few short months until she receives her PhD. While doing her research, she came across data supporting and explaining the chemical imbalance that someone suffering from depression or a mental illness faces. Although my sister has been a major part of my support system, it wasn’t until last month that I realized just how supportive she really is. She went on to tell me of the frustration she feels when people believe that medications are a “crutch” for someone dealing with a mental illness and the stigma that surrounds this topic.

The comparison was brought about that if you had cancer or diabetes, that medication would be the first step in overcoming and working through those diseases.

“Why, then, wouldn’t someone with a mental illness want to get that same help and treatment?”


My point exactly.

It is in these out-of-the-blue moments and side conversations that I remember why I fight for this cause.

Below is a post from the (almost) Dr. Hoover:

As a scientist, I like to look at problems in a critical manner. When I think of depression or any mental illness, I think of these from a chemical imbalance perspective. If you can inhibit the production of a certain chemical (dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine) and induce depression, how can one argue there is not a need for medication to restore a better balance of these “feel good molecules”?
Major depression affects 5% of people globally. While we refer to it as a chemical imbalance, it’s truly not that simple. Many chemicals are involved in the process, working both inside and outside of nerve cells. Millions, even billions, of chemical reactions are responsible for controlling a person’s mood and how they experience life. Scientists understand the brain better than they ever have, but we have a long way to go to truly understand how depression works at the molecular level. For now, I will choose to focus on dropping the stigma of taking medication that may help a person live a happier, fuller life.