by Jesse Dunn |
This year Active Minds, a newly formed club dedicated to raising awareness of mental illness, will be submitting an opinion every week to The Beacon. Each of the opinions will feature one member of the community sharing their personal experience with mental illness. Our hope is that these submissions will serve as a constant reminder that mental and emotional difficulties exist in this community. Instead of feeding the stigma and silently dealing with our hardships beneath the surface, we choose to be open, honest and courageous about what we have been through.
As co-president of Active Minds, I’ve been given the honor of sharing my story first.
My struggles with mental illness weren’t in full force until somewhere around the eighth grade. But to be fair, for as long as I can remember, there has been a thin veil of anxiety draped over me. In eighth grade it became apparent that anxiety was going to be a major factor in my life. I’m sure there are multiple reasons for it – none more crucial than a genetic propensity for mental illness. Beyond that, my father was dying of Huntington’s disease throughout my youth; something that I understood conceptually, but never dared to comprehend emotionally. I tricked myself into believing that it didn’t affect me.
So, I suppose it was no great surprise that I turned to drugs at such a young age. At first, smoking weed seemed almost magical. A couple rips from my pipe and the anxiety disappeared, replaced by giggles and a contented nothingness. But soon the intervals between smoking sessions became more anxiety laden. Naturally, I smoked more. By spring of freshman year of high school, I was smoking every day. It became the epicenter of the storm that was me. And no longer was I protected from anxiety while high--I was just less anxious than if I were sober.
Much of 17 and 18 was hell. My anxiety had peaked. Now, more in the form of social anxiety, the mere threat of having a casual conversation in the hallway was enough to make me panicky in the car on the way to school. I pretended to look forward to, but secretly dreaded, going out on the weekends. I was still smoking every day but now, because social anxiety became the primary culprit, I was drinking to quell my social nerves.
I was always a blackout drinker, and I’m quite sure if I drank today I would still be a blackout drinker. As my issues with drinking progressed, many things regressed, not least of which was my mental state. The constant episodes of drinking to severe intoxication were nearly always followed by extreme guilt and self loathing. It’s no understatement to say I hated myself.
It wasn’t until halfway through freshman year at UP that I decided enough was enough. I finally acknowledged that my life was out of control. I faced the fact that I had refused to deal with my emotions by using substance. I said the words alcoholic and drug addict.
I got sober, and it’s been two and a half years.
Things have certainly gotten better. The anxiety lessened, my spirituality deepened and I find more joy in my daily life than ever before. I’m a happy person.
But I am not, by any means, a finished product. This summer I got back on my anxiety medication. It was something I needed to do, and I take no shame in it. Bad days don’t elude me. But I know to turn into them now, instead of running away.
I rely on my community, on their love and understanding.
We all struggle. Let’s struggle together.
Jesse Dunn is a senior psychology major and can be reached at email@example.com. Jesse is co-president of Active Minds, a group on campus dedicated to educating our community about mental health and demonstrating that people are not alone in their mental health struggles.
Mental Health Resources:
UP Health and Counseling Center: (503) 943-7134
Multnomah Mental Health Crisis Line: (503) 988-4888
Active Minds: firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/activemindsatup