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I remember…I was in early middle school. My bedroom was very 90’s… black comforter with splashes of hot pink, purple, and teal. I had glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to my ceiling. Colored Christmas lights were my preferred method of light at night. I had candles lit all over my room. How close could I get my hand to the flame before it burned me? Where on my body could I drip the hot wax that it wouldn’t leave a spot, but that it hurt? How hard would I have to press a knife on my skin to break a layer or two of skin? I remember just wanting to be alone. Sit in the quiet and darkness…praying that everyone would leave me alone, but at the same time, wondering if anyone cared enough to make sure I was okay. I knew I was able to put on the smile when the right people were looking, but I constantly felt tired and drained. I wasn’t scared of hurting myself or dying, I wondered if it would make the pain end.

I was sitting in health class. I was in 9th grade. Surrounded by my friends. We were all hot and sweaty and gross having come from and outdoor marching band practice. The school social worker was a guest speaker in our health class that day…DeAnn. She was there to talk about depression and her struggles with it. I sat and listened and could feel my eyes tearing up. Everything that I had been feeling was finally starting to make sense. What she was describing in her lecture… it was my life. Here I thought I was the only one who felt that way.

Health class ended. My friends all headed for their lockers so they could grab the books for our next class. Me? I quietly slipped away from the groups of fellow students and snuck upstairs to the guidance office. Little did I know that would be the first of many times that I would go into that office to talk to DeAnn over the next year.

I didn’t wait for the office lady to find out if she was available. I was scared I would lose my nerve if I did. I walked back down a poorly lit hallway, entered her office and said “that girl you just talked about in health class? that’s me.” “Hi, I’m DeAnn. I saw it in your face when I was talking… I’m glad you’re here.” Just like that, I felt safe.

Over the next semester, I spent time in DeAnn’s office at least three times a week. When I was scared or tired or unsure… when I felt like nothing was worth it…it became a safe place for me. I didn’t have to be anyone that I wasn’t. She helped me tell my parents that I needed help. She helped me set up an appointment with a doctor so I could get on medication that would help. She was the reason that I made it through my ninth grade year without killing myself.

The shame that I felt…In my own little world, the darkness and depression became MY normal. I wanted to be “normal” like everyone else. What I didn’t realize then (and not until decades later) is that I was “normal”…that needing help with depression and other mental illnesses is NORMAL.

Looking back…especially now with kids of my own… I’m sad that I wasn’t comfortable with my parents to be able to ask for help. But let’s face it… mental health – depression, anxiety, OCD, etc. – The subject is not something that people feel comfortable talking about. There is a stigma that has been attached…those people are “broken” or “scary” or “dangerous”. Break the stigma. Be okay with being you…your imperfections are what make you.

I have depression and anxiety. I take medication daily. I talk to a therapist.

DeAnn was only at our school for my ninth grade year (she was a long-term sub for a maternity leave). She and I kept in contact via letters and cards for many years. We have lost touch now, but I still think of her often and credit her with saving my life. I hope that others have a DeAnn in their life.

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