On Being A Burden
By Carly Sotas
We’ve all heard a similar story.
Some of us have heard the story from our best friends or read about it on a stranger's blog.
Some of us have told the story ourselves.
It’s the story of silent struggle; the story of depression, anxiety, and fear; of someone who was struggling inside, but was too afraid to ask for help when they needed it most.
Mental health is being talked about more than ever before. And yet, so often, we hear stories like this. We hear stories about people who suffered in silence for years, who never found the courage to speak up and ask for help.
Sometimes, these stories have happy endings. But, other times, we don’t hear the story until it’s too late.
Last summer, I published a book entitled Illusion in which I share very personal experiences and stories from my life. I talk about hiding behind my mask, feeling unworthy of success, and refusing to ask for help when I needed it most. I decided to share my struggles on paper because I was desperate to have a conversation, and didn’t know how else to talk about it.
It took me a long time to write the book, but it took me even longer to find the courage to publish it. Had I shared too much? Had I shared enough? Would people perceive me differently after reading it?
Through this process, I've realized how scary it is to share personal stories, especially with the people who are closest to us. Even though I knew that other young people would be able to relate to my experiences, and that sharing my struggles could help someone get through a difficult time, I was still terrified to share what I'd written. Throughout this experience, I've consistently struggled to figure out why we are so afraid to talk about the challenges and failures we face. If we know our stories can help someone get through a difficult time, then why do we keep them hidden inside? Why do we wait for so long before speaking up and asking for help?
We Don’t Want to Be a Burden
When I began experiencing symptoms of depression, I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone–especially not to my family or friends. I knew that my parents wanted to see their kids happy and healthy, and I was neither of those things. Anytime someone close to me expressed concern for my wellbeing, I disregarded their remarks. I didn’t want them to worry about me. Most of all, I didn’t want to be a burden.
It wasn’t until I handed my parents the manuscript of my book that I found the courage to start sharing with them some of the struggles I'd faced. The first thing they did after they read it was apologize that they hadn't recognized the signs sooner. But I was the one who owed an apology. Trying to hide my emotions for all of those years had put a significant strain on our relationship, and I realized that the biggest burden on our relationship had been my refusal to be honest and open with them.
We Want to Maintain Our Image
At the darkest time in my life, I was the top of my class, the student council president of my high school, and was doing everything I could to make it look like I had my life together. I lived in a small town where mental health wasn't talked about and I knew that if one person knew that something was wrong then everyone would find out. So, I did my best to make sure that didn’t happen. I had spent years building an image and setting standards for myself that I thought others expected me to meet, and I didn’t want to screw it up or disappoint anyone.
It wasn’t until I moved away from home for the first time that I was able to let go those expectations and start searching for a more authentic version of myself. Yet, having lived in four different countries over the past four years, I've realized that even though you can run away from your problems, you can't run away from yourself.
Now that I’m about to graduate university, I realize that I've constructed different self-image and set new standards for myself. Once again, I find myself worrying that I'll screw it all up or disappoint someone. Each day I have to remind myself that my external accomplishments are not a reflection of my character or self worth, and that my mental health is more important than upholding an image.
We Don't Think Talking About it Will Help
I used to think that getting help meant being forced to have awkward and uncomfortable conversations. I didn’t think there was any point in talking about how I felt because I didn’t see how discussing my feelings could help my situation. I’ve since learned that there are countless resources and places to seek support, from online exercises and apps, to peer-support counselling and mental health services. While there is no easy or simple solution, having an honest conversation is often the best place to start.
Even though there are many reasons why we fear sharing our stories and asking for help, there are many more reasons why we need to speak up. When we talk openly about the challenges we face, we will discover that we are not alone. Our stories can be an inspiration to someone and have the potential to help a stranger through a difficult time. And, even though 1/5 experience mental illness, 5/5 people have mental health.
I still find it difficult to talk openly about the challenges I’ve faced and still struggle with today, but I'm working on that. Until then, I’ll continue writing about the things I have difficulty expressing vocally, seek comfort in knowing that I am not alone, and be grateful to all of the people who continue to prove that there is strength in sharing your struggles.
About The Author:
Carly Sotas is the author of the book Illusion and a contributing writer for Elite Daily. She is a fourth year student at the University of British Columbia, where she serves as a facilitator for a peer-run mental health support group and co-hosts the mental heath radio program "Mindful Matters" on CITR Radio, 101.9 FM.