Updated: Mar 11
By Natasha Santana
My eye makeup in a sloppy winged liner; and my ratty attire-but aesthetic attire nonetheless-hanging loosely on my body as I log onto the Zoom meeting with my therapist at the beginning of my Thursday mornings. I talk to her about my existential crisis of the week, and at the end of it all she bids me a farewell.
I wish it was that easy. Maintaining the lazy, Euphoria-esque aesthetic while I have a simple therapy appointment. I honestly wish it was that easy. But it isn’t.
The reality behind seeking and accepting help when it comes to mental illness is facing cold hard truths about yourself and those around you. Some things that aren't talked about much are the truths teenagers and young adults have to face when they have no guidance, nor any support to hold on to. Facing these dilemmas as a teenager has been nothing but mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting; while you are facing these truths and realities of yourself, people are watching you and they cannot understand, making you feel even more alone.
I started therapy at the ripe age of ten, and this was because of the things I had to endure as a child in a messy environment. Imagine how confused I was hearing someone tell me that I have manic depression, while I sat there in a High School Musical T-shirt. Don’t worry, it’s okay to laugh. Because as I learned, laughing is okay too (laughing at past moments of course). But really let that sink in. A ten year old girl having to face the fact that she isn’t okay, when she hasn’t even developed her awareness fully.
Fast forward to middle school; I thought I was doing okay with my depression and not making myself out to be ‘too depressed.’ I had boyfriends and friends, did clubs, and had a family! That’s enough right? That should be enough? But alas it is not. I developed this anger within me that I haven’t disclosed to my therapist for the fear that I was more messed up than I already was before. I had this fear and anger bubbling up together, knowing at some point I would blow up. I had to be a 13-year-old dealing with the fear of myself, the fear of judgement, and the fear of not being normal. The stress I built upon myself kept piling up with external parties like social media, and my friends telling me that this thing in my head isn’t normal.
Hitting the time button again to High School, where I realized too much at the same time. I had so much anger and fear bubbling up inside me that it caused me to have irrational outbursts of emotion. Yes, you can easily rationalize the crying, the anger, and the outbursts based on hormonal changes that teens normally go through. But isn’t that absolutely wild! We have to rationalize hormonal changes, mental illness, and school to make yourself seem less crazy. I think it is absolutely insane that we have to belittle these chemical imbalances because we are ‘young’. I pin that to be the reason why teenagers are always so emotional and angry, because we are told we are too emotional and crazy. I didn’t have this train of thought back then, and I really wished I did because I would have saved myself so much personal grief, and saved myself from so much self-hate.
During my journey of navigating my own mental health and the stigma around it, I was faced with a huge obstacle that the whole world faced alongside me: COVID-19 quarantine. When we think of quarantining, we think of some embellished story of a zombie virus, and not some anti-climactic pandemic staycation.
This pandemic in the United States hit at the ending of my senior year. As I was planning the senior prom and the graduation outfits, Governor Cuomo announced that schools won’t be in session in-person for a month. When I tell you that my reaction was so emotional, it was so emotional. My mouth ajar, and my living room quiet even though my entire family was there. My family knew the gravity of this situation because millions of New York high school students were in the same position I was in. Some celebrated a ‘staycation’ as they called it and some sat in disbelief that a month was being taken away from their normalcy.
What was supposed to be a month, turned into a six month hiatus. I never saw my friends again, never got to say goodbye, never got to hug my teachers, and never got to feel accomplished. You are probably asking, what does this have to do with your mental illness? It has everything to do with my mental illness. I spent four excruciating years battling my worth in high school, my chemical imbalances, and on top of that college; it all got taken away from me in a moment. When you have anxiety ridden depression, you tend to overthink the most explainable situations like why we are no longer in school anymore. You tend to look for a purpose, or a reason to be alive when you have depression, and when you have none you are in this miniscule pit of hopelessness. That’s how I felt for six months, and a bit more.
Having nothing to look forward to really left me in the trenches, as I said before but I need you to understand that feeling so when someone explains why they feel so hopeless to something as small as not having a prom, you don’t belittle them for how they feel. Now this isn’t the conversation that we are too sensitive, and by we, I am talking about teenagers and young adults. It means the world is telling us to shut up and deal with it; prom is just a day and graduation is just a cap and gown. That is at least what people told me. But behind the one day, behind the cap and gown was the GPA I had cried over, the crying in the girls bathroom stall from stress, and it was the eight hours a day of work for four years straight going down the drain.
Having all of this in my head, I went down a dark rabbit hole during quarantine. I stopped taking care of myself, I became nocturnal, and I didn’t even dare look at myself in the mirror for the shame that it brought to my mind of how downhill I went. I was so happy, genuinely happy to finally feel that achievement, to see my family so proud of me: but I never got that experience. I was shut away in a small New York City apartment for months on end with no help for my sanity. During this hell of a lockdown, I started going on TikTok, a platform for short videos to be shared with the world. I started to recognize the stigma around mental health and how some people view it as an aesthetic.
This aesthetic of being so sad, and making the pouty face to the camera or making “daddy issues” seem more sexual than detrimental. I became a bit angered with this embellishment of actual trauma. It is like the ten year old girl in my eighteen year old body was throwing temper tantrums because everyone thought that being mentally ill was a “artsy-soft” aesthetic.
This inner tantrum caused me to stop doing the things I loved at home, made me emotionally and physically distant, and made me become an entirely different person. At some point I thought, well is it pretty? No. It isn’t. The dark eye circles under my eyes aren’t something to glamorize, the scars internally and externally aren’t cute, and the voices in my head that tell me I am no one are not dazzling.
Now that you know the synopsis of my mental issues and how they affected me, let's discuss the spill of emotion during quarantine. Not only have I become a different person, but I am a different person. This quarantine made me shove into adult-hood through sharp needles, and chest pains. I never am used to it, nor will I ever be. I don’t think anyone is prepared to grow up in a confined space like their home. Usually homes seem so much bigger, but for me my apartment became a snow globe. I felt like I was in this snow globe, viewing my life through a suffocating space because I had to be an adult. We never got to say good-bye to our teenhood, we never got to spend the summer before college that is so infamous to American school culture, and I never got to watch myself grow. I was yanked from the soil and forced to bloom under harsh weather conditions, and I was suffering alone. Even if I lived within three feet from my family, they still don’t understand what this life class of 2020 was introduced to. I had to figure out my own adult-hood whether I liked it or not.
And I did. Not 100% done with my journey of adulting but like my chemistry teacher said “No one knows what they are doing, not even 50 year olds know what they are doing”. Thanks Mr. Wu, because I finally understand. I understand that I am just a confused, scared, and brave 18 year old woman trying to live like everyone else. I decided that it is okay to see a therapist and have a psychiatrist too, and that it is okay that we need to ignore the world some days to find ourselves again. It is detrimental to understand that what we suffer through isn’t our only triumph, it is a chapter to many other challenges we will face. It is so important to be realistic with ourselves, if we can not be happy today, we just can’t. If we cannot take a shower today, that’s okay, and if you cannot bring yourself to do your homework, it is okay. One missing assignment won’t kill you. What will kill you is living your life tugging at the knots in your hair instead of starting from the bottom softly and then making your way to the top to brush it out smoothly. Depression isn’t your TikTok trend, and my medication isn’t an aesthetic song, because everyday I stare down at that pill and fight like hell to feel myself again.
Written by writer Natasha Santana