Category Archives: Speeches

Transcript of My Story

(If you want to see the live performance of this, please go here)

Hi everyone. I’m a university psychology major, and I’m here today to share my story of depression, self-harm, and suicide. Now, these are some pretty heavy topics, so if anyone feels that they need to leave at any time for any reason, please feel free to step out. Your well-being is far more important than anything I could say.

I’m currently in recovery from depression, and I want to share my story to show all of  you a first-person account of really serious depression. Depression is a very individual mental illness in that each person’s experience can be way off from what is typically considered “depression.” But it’s also universal because it can affect anyone at any time. Like me, I’m just your average student. I came from a supportive family, didn’t really get bullied, and I know I’m so grateful to be at this university. But demographics don’t determine depression, and neither does your personality. And people who know what I’ve gone through have told me that I always seemed so happy and chipper and outgoing, and that it seemed impossible that I could’ve experienced depression.

But I did. Behind that public facade of peppiness and cheerfulness, I was struggling with seriously heavy stuff. For me, depression hit really sudden and really hard. The beginning of January 2014, I started feeling off. Really sad and down, and I thought it was just a phase. Just a bad day, just a bad week. But then it kept going worse. It wasn’t just a bad week. It was a bad month of consistent negative mood.

And it wasn’t just feeling sad, it was not enjoying time with friends or time doing my hobbies. It was not feeling the motivation to go to class or study or do homework, and then  it was not feeling the motivation to get out of bed or eat or shower. And that sounds ridiculous right? Eat when you’re hungry, shower once a day. But it really became this inability to do all of those basic things. Because I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t think the effort of a shower was worth it. And it eventually became this fight in my head of my brain saying “Go eat, go shower. These are healthy things.” And the rest of my mind saying, “No, stay in bed.”

And then I was just so tired all the time, so I just slept. And I was still tired but I couldn’t sleep anymore. And with all of this lack of motivation turned to actual inability to take care of myself, I started feeling worse. These thoughts of “I’m stupid, useless, worthless. I can’t even do these really basic things.” And as much as I hated myself for not taking care of myself, I honestly couldn’t do it.

At this point, I realized that I needed to do something about it. Because things weren’t changing, if anything it was getting worse for me. And again, depression doesn’t take this course for everyone, but it did for me. It was worse, ad part of me had this really reasonable idea of reaching out to people and getting support from friends and family and also professional help. But even though this part of me knew how reasonable it was, it was one of the most difficult things for me to do. Because how do you tell people this giant secret that you’ve been hiding? How do you tell people that you’ve been hiding how you’re really feeling behind this mask? And at the time, I had no idea how to answer those questions. I still don’t really know how to answer those questions. Because telling people is really hard. Because you have to find someone that you trust and shatter their perception of you. And that’s essentially what I did. I was studying with my best friend one night, and then during a break in our studying, I just flat out told him that I’ve been struggling with some really dark thoughts. And he was surprised but he was also really supportive. He convinced me to check out CAPS on campus, and I got connected with some really helpful resources.

But even though I had the options of regular counseling and therapy, and even medication, the part of me that was still feeling really pessimistic about my situation turned to a much unhealthier option, which was self-harm. So at the same time I was reaching out, I was also hurting myself. I’m not going to say what it is that I did, but I will say that I have scars on my legs, and they’re still here after a year. And this is a really difficult thing for most people to grasp. Because why would I hurt myself? What’s the point? What does it help? And the simple answer to those questions is that it’s a coping mechanism, a really harmful and destructive one, but still a way to cope. And everyone who has self-harmed  has their own reasons, but for me, it was a combination of things.

It was a way to release this huge storm of emotions that was building up inside of me, it was a way to make physical and tangible all these really negative thoughts and feelings, it was a way to be able to fix at least some of the pain I was going through because I could put a band-aid on my own skin but I couldn’t put a band-aid on my heart… And it was a way to feel something, anything, because on the days when I wasn’t feeling so sad and broken, I was feeling numb, you know just nothing at all… And it was a way to ground myself, to remind myself that I was a living, breathing person who was still here. And it was a way to punish myself for being useless and worthless. So lots of really dark reasons, and I would never wish any of them on my worst enemies because it takes a toll on you. It really does. And today, even in my recovery from depression, I still struggle with self-harm.

And when I was going through all of this, I knew self-harm wasn’t really helping. It was just a way for me to get to the next day. And it wasn’t as if it was my only coping mechanism. I had a whole arsenal: counting breaths, sketching in charcoal, finger knitting bracelets (hey, I’ll make one for you if you really want one), journaling and doing spoken word, solving rubik’s cubes, holding an ice pack in my hand, drawing butterflies on my skin, and there are tons more. But even with the support system and the healthy coping and the not-so-healthy coping, it was starting to feel really pointless and hopeless, like I was never going to feel better or get better. And then, feeling like I was at the very end of my road because I was just so tired, I started thinking about suicide. And I want pause here to say that people always say that suicide is the selfish, easy way out. But it’s really not.

Because I thought about it and argued with myself over it for months. Because I knew there were people who cared about me and I wanted to stay for them. But depression makes it really hard for you to actually want them. Because you just see all this darkness around you, at the end of every pathway, and you can’t escape it. And you’re just so exhausted of fighting your own mind at every single thought, so exhausted of having to fight yourself. Because your brain is being logical and trying to tell you to keep fighting, but your mind and your depression is trying to tell you that it’s not worth it. That it’s never going to get better and fighting is pointless and useless, and life is really not worth it anyway, and everyone in your life would be better off with you.

So at this point, it just felt like suicide was my only option, my only way to finally escape from all this pain and hurt, a way to finally get some relief. And it’s not that I wanted to die, it’s just that I wanted some relief. And when I was writing my notes and making really serious plans, I always felt so guilty because I knew I would be hurting the people who loved me, but I couldn’t anymore. I just, I couldn’t.

But I didn’t. And I will be forever grateful to all the people in my life at the time who helped me make the decision not to go through with that last step of dying by suicide. Because I’m here today. I am here, standing in front of all of you, as living, breathing proof that depression is real and serious and absolutely terrifying. I am here as proof that depression is not something that you can just get over through willpower, and I am here as proof that suicide isn’t the “easy way out” that the media portrays it as.

And really, I am here as proof that it gets better. That no matter how hard it is, no matter how absolutely awful you feel, no matter how much you feel it’s not worth it, no matter how much you feel it’s useless to keep fighting, It Gets Better. I am proof that anyone can go through some really dark times and come out the other side, you know maybe scarred but still okay. Still here.

And I am still here because I realized that it’s really important to reach out, to build a good support system of people you trust and feel comfortable with, to get professional health and to not shy away from therapy, and  to maybe try medication of some type. And there’s a lot of medications that are really affordable.  Personally, I had to try a brand that was a little bit more expensive, and it was really intimidating for me. You know, I’m a college student, I’m here on scholarship, I didn’t have a job, and I just really wasn’t sure that I could afford it. But that’s where your support system comes in, and they really did help me. So again, it’s really important to reach out, and it’s really, really hard, but I did it. Somehow, I did it. And you can too. For the people in the audience right now who are struggling, you can do it. And you’re going to make it. It gets better. I promise.

And for the people in the audience who know someone is struggling, if you can do so safely and without sacrificing your own health, please stick by them. Please support them and encourage them, and please try not to get too frustrated and try to understand that this stuff is really rough on them. And I know it’s rough on you too, it’s definitely rough on the supporters, but if you can be there for them, they will be forever grateful. And really, you don’t have to do al l that much. Just be there for them. If they want company, maybe do your homework in their room? Or if you’re going to eat lunch, invite them with? Or if they’re really not okay with being social that day, shoot them a text that says that they’re going be okay and that you care for them and that you’ll leave your phone on in case they need you. It’s little things like that, just reminding them that you care and that you’re going to stick by them. And you I am forever grateful to the people who stuck by me and saw me through to where I am now.

Because where I am now, it’s better. I have scars on my legs and I can’t always tell the truth about why those scars are there… Because I wish recovery and it getting better was this upward linear trend, but it’s more like this wavy line full of ups and downs. Because there are still days where I feel like I did, and there are still days where I have to use every coping mechanism in my arsenal, but I still struggle with self-harm. And you know what, that’s okay.

Because it’s okay to struggle with depression and self-harm and suicide. Because it’s okay to reach out for help and go to therapy and take medication. Because it’s okay to experience everything that I’ve gone through. Even if it doesn’t feel okay, even if it doesn’t feel like it will ever be okay, it’s okay to struggle, and it will get better. Because it gets better. I promise, even if it takes months or years, it gets better. Thank you.


Break the Silence

Red lines drawn onto skin, red lines etched into skin, red lines painting more red lines. And then scars. Scars up and down legs, scars on the insides of wrists, scars hidden by long sleeves and long pants, scars on skin and scars within. On mind and heart and soul. But all this hidden behind a mask, behind a brick wall of fear, within a steel cage of silence. All this hurt and pain, silenced.

But break the silence, you think to yourself. Break it, seek out friends and family, get support from those who love you. And you do.

“Cheer up. Put on a smile. Just watch a funny movie. See? There you go. All better.” No, not all better. It’s not that easy, that’s not it how works. Red lines aren’t erased by comedy. Scars aren’t erased by smiles. It’s not that easy. It’s not that easy. So silence. Silence again. Build the wall higher, build the cage thicker. Hide. Put the mask on. Keep the hurt quiet, keep the pain silent.

No, don’t do this to yourself. Don’t hide away again. But once burned, twice shy, but no. Put yourself out there, you can do it.

“What’s wrong with you? Just get over it. Your life isn’t that bad. There are people starving and dying all over the planet, and you’re just crying for no reason. Don’t be so weak.”

What? You tore down your barriers and broke you silence for that? Hide away, go away, no. Not again. Not this time. You will not suffer alone. You will not suffer in silence. Break the silence. You will find support, and you do.

And before you know it, you have a community around you who understand and support you and love you, and there is no silence within this community. But it is one group of speaking, one fraction of openness within a much larger community that won’t even touch the subject of mental illness. No, we will not be in silence.

We will not be told that we are crazy and insane. We will not be told that we just need to get over it. We will not be told that we are sinners and need to learn the error of our ways. We will not be told to get out of the way and not bother advancing in life because we can’t handle it, because we aren’t worth faith and investment. No. We will not be silent any more.

Because we are 1 in 4. Because we are friends and family and loved ones. Because we struggle with an illness just like any other. Even if you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Because we are human and we deserve to be treated as people, regardless of any illness. So we will stand tall, and we will push ourselves into the wider community any way we know how.

Any way I know how. I start small. I don’t let comments like, “She’s crazy. He needs to be in a mental institution. What a psycho” slide. No, I will not stand by and remain silent. Because every moment of silent means a missed opportunity for progress. And I will work to change the vocabulary of everyone around me.

And then bigger. Educational workshops on my university campus. Awareness events and campaigns on my university campus and at the local high schools. Statewide conferences to better the spread of education and awareness. National organizations and education and awareness campaign tours. Education. Awareness. But more than that. Also support. Understanding. Compassion. Empathy. Love.

Because everyone who has struggled with mental illness or has been affected by it is part of this community. Because everyone has mental health. Because we are all people. And we should not let distinctions come in between us. Barriers of illness, language, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality…No more, no longer.

And it’s a lot and it’s overwhelming and what if I send the wrong message and what if I don’t reach enough people and what if I can’t change the minds of everyone and how long will it take and how much will it take and how many more people with mental illness will be hurt or injured or abused or killed. How much will we have to sacrifice to break this silence, how much will we have to sacrifice until people with mental illness and people without will all be seen as people within the same community, and what else can I do, what else can I do….and stop.

Breathe. No more red lines. No more red lines. Scars, yes, but not hidden. Open. Open for the world to see. Because no shame. Only education. Awareness. Support. Understanding. Compassion. Empathy Love. No more masks. No more brick walls of fear. No more steel cages of silence. No more hurt and pain, silenced.

We will break the silence that is the stigma against mental illness.

By healing one red line at a time.

Mental Health, Civil Rights

(If you want to see the live performance, please go here)

I am no Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I am too young, too angry, too emotionally charged, too crazy. That’s right, crazy. I am “crazy.” The people whose rights and safety I fight for every day are “crazy.” Because that’s how society sees us. That’s how society sees people with mental illness. We are crazy and insane, and we all need to be locked away into mental institutions. We need to be drugged literally out of our minds, and we need to disappear from society. That is the societal stigma that I face every day as a person with a mental illness. That is the concrete wall that I run up against every time I try to open up about my mental illness, my depression.

And that’s not to say that I face such drastic and/or dramatic stigma every single day, no. The stigma against mental illness tends to be quieter, a hidden undercurrent most people can (and do) ignore. It is the daily microaggressions that me and people like me, people with mental illness, from seeking support from those around us. It is the everyday language of the people around us that make us think we are actually “crazy.” It is the “What’s wrong with them? Those people should be locked away before they kill someone. Remember our middle school emo phase? When we all wanted to cut ourselves and kill ourselves? Wow, she’s a psycho, you don’t want to date her. The homeless person probably has schizophrenia, and you don’t want to die.”

It is the misunderstood words of our loved ones. “Just smile. Watch a comedy movie. Stop being sad. Why are you so nervous all the time? That’s dumb. You’re being stupid. I thought you were stronger.” It is the romanticization of serious, debilitating illness. “You just haven’t found the right person. He’ll help you stop cutting. Suicidal people are just angels who want to go to heaven. Scars are so pretty. That test made me want to kill myself. I’m so OCD. I probably have ADHD.” These are all real things that I have heard people say, real quotes from my life.

So I ask you, how can society isolate, ignore, insult so many people on a daily basis? How can society systematically oppress minority groups every day? How can society shut us down at every turn? How can we do anything when we face this overwhelming stigma every time we try to reach out? How can we do anything if we’re just criminals-to-be who need to be drugged up and locked away? How can we do anything if we are not allowed to participate in society, if we are undeserving of that very basic right?

I can’t answer those questions. Because there is no reason, no explanation, no justification for this inhuman treatment. Instead of trying to answer those questions, I fight every day to make them  irrelevant. I fight to end the stigma against mental illness. I fight to stop the microaggressions against people with mental illness. I fight to break out of the silence that society has impressed on us.

I said before that I am no Dr. King. And I am not. I do not have his eloquence, his charisma, his ability to command the attention of thousands of people. But I am like him in that I am fighting for basic human rights. My movement is like his in that it is dedicated to attaining equal rights for the oppressed, the minority that has been shunned and silenced.

His movement and mine both fight for equal rights, both unite the oppressed into loud, passionate protest at society’s view of us. But whereas Dr. King and the civil rights movement mainly had to fight the law at every step of the way, I have to fight my peer. My neighbor. My classmate. My supervisor. My boss. My family. My parents and cousins and nieces and nephews.

Because those who are part of my movement are united, not by the color of our skin, not by the shared culture of our people, no. We are united by our suffering. And I will not allow this to continue, this suffering in silence, this suffering of each individual by themself. And that is why I am here. That is why I speak out about mental illness and the stigma that people with mental illnesses face. That is why I do speeches and spoken word performances. That is why I work to hold awareness campaigns and educational workshops, here on our campus. That is why my fellow stigma fighters work to compile resources and show students that they can get help. Because 1 in 4 students here at UCLA will struggle with a mental illness.

The silenced suffering of so many people across the nation is why I am part of organizations like Active Minds and To Write Love on Her Arms, to advocate for the presence of mental health issues in mainstream society. That is why I work to show society that people with mental illness aren’t crazy, that all we need is a little extra support.

But god, if it isn’t slow-going. Because we are blocked every step of the way. Because society doesn’t want to listen to us or see us or acknowledge us. Society wants us to stay quiet and out of sight. Why? Because we make society uncomfortable. Because we are supposed to be separate. Because if we’re present, by simply being present in society, we challenge society’s beliefs about us. And I want everyone to know that it is okay to have anxiety and depression. It is okay to talk about self-injury and suicide and to need some extra help and support for those issues. Mental illnesses are invisible but real, and they affect so many people all over the world. And if we’re making people uncomfortable when we talk about it, then that means we’re doing our jobs. That means people are listening and learning. That means people aren’t ignoring us.

People with mental illnesses like myself are here and present for this movement, as small-scale as it is right now, and we will fight the stigma every day until it no longer exists. We will refuse to stand in silence at every microaggression heard. We will fight every stigmatized word, every false belief, every myth about mental illness. We will show society that we are capable, that we will break the stigma against mental illness. That we will tear down those isolating, silencing walls so that people with mental illness do not have to suffer alone. I know it will be a long, difficult fight, but we will never be silenced in our battle against stigma. Because like our campus’s All of Us campaign says, we may not all have mental illness, but we all have mental health. And we all have a voice. And we will never be silent again.