If you haven’t seen the musical Rent, it primarily focuses on two characters, Mark and Roger. Over the course of a year, we watch as these two and their ragtag group of friends grow and cope with loss, love, addiction, suicide, and disease. The scene this song comes from is of a support group meeting where the members, who are either HIV-positive or living with AIDS, begin to ask questions of each other and themselves. It’s a powerful scene most people can relate to, whatever their own struggles might be.
“Will I lose my dignity?”
We’re all hiding something. Big or little, there is something in each of us we don’t want other people to know about. We fear judgment, isolation, and rejection. By living vulnerably, we risk hurt, shame, and indignation.
This is how I felt as I battled depression in high school. I had always been the “funny girl,” so it was easier for me to paint a smile on my face and force a few laughs than to open up about what I was feeling and thinking. Part of me feared the shame that would come from admitting I wasn’t well; the other part feared people wouldn’t believe me. “What in her life could be so bad? She’s just doing this for attention.” I was at a standstill with myself, fighting the desire to not be pegged as “a teenage girl going through a phase,” but knowing I needed help.
“Will someone care?”
You are not alone. Regardless of what you are feeling, or what lies society has told you. I wasn’t alone in the thick of my battle, and I am still not alone in my recovery. As I finally started opening up to friends, teachers, and youth leaders, I found a support system. I found people who cared far more than I even could have imagined. People who treasured me for more than the mask I wore, who wanted to see, know, and love the real me.
If there is one thing I know to be true it is that community matters. Having people who will walk with you through the night and celebrate with you at dawn is vital to healing. Though my community has shifted and changed since high school, I still try to surround myself with people who value me and believe in my future—people who want me to succeed, to see me chase and realize my dreams.
“Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?”
For me, nights were always the hardest. They were the times I was alone and wasn’t preoccupied. I would lie awake and feel like I was lost in pain and despair. Many nights were restless and void of sleep. Others were tearful, crying until my body could no longer support consciousness, my sleep often plagued by nightmares.
But regardless of how the night started, I always woke up. Even the darkest nights—when I felt farthest from being alive, or loved, or innocent—always eventually gave way to daybreak. Your nights will, too. Your pain and suffering has an end.
Whatever you are facing right now, I want you to know and believe there is no shame in not being OK. The stigma against mental illness will only change when we start having conversations about what is going on. There are people who love you and want to join you on your journey toward healing. Let them.
This is not the end of your story. Dawn is on the horizon. Hold strong, and you will wake tomorrow.
—Brandi, TWLOHA Fall 2013 Intern