I Have a Mental Illness

Confession 1: Depression

I have two bachelor’s degrees. I am bilingual and have the ability to write in both English and Spanish. I am a photographer and a web producer.  I published a book of poetry when I was 23. My poems and stories have been included in various anthologies.  I love outdoor activities such as hiking and cycling. I have dreams and goals and…… I have a mental illness.


I am coming out because it is about time to stop being hidden as if by having a mental illness I was a criminal. Society prejudices have obligated us, who live with a mental illness, to keep it as a secret for fear of criticism, judgments, and rejection. Depression, is indeed, a disease like it is cancer and diabetes. The difference is, it affects your brain instead of your body, even though people with depression experience physical symptoms also.

My painful shyness allowed others to take advantage of me and to treat me poorly. On my second year of junior high I was bitterly bullied. It was also during that time that I started to feel different.  Something wasn’t normal. I didn’t have the words to explain to my mother what was causing me to feel so strange. So I didn’t ask for help. I would spend my hours after classes watching television in my parent’s bedroom. I stayed in my uniform and ate very little. When it was dark and time for my mom to come home from work, I would get up and change clothes. This was my life. I didn’t have friends and didn’t go out. I was the loneliest person on earth.

But it wasn’t until my first year of high school that a psychiatrist told my mom and me that I had depression. She prescribed some pills, which I took only for a few days because my mom decided they weren’t good for me. They made me sleepy and my eyes looked as if I were on illegal drugs. She then took me to see the same doctor whom without caring a bit told my mom that if I continued feeling so deeply depressed, I should get hospitalized in the psychiatric ward. Her words echoed in my head during many sleepless nights. I wanted so bad to stop feeling sad and to feel joy again but after what she said I was in panic. I was mad at myself and mad at life. I was in shock. I was in need of a miracle.

You're not your illness

That year I changed high schools three times. I was trying to find a place to where I could feel well. I couldn’t find it. I didn’t find it. The sadness was in me. It was incredibly painful to see my classmates being normal teenagers while I felt I was something different, not in a good way.  I would sit in a corner to observe them laugh with naturalness. They would talk about their future, their dates, their friends. I had nothing to talk about. I didn’t have the desire to talk. 

My first year of college was hell. I felt lost and didn’t make a single friend. At 17, I should had been able to enjoy the freedom that college life gives. But I couldn’t. I was sick. Mentally sick with an illness that is still a taboo. On my second year of college, I experienced a major panic attack after failing a test. I went out of the building and headed towards the exit of campus, tears rolling down my cheeks like a heavy rain. I felt stupid and mad at myself. I couldn’t understand why I was acting and feeling that way. Everybody has failed a test and they were just well. When I wasn’t able to think clear and walk any longer, I sat in the middle of nowhere. Students passed by and looked at me with wondering eyes, some gave me a tender smile, others made a mocking face. I lost it. I fell apart and couldn’t figure out how to pull myself together.

I have battled the draining mentally and physically exhausting illness of depression for almost two decades.  I have always hated the saying, “Trials make you stronger.” I am not stronger because of depression. In fact, I am weaker. But I am stubborn and love challenges so I have learned somehow, to live with a mental illness.

People who suffer from major depression, panic attacks, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and such illness are normal people like you. So no, I don’t need special treatment.  My future bosses don’t have to worry and throw my resume into a garbage bin because I can work just as fine as people without mental illness.

What people with these kind of illnesses want, is for society to stop talking about things they don’t have a clue about. To stop saying, they know how it is to feel sad. Depression is more than an occasional sadness. Stop telling us how to feel better, “Go out and make friends,” “Get up early and exercise,” “Just don’t think about it.” While some of those tips can help us to feel better they won’t cure depression as they wouldn’t cure cancer. Treat depression as you would treat another illness. Be understanding and sympathetic but, above all, be there.

I am Francia Henriquez Benson.  I am an artist, an adventurer. I am a human. Just like you. I have a real illness. An invisible illness. A taboo illness.Francia Benson

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