We Are Not Alone:
Using Our Own Mental Health Experiences to Help Others Through Their Struggle
The summer before I started my first year at the University of Maryland, I had a bit of a breakdown. For years, although I had not yet been diagnosed with my behavioral health related disability, I had struggled with its effects. They came up most often in my life at home, leading to tension and difficulty with my parents. I began to suspect something was wrong with me. One day, I snapped.
I sat crying in our living room, trying to explain to their concerned faces that I somehow couldn’t do what they wanted, but I feared they still wouldn’t understand. How do you explain the pervasive inability to complete simple tasks? How do you explain that, no matter how many times you are told something, you’ll still always forget? How do you explain that your brain just can’t focus on the things it doesn’t want to focus on?
Then, when I had stopped crying, my mother took me aside.
“You know,” she said to me, “I have ADHD too.”
Though it may be a cliché, in my experience, one of the most reassuring aspects of the daily struggle against mental illness is the knowledge that that struggle is shared. While it’s true that every personal experience is unique, it’s too easy for neurodivergent people in our community to feel alone and isolated.
A few weeks later, I moved to campus. During that stressful period, I was forced by convenience, doubt, and lack of motivation to push my mental health to the backburner. Even as I struggled to complete difficult work and developed issues with sleep and energy, doubts started to creep into my mind. I felt I wasn’t struggling enough to justify getting help. I felt guilty about thinking of myself with this disorder because so many had it so much worse.
But then a friend recommended I get involved with Scholars Promoting and Revitalizing Care (SPARC). I liked the group and I believed in the work it was doing, so I started going to meetings and events. Towards the end of my first semester, SPARC hosted a mental health open mic night.
One speaker (I don’t remember her name at this point) got up and started speaking about her experience with ADHD. Every part of her story seemed like it was directed right at me, as if she had created a checklist on which I could tick off every box. I took it as a wake-up-call. If she hadn’t gotten up on that stage to share her story, I might never have taken action to address my own mental health.
In that case, all it took to change someone’s life for the better was for her to share her own experiences. For many, that’s the first step. If you are comfortable enough in your own neurodivergence, you can help others by letting them know their condition is neither solitary nor untreatable. People within the neurodivergent community have a unique opportunity to advocate for themselves and for others.
Everyone walks a different path on the road to understanding themselves. If you have found enough strength to accept your own neurodivergence, you might just have to tools to help others accept theirs.
(by UMD student Garrett Mogge)