Once daily, I swallow a tiny pill that contains 100 mg of the drug Sertraline, more commonly known by its brand name, Zoloft. Sertraline has many side effects, including, but not limited to, worsening depression, dizziness, drowsiness, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased sex drive, impotence or difficulty having an orgasm. Luckily, none of the previous have happened to me. In fact, I think taking this drug was perhaps the best decision I’ve made in my life.
It has been a long and arduous journey of opening up to people, seeking help and coming to terms with my past for me to accept my mental illness. However, with this acceptance (and a little help from my friend, Sertraline), I’ve found a little more peace.
Growing up queer in a household with a verbally and physically abusive father, along with my mother’s history of anxiety and depression, I’ve been told that I had the “perfect” concoction of variables leading to the mental illness I now have. Granted, I know that the story is far more complicated than that, just as the story of me starting to recognize my problems has evolved as well.
My community never thought of my family as anything other than the perfect, church-going, studious, mom-is-a-teacher-and-dad-a-mechanic, middle class family. Under the fabricated surface, however, we lived in a constantly toxic house where all of us were too afraid for our lives to actually tell the truth. This, I know, is where my problems opening up to people started.
I realized in high school, after my mom, my siblings, and I had left our father, how fake my persona was to even my closest friends. The full story of my family’s divorce from my father was not fully known in our community. We were, unfortunately, still under that man’s curse. This is not simply a case of Holden Caulfield in Salinger’s novel. I was not simply acting fake; I caught myself blatantly lying about my past, even to my best friend and counselor. Essentially, I felt the need to hide all my problems—and with this, anxiety, depression and mild OCD were swept under the rug as well.
When I left my public high school and community on a scholarship to a Nordic skiing boarding academy in the city, I finally saw a counselor. At this point, I still didn’t tell the full story, though I was eventually diagnosed with mild general anxiety and was told working out would help with this. Given that I was at a Nordic skiing school, I took this in stride. However, as I later found out, I also had Obsessive Compulsive Exercise Disorder. I worked out so much and through sickness that I eventually contracted a life-threatening heart disorder. Think about taking a Honda Accord and pushing it to the limits of a Ferrari—that boy is gonna break. Through therapy and treatment, this problem would be resolved at Bowdoin.
However, my first year at Bowdoin was tough, to say the least. Without anxiety and depression medication, I was a mess. For the first three-fourths of the school year, I couldn’t stay on top of school and I made almost no friends. I would skip classes because my anxiety was so bad that I didn’t want to see people. I lost 20 pounds (I’m a small guy already) because I didn’t want to go to the dining hall, and I cried on the phone with my mom every night. Eventually, though, I met a great counselor who asked me to try opening up to a few people. She also got in touch with my doctor, who prescribed medication (for the record, my first medication and I didn’t get along, it takes the right medication for you). I made some amazing friends in the last quarter of the school year and actually started to talk to them about my past and what I was going through. They grew to understand my “tells” that showed anxiety and depression, which helps a lot. They know I don’t like crowded places and that I’m terrible at reaching out (and staying in touch) but that I love getting a text telling me to come to them.
To this day, I still dread eating at Thorne because it’s such a big room with so many people (I fainted there my first-year). I also leave parties early if I’m overwhelmed and I struggle with keeping in touch with people because I think they won’t want to hear from me (even if they are my best friends). For the most part, though, things have improved drastically. I still work out, but I have a better relationship with my body. I’m doing well in school and haven’t skipped a class since my first year. I have a great group of close friends, and that’s really all I could ask for. Most importantly though, I feel better about sharing my past and who I really am with other people. It’s important for me and my mental health to do so.
I don’t think everyone should take the same steps to deal with their mental health as I have, but I do think being open to the idea of talking about your mental health, medication and counseling can be really beneficial. Without my changing view on opening up and medication, I don’t know if I would still be at Bowdoin, and I know I wouldn’t as stable and happy as I am now.
Mitchel Jurasek is a member of the Class of 2021.