This year’s been wild, hasn’t it? I hear this every year, but so many people have proclaimed that 2018 was a terrible year for them. This could be due to my own bias, for this was near the hardest year of my life, or it could have something to do with our collective societal mood. It could also be a coincidence, or an annual constant born of the tendency to dramatize and catastrophize in conversation. Whatever the reason, the consensus seems to be that this calendar year was particularly draining. I’ve identified three sectors of mental health that are worth reflecting upon as this year comes to a close, and there are drawbacks and silver linings to each.
Several factors may be contributing to a general, public sense of mental exhaustion. None, however, are as quick to leap from the tongue as our political state. Whatever your political affiliation, this year has been a mess, yeah? If you’re more liberal, a Trump presidency is constantly, unrelentingly releasing undesirable news, and an embarrassing Supreme Court pick squeaked its way through. If you’re more conservative, the defense of an unpredictable presidency and the losses endured during the midterm elections are surely draining. Reporters and pundits are scrambling to explain it all and we’re scrambling to interpret it, in turn, or else shutting our eyes and ears while humming and pretending it isn’t happening.
Several demographics also find themselves to be at increasing risk. The transgender murder rate climbed, again, from 2017’s numbers. Xenophobic, anti-Muslim, and/or racist ideologies have been given ever more visible a platform, namely by the highest office in the land. Constantly conversing about a border wall to exclude an entire ethnicity from our country has to be having a sapping effect on dinner table discussion, at the very least. I know it’s having a sapping effect, to put it lightly, on the asylum seekers who flee chaos and violence to seek refuge in my homeland. Sexism was emboldened by the introduction of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the highest court in the land, whether or not he even was guilty of the crime of which he was accused. Police violence and videos of belligerent, white, racist aggressors litter the daily news cycle. Shall I go on?
It’s clear that this all has to have had a degrading effect on public morale. There is no such thing as a line between politics and real life, as much as we wish there was. Politics start and end friendships, and no, nothing is sacred, because political figures leave no stone unturned. Any affiliation or opinion is now an endorsement of an entire tribalized platform, whether you like it or not. Animus and bitterness run high.
This is just the backdrop to some more relevant mental health themes throughout the year, though. 2018 also brought with it both a series of tragic suicides and relapses, and increased positive, though unfortunately necessary, awareness of those issues. We lost Colin Kroll and Mac Miller to overdoses and Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Avicii, and Verne Troyer to suicide, to name a few. Kanye West, Demi Lovato, and Pete Davidson featured in the news for their crises and relapses. Mental health has been on the public mind in ways I’ve never before seen, scattered across social media and news outlets.
The Parkland students were vocal about their struggle with PTSD, as were the brave Christine Blasey Ford and Ariana Grande. Mariah Carey and Kanye West publicly discussed bipolar disorder. Shawn Mendes and Bella Hadid exposed their struggles with anxiety disorders, and Prince Harry and Chrissy Teigen, among many others, went public with their mental health experiences. It’s become more acceptable for public figures to bare their emotional challenges for all to see, even if just slightly. While some disorders continue to be misunderstood and stigmatized, the more palatable ones, like anxiety and depression, are nearly considered common, now. If something is common, it’s more difficult to stigmatize. Admissions like those of the aforementioned stars go a long way towards de-stigmatizing their conditions to their devoted fans. I hope to see more of this in 2019.
More personally, 2018 was a really difficult one for me. My PTSD was officially diagnosed and I’ve been grappling with it most deeply and extensively in this calendar year. My summer was something out of hell. I was severely bullied. I went in and out of life saving treatment, and my body underwent some drastic changes. I switched schools. My childhood dog died. I made some beautiful friendships, lost some as well. I’m applying to college, which is much more stressful than my similarly aged friends had led me to believe, even when they were going through it (perhaps I simply devalued their complaints at the time…). OCD has kicked my butt this year.
There’s lots of reason for hope. As previously mentioned, I underwent reformative treatment. My body is as strong as ever. Wounds from the summer have mostly healed and I’m secure in my loving friendships, today. I switched schools, and think myself in a much more stable and supportive academic environment (my old school was good in theory and poorly executed, but that’s for another day).
Most crucially, I understand myself better than I ever have. OCD is now my primary diagnosis, and influences/events from my childhood have joined it as the leading focuses of my treatment, an adjustment that has done worlds of good for me. I made a welcome and necessary change to my treatment team that reformed my approach to therapy. I know what I need to do in order to succeed, whether it be academically, emotionally, romantically, familially, or socially. I more intimately understand my mind than ever before, and my actions and impulses have been extensively traced back to their core sources.
In making your resolutions this year, think back to the moments in which you felt at your best and at your worst. What were you doing when you felt that way? Who were you surrounded by? Were you taking medication, attending therapy? Were you in school, out of it? Near your family and home, far from them? Try to channel, using as specific language as possible, your happiest moments and surroundings into a resolution for 2019. Goal setting, as I’ve discussed before, is a crucial element of mental health advancement.
I will accept and love my college choice, no matter its acceptance rate.
It may seem a bit silly, but a major, lifelong struggle of mine has been college-centric; I’ve hoped to gain admission to the most prestigious school possible. As I’ve watched my mental illnesses take a blowtorch to that dream, I’ve had to come to terms with my capabilities, and I haven’t always been able to embrace them. With decisions looming- the next few months will determine my fate- I have to perform active work to prepare myself for what may or may not be a stressful and initially disappointing outcome. Ultimately, the prestige of the college is next to worthless, and my life will go on and be as beautiful and successful as I make it.
Here’s to a beautiful and successful 2019.