Hello, my name is Evan. I live with mental illness, specifically OCD and depression. If you’re reading this, you might recognize me as your therapist, colleague, neighbor or friend. You might ask yourself why I would broadcast my mental illness, free of shame and fear. What do I have to gain from this? What do I have to lose? What I have to gain is possibly reaching someone, helping someone and inspiring them to speak freely about their personal experience with mental illness and consider getting assistance from a professional. The only thing I lose is keeping an unnecessary secret about myself. In the balance, speaking out to normalize and destigmatize mental illness always wins out.
When I was younger, I held my mental illness tightly and it became an anchor for my fears and insecurities. The world was always too big and too daunting. Everything was a challenge and I often wondered if life was worth the challenge. I often isolated myself in my own cave of doubt and shame. This made forging relationships difficult and maintaining them nearly impossible.
In middle school and high school, I missed as many days as were allowable to graduate. Outwardly, I was a varsity soccer player and somehow a nearly straight A student. On the inside, though, I grappled with persistent anxiety and depression. Every aspect of existence felt like a threat and every interaction left me feeling mentally and physically exhausted.
When I was a kid, mental illness was not discussed; the topic of mental illness was avoided at the cost of those living with symptoms. It was viewed as a weakness. It was viewed as a failure. These themes made me feel ashamed and ungrateful for what I had rather than concerned about what I was experiencing. I did not know how to find help. I did not know how anyone could help. I was lost.
I took this feeling of loss and confusion to college and nearly failed in my freshman year. Everything that was terrifying in high school was magnified and I did not know how I could exist. I finally sought out help. The revelation that I could seek help changed my outlook. Mental illness stopped defining me and being a roadblock, instead, it became a manageable aspect of my identity. I started learning how to manage my symptoms while living my values of social justice advocacy. The fog of mental illness cleared and it became something I could see through and live with in peace.
I finished my undergraduate education as well as two post graduate degrees. I work in mental health and continue my efforts in social justice advocacy and mental illness transparency. I also still have OCD and depression. Mental illness is not always something to “overcome.” It is sometimes something to live with in cooperation and acceptance. I have accepted myself and have learned to manage my symptoms. My hope is that sharing my story will help others on their path. My hope is that others do not have to wait as long as I did to seek help.