By Gabrielle Galchen
To take our place in history, we must also take a place within ourselves by being conscious of how we feel. Mental health is one of the least discussed yet most prevalent parts of our past, present and future, as our mentality about ourselves and about the world, defines us.
Note: names have been changed.
It was in those days of such similarity that they could all be Mondays or Wednesdays—or whatever pointless label clumsily attached to it—that I wished that the lab paper I was writing on would be scalding hot, just so all paper wouldn’t monotonously mirror itself by being all smooth, happy and white. Maybe then I would finally believe in the space between “every day” as a noun and “everyday” as an adjective, would not believe the latter to merely describe—define, rather—the first.
But one lab day, a girl who always worked alone suddenly turned to me and started crying. I quickly went to hug her and stared into the distance as she cried, looking around to see who had taken notice. No one seemed to.
But I was that “nice girl” in my grade and who I wanted to be. I was one of the few who was still civil to Lana after she had returned to school from a mental health institution. I was one of the few who she could even call a friend because after months of trying to alleviate her of her alcoholic and self-harm habits prior to hospitalization, her friends had decided that they could no longer emotionally handle taking care of her. I was one of the few and I knew I was satisfied with how I treated her. But that past week, she had sought me out every day to help her get through a crying fit or panic attack, and I didn’t know if I still wanted to be.
Depression and bipolar disorder affect approximately fourteen percent of youth aged thirteen to seventeen. Of this fourteen percent, about one in three teens will abuse substances as a coping mechanism.
Before she was institutionalized, it quickly became a well-known fact that Lana was drinking stolen alcohol from an opaque water bottle during school. When Lana vomited in the middle of English class and had to be physically assisted to the nurse’s office, everyone in her class went out of their way to spread the story. Though multiple versions were presented, the look of haunted disgust upon remembering the vomit was almost comically mirrored in everyone’s expression.
Teenage girls are twice as likely to experience depression than boys due to varying concentrations of sex hormone receptors in brain regions affected by depression. The female vulnerability to intense emotions is inherently linked to sexism, as women are generally regarded as more irrational.
Lana’s name quickly degenerated from “Lana” to “crazy.” Everyone regarded her cautiously as one would a rabid animal. In turn, she came to school in thirty-degree weather in just a sports bra and leggings, started messaging old men on dating apps, and stopped showering for days on end. When she finally left school, she had for all intents and purposes become who she was said to be until it was all that she had left to define her.
At my generally far-left liberal school, I had seen many openly cry. It was common for kids to joke, “I want to kill myself,” or say “I’m so depressed,” whenever something slightly negative happened.
Yet when Lana returned to school, no one acknowledged her, and all her friends refused to interact with her. I was shocked by the hypocrisy of my grade, at how they alleged themselves to be so accepting and inclusive until they actually had to be.
Like any ignorant person, I thought I knew everything. Yet even though Lana’s mental illness debilitated her just as a broken leg would an athlete, the situation ran deep and convoluted within the recesses of her mind. And when she wanted help, she was not simply asking for someone to carry her backpack or open a door.
Later, her former friends opened up to me about how she had texted them repeatedly, threatening to and then proceeding to do something to herself if they did not answer.
When all she started talking about with me was how her life was harder than mine and how her week was going terribly, instead of responding, I laughed. I laughed with all my heart, because happiness could easily be like a soap, beautiful and cleansing, yet slipping away from my greedy hands all too quickly. I hated her for assuming that she knew me, for always telling me how “sweet” and “happy” I was, when she of all people should have known how no one is how they identify, how one’s presentation is who they want to be as opposed to who they actually are.
Sixty-seven percent of Americans believe that there are insufficient existing services for people with mental illness, and they are undoubtedly right. People who are mentally ill will never have enough treatment to overcome whatever demons plague them simply because no one’s mind can be fully understood.
But it is a universal fact that all human beings will ultimately prioritize themselves: the very function of humanity is to survive. And though it varies subjectively, every individual’s maximum limit for empathy, like an inevitable stain on their soul, remains.
Half Israeli and half American, Gabrielle Galchen will never quite fit in except for when she writes, when she belongs solely to herself and feels the most complete. As a senior in high school, writing is her objective way to make sense of the world and find herself. She is so honored to participate in a program in which she can pursue her passion; Girls Write Now has truly made her high school experience.