“I hated myself as a teenager. A diagnosis helped me understand why’
A February 2023 CDC report found that nearly three in five teenage girls in the United States felt persistently sad or hopeless. One in three has seriously considered attempting suicide — an increase of nearly 60 percent from a decade ago.
While this report draws attention to a mental health crisis, it provides statistics without putting a face to the problem.
I am one of the teenage girls who has experienced crushing depression and anxiety during the pandemic. I was a member of the Class of 2020. I had no prom, no high school graduation, no college freshman year past Zoom classes. My life was frozen and broken.
At the beginning of 2020 I was on cloud nine. I lived in Los Angeles for a month, attended New York Fashion Week, and went on a date with a guy I was into. But then the pandemic struck.
I survived the quarantine surprisingly well for a while. I temporarily moved to the Hamptons and enjoyed alone time to write, make videos, and work on my fitness program.
But in August something changed in me. It was a difficult feeling to explain. I was sitting on the couch when I suddenly couldn’t catch my breath. It made no sense, I was watching an 80’s romantic comedy with my mom – what could be wrong? I asked my dad to take me for a COVID-19 test but it was negative.
That’s when my mother suggested it might be fear.
To me, anxiety was just another word for stress, like the butterfly feeling I got while cramming for a final exam. I was never taught anything about mental health in school, so I struggled to understand what was happening to me. It felt completely different from the tremors before the quiz.
My breathing was shallow and I was struggling to find my footing because I was feeling weak. The anxiety began as purely physical symptoms. I woke up frail, my hands shaking under the covers. At one point I was so shaky in the morning that I dropped my breakfast.
Little did I know fear could manifest itself both mentally and physically—until an unexpected revelation from a friend. She had struggled with anxiety and depression to the point where she had harmed herself. I wanted to be there to offer support. But when I caught a glimpse of the scars on her wrist, the world stopped.
“Does this happen to people who are afraid?” I thought.
From that evening on I had occasional outbursts of intrusive thoughts. My brain placed horrible messages in my head. Only during the winter break did these thoughts become more of an occupation. I became obsessed with them, wondering why they were there, if they were real and why they wouldn’t go away.
One day I stared blankly at the ceiling of my bedroom. My heart jumped out of my chest, beating out of control as it struggled to find its way back home. My thoughts raced in circles. It seemed impossible to find peace as intrusive thoughts entered my brain. It felt like there were two voices in my head, one telling me to believe things would get better and the other telling me there was no way out.
The fear of what I might be capable of terrified me. It was like I had an illness I couldn’t shake. Although I wasn’t physically ill, it felt like my brain was infected and in need of healing.
The confusion was frustrating. There was a constant trail running in my head as I tried to rationalize myself out of the situation. When I was most scared, I retreated to an escape thought: “Life is great. Your family and friends love you. You don’t really want to hurt yourself.”
But my intrusive thoughts felt so real. Most days it felt like there was a hole in my head that I couldn’t crawl out of. People tried to talk to me, but it was like I wasn’t even there.
My surroundings were blurry. I was stuck in my brain, detached from the world. I did what I could to feel more “alive”. I’ve filmed dozens of TikTok drafts, started cooking and seen more Marvel movies than I could count. Still, I felt like a robot methodically going about my day. I forced myself to go forward. Some days just existing had to be enough.
I was uncomfortable being alone with my thoughts, so I joined my family, who constantly reassured me that everything would be fine. “My brain is noisy,” I would say to describe the intensity of my anxiety. I expressed how my mind felt as if it was “on fire.”
No matter how much my parents reassured me, nothing stuck. Telling me things would get better was like filling a cup with a hole in it. I couldn’t find faith – there was only fear.
I tried my best to find courage even when nothing made sense in my head. Every fun experience was followed by an overwhelming flood of emotions. I suddenly remembered all the fear I was facing, as if my brain was making sure I didn’t forget it was there. It was like I forgot how to be happy. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore. I looked back at pictures of myself from the past and didn’t recognize myself.
The eighteen year old body I lived in felt alien and unfamiliar. I looked for a glimmer of hope, a sign or a reminder that I was still the same girl I was the year before.
Because of the mental health stigma, it was hard to get me to ask for help. But once I started therapy, I began to understand what I was experiencing.
When I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), it all fell into place.
My therapist told me that obsessive-compulsive disorder doesn’t just cause physical compulsions—think excessive cleaning, repetitive hand washing, or organizing your kitchen—it also places unwanted thoughts in my brain.
Learning more about OCD gave me a sense of comfort. It helped me to see that there was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t the only one who felt like this, even if it often felt like it.
I now know that fear is a series of peaks and valleys. Someday I’ll only have a few moments with my intrusive thoughts. Every hour for the next I’m distracted and unfocused, internally screaming at my fear to “go away”. The turning point in my struggle was the realization that it would not and never will go away.
Now that I’ve faced my fears, I can’t forget what I went through. The difference is that I now have the tools to combat my anxiety when it arises. Some days will be better than others, but I know now that joy is still possible. My happiness may have been temporarily lost, but it was never destroyed.
I have grown into a stronger, wiser and more compassionate person. I now prioritize personal growth and mental health above all else. I’ve proven my strength to myself and listen to my heart when I need a breather. Only you can control your emotions. Sure, my parents and therapist made a great rally team, but I had to be my own cheerleader.
I’ve come a long way since the day I sat shivering on my bed. At first I was unable to articulate what I was experiencing or say out loud the frightening words that flooded my brain. I thought I was alone in my struggles, but now I realize everyone goes through something. I’m still in the works. Occasionally intrusive thoughts arise, and physical compulsions also remain. But I’ve grown a lot. I’m proud of how far I’ve come.
My fear made me hate myself and my life. I didn’t know how to get out of bed in the morning. I did not want to. The sun was shining but I only saw the darkness of my thoughts. I would look up at the sky and pray for motivation. I looked outside for help when I should have looked inside.
The second I acknowledged my fear and took active steps to understand it, I began to see my life in a positive, more empowering light. I started fighting for myself.
The above is an adapted excerpt from Carrie Berk’s debut solo book My Real-Life Rom-Com (Post Hill Press; Simon & Schuster), to be released September 19, 2023.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
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https://www.newsweek.com/teen-girl-mental-health-depression-carrie-berk-1787445 “I hated myself as a teenager. A diagnosis helped me understand why’