‘The Last Word’ are the final section of school assemblies, where a senior student of the school gives a speech about a lesson they have learned and leave the audience with something to think about before the Friday school day starts.
Mental Health, two words, many opinions. Anxiety, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, and more. One in four New Zealander’s will experience a mental health issue before 18.
1 in 4 of every single Macleans student, 650 of you, including me, I am the 1 in 4.
So although I stand before you with a smile on my face, for 5 years I have battled with depression and anxiety. Invisible illnesses, that from looking at me, you could never tell I have.
But I know I’m not alone. So I share my story this morning, in hope to give you the courage to speak up about what’s going on in your head.
In Year 11, I was in B-class, always studiously studying, doing every co-curricular I could while working a part time job, and trying to find time for friends and family. I was hard working and well-rounded, something teachers encourage all of us to be, but on the inside I was dying, on the road to burn out from struggling to balance everything and live up to my own high expectations.
I was trying to please everyone, be perfect, and be good enough. I know we all want to be liked but consider, how much happier would you be if you started doing what you love, rather than what other people will love you for.
March of Year 11, I got a concussion playing netball, an invisible injury that required me to take five weeks off school and sport to recover, advice from my doctor that sent me into full panic mode because what am I without these things.
I lived for my image of being the ‘perfect student’, my sport, studies and achievements and with one hit of the head, all of it was taken away from me.
I felt I had nothing left. I couldn’t do anything without excruciatingly painful symptoms, so everyday for five weeks I lay in bed, in a dark room because the light gave me migraines, with nothing to do but ponder my own thoughts. Thoughts that told me I will fail from missing school, that no one will like me anymore because I’m worthless without my achievements, that me on my own as just a human being am not good enough.
Not good enough – the core belief at the root of my mental health struggles.
These five weeks off school lead to the rest of the year after many health problems, including, fainting spontaneously everyday, to a point that the school to ask me to stay at home for health and safety. All this made my anxiety worse to a point where during one panic attack, the ambulance was called because I was hysterically screaming and crying and I just couldn’t stop.
The rest of Year 11, I spent seeing countless medical professionals. No one could “fix” the constant headaches, fainting, debilitating body aches and pains I was experiencing and in the September I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, an invisible illness plagued me with constant exhaustion, leaving me unable to be a normal teenager.
People were wondering why I wasn’t better from the concussion because I looked fine so they thought I was. They would joke that we all get tired and that I just needed soldier on.
They didn’t understand my illness. So their lives went on. I became isolated and lonely, disconnected from everything that used to make me happy. I wanted to give up trying to get better because I felt nothing I did worked.
I reached out to my mum and started having counselling for depression and anxiety, to help me learn the tools to deal with the war in my head. But no one knew I was struggling, because I looked fine, I had no cast, no scar, no bandage. Like concussion, mental illnesses are invisible. I was so angry at life, I begrudged how unfair it was that my health was taken away from me. I resented people not understanding the strife I was going through so I pushed them further away. But how do people know your internal pain unless you tell them? They can’t see your thoughts, like they can see a bandage.
My mum then quit her job to be there for me both physically and mentally. I felt immense guilt for this sacrifice rather than feeling grateful. So I ask you if you’ve you ever felt guilty for someone doing something kind for you? And now know that there is always someone there that will help you; you just have to let them know. We think we don’t deserve the support of others so we keep our problems to ourselves. But the reality is your friends, teachers, and family all want to help you.
I felt like a failure, a disappointment. I know many of us have these thoughts but realise that they are JUST that, just, thoughts.
So although countless times I’ve hit rock bottom because I believed there was nothing good in my life, I’ve come out the other end. And I say “I believed” because it wasn’t true. I had a million reasons to keep going I just had to learn to see them.
Reach out to someone you trust. There is always help, you just have to ask for it. Once I told my friends they were incredibly supportive and still are.
So remember that when your health deteriorates and everything seems bleak the right people will always be there to keep you going.
And if someone comes to you for support realise that just because they look fine, it doesn’t mean they are. Teachers, check in with your students, mental illnesses are invisible.
The first step to healing yourself is accepting that you need help. You wanting to heal yourself is the hardest but most powerful step towards recovery. Every journey is different and will be a rollercoaster of emotions, but it’s worth it in the end.
So let’s be more accepting of each other’s emotions, and don’t be so quick to judge a book by its cover. Let all of us speak up and end this cycle of silence. Let’s live in a country where boys see men talk about feelings and realise its okay for them to do it too. Let me standing here today encourage you to share your story. Lets normalize mental health, speak up, reach out, and end the stigma.
My last words to you are that it’s okay to not be okay.
The writing above was written and originally orated by Bailee Ryan on 21/06/2019 at school assembly. Part of Student Wellbeing Week, organised by the school prefects. Header GIF: The Depression Monster by Rosie Chomet