When I was 10 years old, my homeroom teacher distributed photocopied handouts about depression. I scanned the faded bullet points: Feelings of sadness and hopelessness, loss of interest in usual hobbies and activities, lack of energy, sleep disturbances, reduced appetite, difficulty concentrating, agitation, etc. The handout said if we were experiencing four or more of these symptoms, we should be seeking help for depression.
My first reaction after checking the box next to each symptom was concern about my parents’ response. Would they be disappointed in me? Would they be embarrassed? Or angry? Would they insist I begin therapy? What kind of fourth grader needed a therapist?
I didn’t want to find out. For eight more years, I shoved down every knot in my stomach, every hopeless thought, every pang of guilt, every moment of exhaustion — telling no one and collapsing into my bed every night, crying until all the moisture left my body. I didn’t seek help until I reached my freshman year of college, when my struggles simply could not be masked anymore.
When I think about the pain my 10-year-old self was hiding, I wish I could tell her that she was more than enough, just as she was — and she didn’t need to be ashamed of her mental health challenges.
Wanting To Be Perfect
Growing up, I was wracked with guilt over not being the perfect child. I struggled in math class, fumbling hopelessly through textbooks as I tried to make sense of congruent triangles. I was wildly uncoordinated and, as a result, terrible at every sport I tried. My basketball coach’s exasperated sigh rang in my ears. I wasn’t much better in my creative pursuits; I practiced violin for several hours at a time, but I never seemed to improve.
I became hopelessly insecure; any unfamiliar task or critical comment would reduce me to tears. So, when I identified that I might be struggling with depression, I couldn’t imagine adding another “flaw,” like a mental illness, to the list. How long could this list get before I became unlovable?
So much of my anguish came from the assumption that my parents wouldn’t be able to handle another one of my “failures.” I worried that they’d lament how their child couldn’t be “normal.” I sometimes heard them up at night, talking about the ways in which my behavior concerned them. I wondered, how bad would these conversations get if we added a therapist’s feedback?
Looking back, I needed to know that I was more than enough — and that I deserved love, happiness and healing despite my many imperfections. Being a flawed person did not make me inadequate, and having a mental health condition didn’t make me a “bad” child. My parents weren’t, in fact, expecting their 10-year-old to be perfect. Perhaps, if I had been able to internalize that, I might have admitted my struggles and sought help much earlier.
Embracing the #MoreThanEnough Campaign
When I think about NAMI’s #MoreThanEnough campaign, I wonder about the other 10-year-olds in that classroom. Were they struggling and too scared to say anything or ask for help? Was there anyone else who desperately wanted to please those around them and couldn’t fathom revealing their pain? Who else needed the validation that they were adequate and deserving of help and compassion?
This Mental Health Awareness Month, I hope that we can continue to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness and recognize that we are all more than enough. We are inherently worthy of happiness and recovery, regardless of diagnosis, ability or anything else.
Twenty years after reading that handout, I have added plenty of “flaws” to my list. I oversleep, I can’t parallel park a car without causing property damage and I cry hysterically at TikTok videos about retired greyhounds. I am still bad at math and basketball. But these flaws don’t (and never have) defined me. Neither does my mental health condition. I live with well-managed anxiety and depression — and I am fully deserving of the life I have, complete with a caring family, an adorable pet, a devoted partner, work I love and access to regular therapy. I am #morethanenough and so are you.
Margot Harris is a Content Manager with the Marketing & Communications team at NAMI. She has an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University and previously worked as a digital culture reporter at Business Insider. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her very energetic emotional support dog, Lyla.