Mental Health Matters with Mae

"Mental Health Matters" 
By: Mae

My name is Mae. I am 16 years old, and I am USA National Miss Indiana Teen 2019. As a pageant titleholder I have the opportunity to promote causes I am passionate about, which for me is mental health. When I had heard about Project Hud;son I knew I wanted to be involved, and Jenna recommended to me to be a part of their social media features also known as the “Mental Health Matters with Project Hud;son” series. 

So here I am… I have struggled to find the right words. Before this I have never really shared my journey with mental health, but I am going to try my best to explain it. I was adopted from China when I was 11 months old into an extremely loving family. I was late in development, but other than that there was nothing my family thought I couldn’t do. I was raised in an environment surrounded with strong people. I always was a confident kid but that didn’t stop me from feeling depressed and dealing with anger and anxiety. 

After talking to my parents, I found out when things started to change. I was about 5 years old, and I was still having tantrums that would last 1+ hours. I was so angry, and they didn’t know why. The turning point was when we were driving home from my grandparents. I had left something at their house, and I was so upset that my mom would not turn around to get it that I wiggled my way out of the car seat and actually ended up grabbing the steering wheel. It was then my parents realized they needed help, so they put me into counseling. When I was 6, I had been put on medication. We went to many different doctors, and they tried to diagnose me. The diagnoses varied from separation anxiety, PTSD to just being a kid who wanted control. I always knew in my heart that it was not separation anxiety due to my adoption, but beyond that I was unsure. 

Looking back my mom says. “Your tantrums often began when you didn’t get your way, or you were anxious about something” which makes sense when I look at myself now. I very much like to be in control. I know what I want and when I want it. Anyways, I went through this while I was in Elementary. I was exceling in school, and socially I didn’t have any big problems. I got teased here and there about being Asian. It sometimes bordered on bullying, but it never really affected me. My problems always stemmed from within myself. 

As I got into middle school, I struggled with feeling like I had to have my life together. I started questioning life and if all the work was really worth it. It was this point in my life that I had started to feel depressed. I didn’t want to continue living. I never ended up self-harming; I couldn’t bring myself to do it. But I wished for a freak accident or something just to free me from this world. It was my all time low.

One month in 6th grade I did three half days a week at school and went to an outpatient program to try and help. It helped some, but it didn’t last.

One afternoon in 7th grade I began arguing with my parents. I don’t even remember what it was about but it was the second breaking point. My parents had to drive me to the hospital. On the drive to the hospital I tried to get out of the moving car. This resulted in my mom driving while my dad had to hold me down in the back. 

Once I had gotten to the hospital I remember refusing to speak. I was the angriest I think I have ever been. It was late that night when I finally got checked in.

The first day I was there was eye opening. I met many girls and heard their stories. They had absent families, had drug problems, had been abused, and so much more. They had a reason to be struggling. 

I didn’t necessarily have a reason. Now with that being said I don’t believe that made my feelings any less valid. There is something to be said about the chemical imbalance related to mental health as well. Whatever the reason, mental health is apparent in everyone’s lives. Just in different ways. 

A few days in, there was a family visiting time and of course my parents came. I refused to speak to them. I was still holding resentment.

I ended up staying in the hospital for a week. When I was released I had made the decision to get better. This isn’t how it works for everyone however for me I had finally chosen to stop letting mental illness define me, and it made all the difference. Something just clicked inside of me. I truly believe my hospital time gave me a passion for mental health that I now have. 

After I got out, I found out that my Granny had called and asked my parents how I was every day. I found out how worried all my family was about me. Now looking back I can honestly say I would not change my hospitalization. 

Ultimately, I had to learn coping skills, rely on my family, and be okay that I didn’t have everything figured out. I had to be okay with my problems. It is one thing to love yourself but its another to accept your demons. 

I’m not perfect now. I don’t want anyone to think that. Now more than ever I am under immense amount of stress. Between Pageant titleholder duties and planning for my future I have many things I am juggling, but I am getting through it and thriving because I have grown. I have a good support system. My mental health struggles do not prevent me from achieving great things. I know that I was made for more. 

So what I want you to hear from this is that mental health looks different for everyone. That’s why mental Health is so hard to figure out. I don’t know that anyone will ever be able to say they have found the solution to mental illness, but I will promise you that things will get better. I know its cliché but its true. 

I will tell you this now: it won’t get better unless you want it to. It’s a decision and its one the hardest ones to make. And sometimes you can make the decision and things won’t change. You have to find what works for you. 

So please don’t give up. I don’t have to know you to know that the world is better with you in it. Lean on the people who care about you. I believe in you. 

Mental Heath Matters with Cory

Aug. 5, 2018

This post almost didn’t happen. On May 17, I promised by friends Wes and Jenna that would kick off the “Mental Health Matters with Project Hudson” series. I’m finally sitting down to write it on Aug. 5.

No matter how ready you think you may be to open up about your struggles with mental health, it’s not easy to

put the words on paper. Just the concept of mental health has become stigmatized in our country. There is such a negative connotation surrounding personal mental health challenges that most people would rather not talk about them. It’s often easier for people to ignore the issues and avoid uncomfortable conversations than to understand and be empathetic.

Meanwhile, people who face mental health struggles every day can begin to feel alone, isolated and ashamed. I definitely don’t have all the answers – not even close. I think what clicked for me recently was just that I was exhausted from trying to portray myself as someone who had it all together. I struggle with depression, anxiety and OCD. Depending on which doctors you talk to, I may even have some PTSD going on. There were days, more like months or years, when I didn’t want to stay. There were long periods of time when I felt like leaving was the only option.

Through it all, I tried desperately to cling to a persona that wasn’t reality. I desperately tried to show the world a confident, energetic and, at times, ruthless professional. I desperately tried to show my friends that I was the party guy, the fun guy, the guy who was up for anything.

All the while, I was drowning inside.

I was confrontational, combative and defensive. I distanced myself from those who care about me. I armored myself in arrogance, thinking it would make me untouchable. I would binge-eat and binge-exercise, causing my weight fluctuate wildly. My wife and I moved from state to state, chasing my career and hoping that each new situation would finally be the one to bring us some peace.

It turns out, you can’t outrun your mental health challenges.

I went to therapy, saw different doctors, started taking medication, but those things are only part of the process. It was only recently that I realized none of that would matter unless I was able to take on the most difficult part of mental health: self-acceptance. Self-acceptance isn’t just taking a diagnosis and saying, “Ok, self. This is what we have going on and we’re just going to learn to live with it.” That’s just self-awareness. Self-acceptance is the next level. It is taking stock of who you are as a person, all your strengths and challenges. It is deciding whether you will let yourself be defined by your strengths or your challenges. It is, above all else, the process of learning who you are, embracing that person and showing that person to the world. Easier said than done, right? Right.

The last nine months for me have been as hard, if not harder, than any of the other dark periods I’ve experienced over the last decade I was already in a dark place when a job that I had worked toward my entire career was ripped away, and the floor just kind of dropped out. I spiraled downward so fast that nothing or nobody could stop me, especially not myself. My wife put everything she had into bringing me back up from the depths and I only tried to bring her down with me. I was a shell of myself, not living in reality.

The turning point came when she finally broke. There was nothing more she could do for me. She had sacrificed almost all of herself to try to help me, and I had given her nothing in return. She couldn’t physically or mentally help me anymore.

That’s when I realized that something had to change inside me. It became crystal clear that if I couldn’t help myself, no amount of effort from anyone else was going to change anything. I decided to take stock of all that I liked and disliked about myself. The dislikes were pretty easy to identify, as you’ve read in the preceding paragraphs. It took actual effort to come up with the list of things I like about myself.

I like to read. I’m a dog lover. I have an unbelievable wife. I think I’m pretty smart and write pretty well. I’m a naturally kind person. There are others, but you get the picture: start small and work your way up. As I went down the list, I started to think that the person on paper sounded like a pretty cool guy. Someone I could live with. Someone who also struggles with depression, anxiety and OCD but realizes it doesn’t need to define him.

Someone I wouldn’t be ashamed to share with the world.

That, in the end, is who everyone deserves to be: someone who can go out into the world and say, “Here’s who I am and I’m proud of it.”

There’s no need to hide behind personas or shut your true self off from the world. Embrace your strengths and your challenges. Be who you are and be proud to show that to the world.

It’s a lesson I wish I would have learned a long time ago, and if there’s one major thing I hope you take away from this piece, that’s it.

One last thing: self-acceptance isn’t a destination. If we stop evolving, we stop growing. The process of self-acceptance has to continue to evolve as you grow as a person. Grow in ways that make you proud. If you hit a roadblock, accept it, own it and figure out how to make it part of you. I’m no sage or superhero. I’m just a regular guy with great family and great friends who is on the path to really liking himself. If I can do, so can you so. Mental health matters, but it’s not an easy journey. Just don’t be afraid to take the first step.

All the best,