I have always wanted to be in the military. It has interested me for years, and I came so close to joining multiple times, but it was never the quite the right time. Now that I am finishing my masters degree in public health, I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to serve my country and go on an adventure.
In addition to finishing up my masters and moving across the country, I also discovered that I needed to be on anti-depressants. I had been struggling with depression for a solid ten years, but I didn’t understand until recently that other people didn’t feel that way; after ten years of dealing with it, how was I to know that the way I felt wasn’t normal?
Getting on proper medication was a game changer for my life. I used to wake up every day and push myself so hard just to get anything accomplished. I no longer struggle to do all of the things that I do and projects I want to accomplish. Before I would desperately want to meet up with friends and go for a run or play volleyball, but it so overwhelming.
I feel like I am the person I was meant to be. I never had a difficult time accepting the fact that I needed anti-depressants because the problem is simply biological. To me it was the same as the fact that I need to take iron supplements to donate blood.
So, here I am feeling on top of the world and excited about the future and possible adventures, and I contact the local military recruiter to discuss my joining the army. We meet at a coffee shop, and the recruiter seems very friendly and knowledgeable. I bring out my list of questions before I remember that I should probably ask about their policy on medications. The conversation was over almost before it began. There is a rule that you have to be off any medications like the one I was taking for a year before the army considers letting you join.
I was crushed. I had never before felt embarrassed that I was on anti-depressants, but now I felt like I was damaged; incomplete. I lived with depression for ten years before getting help; I know that I am trustworthy, and yet I was told that I couldn’t get a security clearance in my condition. “My condition”? I felt broken. I felt as if the recruiter was looking at me differently, and that he thought of me as fragile.
Sometimes it is still tempting to wallow and feel sorry for myself, but I know better. I know that I lived with depression for ten years while moving multiple times, getting myself through college and graduate school, and having my parents divorce. I know that I am strong and capable. My medication just makes it easier to be so.
I know that Marilyn Monroe said that imperfection is beauty. I know that what on the surface appears to be a weakness is often a strength. I have come to realize that although there is often a social stigma against depression, it simply means that I am unique, strong, and have specific talents that I can use to help others.
I refuse to let my need for medication define me. I am a strong, wonderful person, and I will use my unique talents to share, and not shame, other wonderful, unique people.
Hannah’s story was shared in Sharing Not Shaming campaign by SAFIGI Outreach Foundation Ltd, a not for profit organization based in Zambia with a vision to raise a generation where girls are empowered, equipped and fulfilled in every aspect of their life, for the development of the entire world. To know more about SAFIGI’s goals and activities, visit: http://www.safetyfirstforgirls.org