Don’t ask me why my eyes are red

By Robert Rigo

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(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

I hate that at times I am subjected to wear my illness. The rosy rashes from anxiously clawing at my skin amidst a panic attack, the salty tears that stream and sting my pale, freckled face, the worn, tired scars on my body from my hardest nights. It can be a lot sometimes.

One out of every four adults in the United States will suffer from a mental illness in any given year. I am one of them.

Since I was 11, I have struggled with depression, self-harm and occasional waves of anxiety and body dysmorphia, a condition that causes the mind to fixate on minor flaws or details that are not observable by others.

Throughout the past decade, my illness has played a pivotal role in hijacking my ability to feel confident, to love myself, to always be fair and kind to others and to feel like I have a place where I belong or that I deserve to be in this world. The loneliness and isolation I feel from the rest of the people I love and from the rest of society consume my mind on any given day. Inadequacy plagues my thoughts and oftentimes I feel crippled by the fact that life very well may be better off without me. At one point in time I even became one of every 12 college students who created a plan for their suicide.

However, this summer I went to therapy and I took it seriously for the first time after multiple failed attempts in the past. After years of not admitting that I needed therapy and years of wrongfully pushing those people who wanted to help me away, I did it. Therapy changed my outlook on life for the better and was beneficial in helping me work out a lot of my issues.

But then I came back to school.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the University of Massachusetts. I love my friends, I love my job and I especially love having the amazing opportunity of being at The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, one of the few places where I get to be myself and feel at home. However, getting back into the swing of things was particularly hard this time around.

Not too long after being back on campus, those feelings of insecurity seeped into my head. Scars resurfaced, tears were shed, and my eyes burned red with the desire to be okay again. I tried to suffer silently, trying not to bother the ones I loved with my problems as I had frequently done in the past, something that never made me proud.

My eyes soon glowed red around them from the nights I spent crying as hard as I could. My skin is very sensitive because I also have eczema which causes my skin to react to nearly anything and this time I couldn’t hide my pain but instead I was wearing it. No matter what I’ve tried to do – apply Vaseline or coconut oil, drink a lot of water, sleep more – it hasn’t gone away.

Soon, everyone was saying to me, “What’s wrong with your eyes?” “Did you get punched in the face?” “You look really tired.” “You should probably get some rest; you don’t look great…” or even, “Ew, I thought you had pink eye.” I had never before felt so ashamed.

I told people that I simply wasn’t sleeping enough or that it was allergies, but people have commented so frequently on my eyes as of recently that I felt the need to write this.

My eyes are red because I am depressed. They are red because some days I really do not like myself and I really do not want to wake up. They are red because of the guilt I feel for being depressed in the first place. They are red because I feel that if I really told you why, you would judge me for my character. They are red because when I wake up every day, every day for the past 10 years, I am fighting a war within myself that no one witnesses.

I, like the other 27 percent of college students that suffer from depression, am just trying to get through the days sometimes, especially the past few weeks. I am fortunate enough to have access to an amazing therapist, incredible friends, an endlessly loving girlfriend and family who try to understand to the best of their ability. Now more than ever I have just felt exhausted from the shame of telling people why my eyes are actually red for the sake of their comfort.

They are red because I am depressed. No pinkeye, no punch to the face, depression, and I don’t care if that makes you uncomfortable because that is just the truth.

The stigmatization of mental illness continues to be a problem in our nation and in our community for reasons I do not understand. What I do understand, however, is that everyone deserves a break and some basic empathy. If people look like they are struggling, it is not your place to point it out and make them feel insecure. Be kind to everyone because at the end of the day we all are fighting our own meticulous battles that we feel no one can understand. And most importantly, do not ever ask me why my eyes are red. Now you know.

Robert Rigo is the Collegian editor in chief and can be reached at [email protected]