Being Open About My Mental Health Gave Me a Bigger Life Than I Ever Imagined

Badass Women celebrates women who show up, speak up, and get things done. Here, author and activist Scarlett Curtis — a February 2020 InStyle Badass 50 honoree — opens up about her experience with depression.

BAW50 - Scarlett Curtis
Photo: Rii Schroer/eyevine/Redux

Like most people, I have a busy job. My diary is filled with meetings, podcast recordings, activist gatherings, and panel discussions. Usually these things fill my heart with joy. They make me excited to be a human and determined to make change in the world. And then my depression hits.

When I feel depressed, I’m not able to get out of bed. It affects my ability to be a person and is very easy to cover up. I have sent dozens of emails calling off meetings because of fictional bouts of “food poisoning” or “the flu.” I would rather graphically describe bodily functions than admit it’s my mind that’s sick, not my body.

In the past I let my mental health make my life very small. I avoided making plans or commitments out of fear that my mind would eventually sabotage any chance I had of fulfilling my dreams. Five years ago, when I was 19, depression nearly caused me to take my life. But these days, after fully immersing myself in the feminist movement and being open about my mental illness, my life feels very big. What changed wasn’t my brain chemistry — it was my ability to open up and be honest.

While I’m never going to be free from depression, I don’t have to let it rule over me. Now, when I make plans, I try my best to keep them. I relish my commitments. And when depression falls on me (which it still does), I’m honest about what I’m going through.

In December I was given the Changemaker Award for young activists by the feminist organization Equality Now. It was surreal, as I have admired and supported Equality Now for years. This achievement would never have been possible had I kept hiding away with my depression. Opening up about my struggles has given me the confidence I’d been craving for years. I finally feel able to participate in the world around me. And though it’s not glamorous or sexy and it certainly hasn’t been easy, taking back my life is the most badass thing I could ever do.

For more stories like this, pick up the March issue of InStyle available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Feb. 14.

Curtis’s new book, It’s Not OK to Feel Blue and Other Lies, is out now.

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