The Under A Tree session that stood out to me the most was "Lesson 25: Night Falls Fast" about depression, anxiety, and suicide.
This discussion had a great impact on me because I watched my sister, Juliana, struggle with depression (editor's note: Juliana is also an inaugural Under A Tree Aluma and is incredible to allow us to publicly share her poignant and powerful story). During her junior year in high school, she experienced depression while my mom was dealing with breast cancer. My family and I did not realize her state of mind until she confessed her true feelings to us long after my mom was initially diagnosed. At the time, she did not have much interest in anything. She didn’t have the energy or desire to study, go to ballet class, or even hang out with friends. She would hide in her room, and when anyone would check up on her, she was usually sleeping.
My mother became extremely frustrated with her, attributing her behavior to laziness and teenage rebelliousness. Months passed, filled with moments of family tension and occasional arguments. During one particular heated discussion between mother and daughter, Juliana shockingly divulged to my mom that her illness was causing havoc in her life. Seeing what cancer was doing to my mother and not knowing what the final outcome was going to be made my sister shut down. According to Juliana, until my mom became sick, she never knew real fear and was unsure how to cope with the challenge that cancer brought to her life.
When she found out what was really going on with my sister, my mother immediately understood and instead of reprimanding her to "get over it" or "to stop moping," she sought out a professional so Juliana could share her feelings and express her inner-most thoughts. At first, my sister just worked with the therapist so that she could learn how to vocalize her feelings and learn ways to deal with stressful moments. Soon after seeking this treatment, however, it became clear that Juliana still needed some extra help. In addition to meeting with a therapist, my sister took medication for a period of time to aid in her recovery.
The combination of professional medical help and the loving, nonjudgmental support of my family brought Juliana out of the darkest of depths. I can proudly say that my sister is happy once again and living and thriving in ways that would have seemed impossible just a short time ago. In a healthy place, she conquered Europe on a three-month trip (all on her own) and has just started her freshman year at the University of Florida.
Resilience, not repression. Strength, not weakness. Victory, not defeat. This is what we discover about ourselves when we dare to be honest about the challenges we're experiencing and serious about facing those obstacles head on.
From the UAT session regarding depression, I realized that my family’s experience with depression is not a unique case. I also learned from it that our society should treat depression, anxiety or any emotional, mental, or psychological issue in the same manner that it treats any physical ailment like a broken ankle or a hereditary disease – with empathy, full support, and a total lack of judgment.
Ilana (left) is a junior at Somerset Academy High School and a proud member of the House of Friedan. Her sister, Juliana (right), was a member of the inaugural class of the Under A Tree Ethical Citizens Fellowship and remains a powerful leader when it comes to modeling self-acceptance, openness, and pride to all of us who struggle, both publicly and secretly.