I have written this essay for my English class at college, but this is next to the final draft. Since it is Mental Illness Awareness Week, I am publishing this draft and publishing twice in a week (shocking I know). Enjoy and make sure to like my Facebook page.
Many people see me as a person who is constantly bubbling over with laughter. Friends are very aware of my lack of volume control and my constant lugging around of a notebook in case of an idea striking for a poem. My family always gets excited seeing me thrive in different environments because they saw a long period of time where I didn’t thrive at all. At one point they saw me cut off from the world. Here is the story of the process that made me cut myself off from the world completely.
Every grade school kid dreams of fitting in with everyone, many also wish to be a part of the ever elite “popular” crowd. I was no different. Yet somehow I was always set apart from everyone else. I realize I sound like a whiny kid who didn’t get what they wanted – but it’s not exactly that. Whether it was because I had glasses or I was overweight, kids found something to pick on me for. From entering 1st grade to graduating high school, it never changed, I just learned to accept myself and my inherent weirdness.
Middle school is an embarrassing time for every person. I became extremely self conscious of myself when I entered 6th grade because the school was set up in a way that I went from a class of about 70 to a class of 350. Becoming self conscious of my weight was the worst thing to happen to me that year because within the next I would stop eating. I can’t imagine being my parents and having their child losing upwards of 20 pounds in a span of a couple years. It would be a while before I could eat like a “normal” person and reach a reasonable weight. I think at my worst I was 14 years old weighing 100 pounds at 5 foot 5 inches.
For me middle school was just a long chain of bad events. During my 7th and 8th grade years I was plagued by a pair of abusive friends. I couldn’t go a day without a punch or being made guilty for no reason. I was told years later that one of these friends has a mental illness called Borderline Personality Disorder and the medication being used at the time by said friend made them very violent. Learning this taught me how to forgive. Not only forgiving the person, but forgiving myself for letting it happen. It taught me to not hold onto anger from the past, since I cannot change the past, but I can change myself in the present. In some ways it taught me how to have a big heart and welcome people with open arms if they needed someone.
At 13 I was becoming increasingly aware of a yearning to jump off a cliff. I didn’t know what this feeling was called or that there was even a disease it could be attributed to. Mental illness curriculum in my school was nonexistent since it was a public school in a relatively poor area. Thus, there were things deemed more important than teaching kids about mental illness. I didn’t know how serious it could be for another year and a half later. Until then, people would look at the skin I ripped up with disgust and wonder. Why would someone ruin their skin like that? Because the person wants someone to notice the pain they are feeling inside their own head.
A month and a half after my grandmother passed away when I was 14, I was admitted to the adolescent ward of a psychiatric hospital. My guidance counselor was a blessing in disguise when she realized there was something wrong that my parents weren’t acknowledging and getting me help with. At this point, I was known to never smile or laugh. I barely talked if at all. I hid behind a curtain of hair and I was so into myself that no one knew anything about me. Throughout high school there were rumors going around me all the time that I learned early on in my freshman year to laugh at because many of them were absolutely ludacris.
The day I was admitted to the hospital was filled with lots of crying on my end. That afternoon I was planning to go home to kill myself because I thought I couldn’t go on anymore. Somedays I reflect on my 8 days at the psychiatric hospital, and my favorite thing to tell people is that my roommate taught me how to play 5 Card Draw.
People often ask me what it’s like being in a ward with kids from 12 to 18 who are mentally ill. I want to paint a picture of a moment that I think summed up my stay, but it’s not the same for everyone. I was walking out of a meeting with my mother, mediated by the social worker assigned to my case. At the time I had a severe disdain towards my mother since she ignored every time I told her that there was something wrong and that I no longer wanted to live. I walked out of the room with tears staining my puffy red cheeks because I was so frustrated trying to tell my mom what it’s like when someone you trust doesn’t listen about something as serious a suicide. I was walking down the hall back to the ward when I saw a kid who was in the outpatient program walking out with his parents because he was finally being discharged. I said goodbye to him with a faint smile because I had such a strong connection with all of these kids. We were all struggling in a world where it was taboo to talk about our struggles.
Although, I am also thankful that someone noticed that something was wrong. I was diagnosed with clinical depression during that stay and would later be diagnosed with PTSD, a mood disorder, and ADD.
After I was put on medication and put through therapy, I was on the road to being a functional person. Through the entire experience I met my best friend Sarah. We went to highschool together and we were going through the same thing at the same time. We met 4 months before I was hospitalized and we are now known to be inseparable. Both of us struggled with depression, anxiety, and self harm. Now we are both in better places than we were in 2012 when we first met, and I am grateful that she is still alive with me. We are known as a package deal no matter how hard people tried to separate us. Our high school knew us as loud, obnoxious troublemakers.
People who have survived mental illness or are currently surviving it all say they have their one saving grace that keeps them alive. There are plenty of people who get addicted to hard drugs, but people also find positive outlets such as painting or building things. Mine was writing poetry. Friends of mine dragged me to the poetry club when I was 13, and I fell in love with it right off the bat. In the past I had never had much patience for writing longer stories, so I loved the fact that I could get something powerful across with something so short. To this day, writing poetry remains a positive outlet during times when I am not feeling so positive. I have notebooks filled with writing just hanging around my parents’ house.
As for all the crap that people would say about me or to my face, I learned to just laugh at it. I learned how to laugh at the constant rumors that flew through my high school about me because they had no clue. The years of being picked on taught me to just be myself because people always will run their mouths. Being myself would inspire other people in my high school who also felt outcasted, which motivated me to get out of bed many mornings. From doing stuff to wearing bright colored jeans to being vocal about my struggle with mental illness, people were happy that they weren’t alone.
It breaks my heart that so many people are affected by mental illness like I am. No one should have to go through that. People go through so much worse things than I did and still do with mental illness and it blows my mind. What breaks my heart more is how my suicide would have affected my family if I went through with it when I was 14. My parents told my younger sister that I was in the hospital because I was really sad because she was 12 years old at the time and didn’t understand what suicide was, and that was the hardest thing for me to hear.
Since I first felt the ocean of sadness, mental illness has become more of a topic people can talk about it. A lot of people still feel as if it is a taboo, but in a world with various social media platforms, people are finally feeling as if there is somewhere to talk. When I first heard the word ‘depression’ I thought it was just an adjective describing your mood at a moment in time, and in an essence it is. Yet it is also more than that, and I want people to hear the story I have to tell about my journey through depression and mental illness, because it’s not like the movies with a boy kissing your scars. The reality is much harsher than that, but not many people are willing to talk about it.