Having an adverse childhood experience score of 6, I have struggled with mental illness for almost all my life. By the age of 10, I was regularly cutting, starving myself, and was severely suicidal. At the age of 14, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. I first voluntarily sought help because I was tired of feeling like I was constantly fighting against my mind. My middle school had tried talking to me and referring counselors, but I found that I couldn’t form a trusting relationship with the therapists. A lot of this had to do with my trust issues, but I found that seeing a psychiatrist and going on medication helped me substantially. Even though I don’t currently see a therapist, (partly due to fear and partly due to cost), I found that the medications helped my day to day functions greatly, allowing my emotions to stabilize. Over about a year, I stopped taking the medications, having seen an improvement. Please do note that my psychiatrist did adamantly recommend talk therapy; I did try a few therapists, but therapy was not an optimal immediate solution for me, as talking about my trauma was triggering, increasing my stress and suicidality. However, for long-term improvement, I would highly recommend seeking therapy, and not only relying on medications.
That being said- mental illnesses has affected my life. When I was born, my mom was severely depressed and my dad and I later recognized she had borderline personality disorder. My family wasn’t always a safe place for me, and even now, it’s incredibly hard for me to feel safe anywhere. The constant stress and anxiety led to a slew of symptoms, such as insomnia, self-harm, eating issues, suicidality, and anxiety attacks. I remember my first anxiety attack as being from running the mile in 4th grade; it wasn’t so much the running itself, but the fact that my peers were watching and I was so incredibly anxious. The nurse gave me a plastic bag and asked if I got stressed easily. I really didn’t understand her concern, until I went home and googled what “hyperventilation” meant. That was the moment it hit me that maybe the constant worry I felt might not be normal.
After 5th grade, life at home improved. This was partly because my family moved, with my mom staying behind for a few months at a time for her job. For the first time, I had time to think and process about what was happening and just how I felt about it. Needless to say, this led to a lot of sleepless nights wondering about just what had exactly happened to me, and creating trust issues, and a feeling of generally being very confused 24/7. My school had an overnight camp when I was in 6th grade, and I remember getting an anxiety attack and quite frankly sobbing into one of my teacher’s arms. It was an incredibly hazy time, with my brain trying to differentiate between kindness and hostility. I didn’t understand that people would continually love me, and that being vulnerable wasn’t always a bad thing.
This year has been my first year of high school, and I can genuinely say that things have become a lot better for me. Aside from the medication, I became quite close with one of my middle school teachers, and was able to feel like I could tell her how I was feeling. I still have not been able to talk about my trauma in detail, but I know that someday, if I do, it will be a defining change. Nevertheless, mental illness still affects my life. For me, the saying “once a cutter, always a cutter” holds true. I have been clean for one year, but I still wonder what sharp objects could do to my skin. I think the main difference is that now, the feeling is merely a curiosity and not a definite urge. My trust issues are still a huge obstacle, and it’s hard for me to express or feel affection, along with being somewhat distant, and rejecting any sort of vulnerability. Talking about any form of trauma is a close topic to me, and most of the time, I would rather run, throw up, or cry than have to talk about my life events. The ironic part is how my disorder causes me to constantly connect and remember those memories, which creates a painful conflict where I can’t talk about them, but I’m always remembering them.
I wish people understood how trauma and triggers are real, and not just an excuse. When I can’t make eye contact with you, or when I don’t necessarily want to hug you, or when I jump because of a loud noise, it doesn’t mean I’m trying to be rude or am trying to avoid you. Sometimes, the noise in my head becomes too loud, and sometimes, I just need a hug and for you to tell me that you know I’m doing my best. Just because I don’t seem like I need you doesn’t mean that I actually don’t need you. Often times, I’m only distancing myself from you because I feel I need you most.
So if anything I’ve learned- it’s that my disorder doesn’t define me. A few years ago, I couldn’t hold a conversation with anyone, I had anxiety attacks almost daily, and I hurt myself more than once a day. Today, I am on a challenging school course load, I run the UNICEF club at my school (which involves a great deal of social interaction and public speaking), and I am no longer suicidal. Even if I do still struggle with trust, I recognize that I have come a long way from where I was, and that I choose how I want to recover.
To anyone that is currently suffering, I would say to please reach out to someone close to you and let them know how you are feeling. As someone who gets extremely anxious about disclosing any information to another, I understand that telling someone what you’re dealing with can be a huge challenge. But I promise you this: nothing feels better than when you finally tell someone about what you’ve been battling with alone, in your mind, for years. Your family, friends, teachers, a counselor or therapist… find someone that you trust and let them know that you need their support. I tried handling everything on my own for years, but I really actually needed affirmation from people, so I created a vicious cycle of fluctuating between trusting and not trusting someone, hurting them and not communicating.
Being honest with yourself and with others leads to the understanding that recovery is defined by you. I didn’t start to feel better until I started wanting myself to feel better. It is scary seeing yourself without the sadness and anxiety, but it feels like a burden is taken off your shoulders when they are gone. You are worth more than any mental illness you have. Recovery begins when you decide that you to fight for a future that does not involve mental illness. I know my story and experiences give me a level of empathy and compassion that most people don’t have; I know that because I have experienced things most people haven’t, that I can understand others struggles better. I didn’t choose mental illness or trauma, but I am choosing to take what has happened to me and turn it into kindness.
The world is filled with stigma and judgment; we need more people that are willing to listen, reach out, and not abandon those in need. Everyone has a story, and they are all worth fighting for.