At age four, I had everything I could ask for, or so I thought. I had amazing grandparents that lived close by, a perfect rescued pit bull that loved me as much as I loved him, and a baby brother on the way. At age 5, I moved in with my grandparents because mommy and daddy were fighting. At age 6, I felt as broken as the home I left behind. At age 7, I told myself things would get better if I could just get my dad back. At age 8, my dad chose drugs over me, yet again. By age 12 I had no self-esteem or self-worth. By age 14, I had learned the incredible pleasure I could achieve by hurting myself. By age 16, I could barely muster up the energy to get out of bed, let alone maintain friendships. By age 17, I was, for all intensive purposes, addicted to stealing kisses from my favorite razor blade, and by age 18, suicide was no longer a matter of if, but when.
Depression crept into the parts of my brain that nobody else could see and it took hold. My life lacked meaning, and I had lost all hope. I was told that I was doing it to myself, that it was just a phase that I would eventually grow out of, that chemicals were causing it and a diet/exercise regimen would magically fix me. Nobody took me seriously— I was young, I was going through puberty, I had self-esteem issues, I was anti-social, I spent too much time indoors. Nobody, for even a moment, ever considered it plausible that there was anything serious going on.
It took me years to come to terms with everything that I went through. The hardest thing I had to face wasn’t the scars on my wrist, it wasn’t the bridges I burned, and it wasn’t the opportunities I missed out on. The hardest thing I had to face was the fact that I was completely powerless, a victim to my illness.
I still wonder how different my life would be if somebody had said, “You know, you shouldn’t be feeling this way– maybe you should talk to somebody about this.”
I was diagnosed at 20 years old with Chronic Clinical Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. After months of therapy and little improvement, I was put on medication that changed my life. I am still in the process of putting myself back together and figuring out exactly why my brain behaves the way it behaves. I am not cured, I am not 100% figured out, and I am not done fighting my battle. I am doing my best to recover, forgive, move on, and accept things as they are.
The Serenity Prayer reads, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I accept my past, but I cannot accept the fact that I suffered for nearly a decade because people thought it was “just a phase” and because mental illness has such a negative stigma attached to it that suffering was better than admitting there was a problem.
Mental illness is just as serious as any other illness, and it is so important that it be treated as such. I will not accept this because I know in my heart that while I can’t change it, WE can.
We can create a place where those suffering can find the answers they need, the support they crave, and the motivation to get help that they won’t find elsewhere. Mental illness is not a phase, it is not your fault, it is not “just chemicals,” and it is not a scary, violent, incurable malfunction. It is a sickness, and it can be helped. There is hope. There is a silver lining. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Please, do not believe the hype. There is nothing wrong with you for experiencing the things that you do; what’s wrong is the belief that suffering mentally is any less alarming than suffering physically.
We must remove the negative stigma attached to the term “mentally ill.” By marking mental illness as something that is scary, violent, and wrong, we take away the support system that victims of mental illness crave, and we discourage those suffering from seeking help.
At age 4, I wanted to change the world. How? I didn’t know. But I was going to do it. By age 13, I had given up all hope on the world and its inhabitants. And now, at age 20, I know that I can change the world. I know that I can because I know that there are people that are worth saving. I know that you are worth saving. I know that you are worth fighting for.
Don’t give up on yourself, because I never will. There is a silver lining.