Real Life and Raw Words

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As I have learned over the past few years of writing and sharing my stories, I have come to find that my style is to write with emotion, connect it to a bigger picture, and tie it together with a bow of hope and inspiration. I began writing for myself but saw that other people resonated with my words, and that was one of the motivating factors in continuing to write these posts.

So, what happens when life gets messy and words get jumbled? What do I do when I want to share positive thoughts and meaningful insights, but feel at a loss for keeping that bow neatly tied, holding my words together in my heart? As my sister suggested, I should write about this too. The experiences I’ve had recently should also be highlighted, because it’s real life too. And if someone else out there can connect to these words, then it is well worth the fear to write it.  

I pause here, as it is hard to put words to pain sometimes, especially when the pain is numbing. While this may seem contradictory, I think it accurately describes these past few weeks. It starts slow, with extra sleeping and a dose of heavy crying, and then it morphs into panic attacks and fast heartbeats. Loading the laundry machine one day, I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. Starting my car one morning, I felt sick to my stomach. The “resting anxiety” was seeping into my skin and choking the air I breathed. It calculated my every move and kept me filled with panic and fear of the unknown.

I became really depressed, not knowing when or where my anxiety would strike. Some people go on high alert, whereas for myself, I shut down. I cancelled plans with people I enjoy spending time with. I skipped meetings I knew I would like to attend. I was paralyzed with fear that my anxiety was a weight too heavy to bear in public, and my depression fed me lies that I couldn’t be helped. I couldn’t taste food or see sunshine or hear laughter. I felt like a walking zombie with no destination.

I wish I could say that something happened and I could point fingers at what triggered these episodes, but I am learning that it doesn’t make these moments any less real. It’s as if I had a reason for the chaos, then it would make sense that it was happening, therefore being acceptable. Unfortunately, the formula isn’t that simple.

I kept telling my family that I was scared. It felt like my medications were failing me and I didn’t recognize myself. I kept trying to grasp onto a thread of trust that I would get through this, but the line kept getting thinner and the boundaries were blurred. I got frustrated with people who didn’t understand my pain and I was furious with myself because I couldn’t explain it. I took the anger out on myself, beating myself up for losing the words that carried my voice. Here I was, writing about being your own mental health advocate, and I couldn’t even identify the body I was living in.

Tears are falling down my face as I write this, feeling the burden of trying to keep up the act that I’ve got it together. I felt selfish for wanting more out of my life than being dictated by the bullies of anxiety and depression. I thought I was crazy for suddenly plummeting to a dark place that was cold and unfamiliar. It seemed like everything I had worked so hard to overcome has come crashing down to the harsh reality of the life I was living.

I don’t want to believe that this is all we are meant to be. I don’t want to accept that the way things are is the way they will always be. I have faith that life changes and we continue to grow, despite all the challenges and setbacks. Just as the sun sets and rises on a new day, there will be another opportunity to revive our heartbeat and begin again. So I sit at my computer, with just my words and my heart, praying we can see that our soul’s journey isn’t finished here, and the light we shine beams on this precious and fragile world.  

 

 

Graduating from Fear

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I never wanted to be this way. As a lonely student wandering the halls of a large high school, I had bigger dreams than this. I wanted to fit in and feel like I belonged, but my eagerness to please people and the cruelty of harsh realities anchored me to a place that was suffocating my every breath. I always thought that the best memories would lay somewhere in between the rusty metal lockers and the old brick walls, but I was very mistaken.

I think high school is a challenging time for a lot of people, and the amount of stress young people face during this time of their lives can be downright unbearable. I worried about everything until anxiety seeped from my pores. I didn’t just want to pass the class, I wanted to prove to my teachers and fellow students that I was supposed to be there. I felt if I didn’t prove that, I was convinced people would catch on to the worthlessness I felt all the time.

I can remember being so jealous that other students my age seemed to live decently normal lives. They had their cliques, their brand name clothes, their boyfriends or girlfriends, and other things that were so incredibly important to a teenager. They looked like they just had it all together. I was mad at myself that I couldn’t keep my emotions in check long enough to feel like I was even somewhat normal. My anxiety had me doubting everything I had ever known.

Groups of students would sit together at the lunch tables, gossiping and laughing at anything they could grasp on to. I would have given anything to be a part of those conversations, but it seemed so far out of reach to me. I wanted desperately to have a place at the table, but I felt more comfortable hiding behind my studies and making sure I flew under the radar.

It starts to take a toll on you when you feel you aren’t seen. The anxiety slipped into depression as I drew out the conclusion that my life would never be what I had intended it to be. It was sad that at the age of 16, I thought my life added no value to this world.

I started seeing a therapist. A psychiatrist adjusted my medications. I was referred to a social worker. I began intensive outpatient therapy. I convinced myself that not only did I not contribute anything to society, I was actually a drain on resources that I felt would never actually help me. It was a lot for a young lady to carry, and I was mentally exhausted from trying not to fall further into darkness.

I cried, a lot. I was terrified that people would eventually see me for the person I thought I was. And I fought against everything. I didn’t want to accept that my views of myself were inaccurate, and I certainly didn’t want to admit that my perspective was very skewed.

I wish I could say I marched off to my freshman year of college and everything changed, but it didn’t. I carried a lot of my challenges over to the next chapter of my life, as many people do. I will tell you what did change though, and that was my decision to accept help. I was in way over my head and thrown in a battle I didn’t know how to fight. One of the best things I ever was able to do for myself was to give up the control and let other people in to my recovery.

Slowly but surely, I started listening to what the therapists were saying and actively participating in the sessions. I communicated with my doctor what medications made me feel better or worse. I learned that these people are professionals with much more skills and knowledge than I have, but they are also not mind readers. They can’t help you if you lie or stretch the reality of what you’re going through.

High school is over and my mindset has changed, but I will always remember the importance of letting people help ease some of your burdens. There are professionals who can give you the opportunity to see things in a different light and can work with you to be the best version of yourself possible. I encourage anyone struggling to reach out to those who can truly make a positive impact on your wellbeing.

You are worthy of receiving whatever help you may need to feel lighter and more whole. It is never too late to ask, and you should not have to feel ashamed for admitting you need some extra support. I hope by sharing this piece of my story, you find comfort in knowing it is completely normal and acceptable to seek professional help. Do what’s right for you, and know that there are a variety of resources to meet your needs.

Sending my hope to you, that you will find the courage within you to seek whatever help you need in this journey.

Share Your Story: July 2015

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You hear those sayings, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” And, “You need to think before you speak.” These would play in my mind as I continued to battle depression. I thought the world was cruel and ugly, so I had nothing nice to say. I thought about how people would chit chat and talk nonchalantly about the weather. I thought that was a waste of time. I didn’t want to participate in those conversations because they seemed fake and superficial to me. I felt that not speaking was a better option. I didn’t think I had anything to contribute anyway.

Students would ask me about homework assignments. Friends would want to know what I thought about the latest movie. Leave me alone. I don’t care. But instead I said nothing. I did not feel like conjuring up the effort to have conversations. It was too exhausting. I spoke when spoken to, and participated in class when called on. But as far as I was concerned, I believed being silent was the answer to an unspoken question.

I wanted to shut myself out from people. They talked too much and all I could hear were mumbles and whispers, echoing through my thoughts. I wanted someone to grab me by the shoulders and shake me, yell at me, anything necessary to get me to speak. But I felt like my voice was no longer a part of me. It was swallowed by the depression, another side effect that this illness brought into my life.

There comes a time when you forget what it feels like to say something and have people listen. I was silently screaming at the world. Other people’s happiness bothered me. Don’t you see the world that I see? I hated that I was in so much pain, it made my voice become torn pieces left scattered on the floor for people to walk over. Nothing I said had any meaning, so I chose to say nothing at all.

People started walking out of my life, and I had no words to stop them. Others became concerned, but I couldn’t express myself to convince them I was okay. I let people say hurtful things, and I had nothing to refute their points. Losing my voice was my way of saying that there was actually nothing to say. I didn’t understand my depression and what was going on. There are no words to describe the feeling of not being able to say anything.

It makes me think of how many people suffering from this mental illness have felt like their words do not matter, that their thoughts shouldn’t be spoken. You have to be able to say out loud what you need, to give the world and the people in your life an opportunity to give it to you. I had so much to say, but nothing I wanted to share. By shutting myself out like that, I could not explain what I needed. I wanted people to be mind readers and that’s not fair.

I urge each and every one of you to share your story. It took me a long time to find my voice, and I want to speak out for those who feel silenced. I am learning to articulate my thoughts and feelings and I encourage you to do the same. To a family member, to a private journal, don’t let the words go unsaid. You are worthy of being heard. Know that there are people who will love and cherish what you have to say, if you only give them the chance. Here’s your chance: don’t let it slip away.

Project Semicolon: July 2015

 

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I don’t like needles. I don’t like the idea of a permanent commitment. And I certainly don’t like doing things that make me nervous. So why would I choose to get a tattoo?

There has been a lot of news lately regarding the Semicolon Tattoo Project. People have shared that their tattoo is a commitment to themselves, a daily reminder that their story isn’t over. They have survived their own battles, and I commend those who are brave enough to inspire others to celebrate those victories.

At first, I thought it was a great idea. Spread the awareness around depression and suicide because getting people to talk about their experiences reduces the stigma attached to them. Share your story and have a tattoo that commemorates how far you have come. I really thought the whole idea was quite impressive.

However, I wasn’t sure it was for me. I have never publicly talked about my experience with depression before to people other than a close few. I said I was open about it, yet I never really discussed it. I didn’t think it was anyone’s business or that anyone would want to hear my story. I did not feel comfortable telling everyone what I’ve been through.

I had decided one day to post an inspiring message as my Facebook status. I touched briefly on the fact that depression played a part in my life the past few years. I was shocked by the amount of love and support people had to give back to me. I was overwhelmed with the generosity and kindness of people that took the time to say nice things to me. I felt like I had opened a new door, allowing people into my life in a way I had never let them before.

When my cousin saw my posts about the tattoo and asked me if I would get one with her, I knew I had to jump at the offer. I finally understood why so many people got this semicolon tattooed to their body. I began to comprehend why people shared their stories. It was liberating to not have the weight of secrets hold you back. It was fulfilling to be able to share your story and have other people resonate with what you were saying.

This tattoo is very special to me, as it is to many others who have joined this movement. I want to bring awareness to how many people have been strong enough to continue their stories, despite their setbacks and challenges. This story isn’t just for me, it’s for all of those who fight for a happy and healthy life. I am inspired by those who are open and honest, and I hope to be that same role model for somebody else.

So yes, I still don’t like needles. And yes, the idea of a permanent commitment still scares me. But I also have gained so much more than what my fears have held me back from. I have a small print on my wrist that tells me I have let go. I have let go of feeling unworthy, and I have let go of letting depression run my life. This tattoo is so important to me because it is a symbol of my story that continues each and every day.

My story could have ended a long time ago. I could have been another tragic statistic of a teen gone too soon. But it didn’t. I am here, and my story comes with me. I used to carry around the weight of my burdens. Now I carry a semicolon because my story isn’t over.

Late Night Infomercials

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Growing up with anxiety issues, sleep didn’t always come easy to me. Whenever I couldn’t sleep, I loved watching infomercials. The magic bullet that chopped and diced anything, the perfect hair straightener that calmed unruly curls, and the cleaning supplies you didn’t know  you needed…I wanted them all! But mostly, I just wanted a quick fix to difficult problems, preferably with a satisfaction guarantee.

As middle school transitioned to high school, my anxiety exhausted itself into depression. The infomercials that put me to sleep were now replaced by sleep that I wanted all the time. My desire for a quick fix to my problems quickly plummeted and I got a healthy dose of reality.

I thought the therapy would instantly change my life and I would never look back. I thought the medications would bounce me into a bright new chapter of my story. I thought friends would stay, family would understand, and I could pick up the pieces of the mess I had made.

The therapy was exhausting and demanding. The medications made me sick and tired. People in my life didn’t stay or understand or even know what to do. When I thought going off to college would be an easy way to start over, I missed the fact that I wasn’t ready and wasn’t in the right mind set to do so. But again, I wanted a quick and easy fix to my problems and thought that shipping myself off to live away from home was the answer.

For anyone struggling with a mental illness, fighting for your own mental health can be like a battle you don’t have the strength to fight. It can be so tempting to want life to be like an infomercial and hope that something simple and easy will come along and be transformative.

It’s not going to be easy. There will be days with the infomercials run rampant and you need a quick fix to your challenges. Turn off the TV and know that you are worth more than a fast solution. You are worth all the time, energy, and patience people have to offer. Your life is more valuable than a scripted gimmick shown in the middle of the night. 

I want to be clear. You are worth fighting for. Your mental health is a priority and despite the stigma around these matters, you deserve to get help. No amount of 1-800 numbers will ever compare to the help you deserve to be receiving. Talk to a professional therapist and listen with your heart. You matter in this world. If medications are prescribed, take them out of self love to nourish your body with what it needs.

Most importantly, don’t be ashamed. The more we can be open and honestly share our struggles, the more understanding we have of people who face these challenges. Be a voice for those who can’t find their own. Be a champion for those who can’t fight anymore. And above all, be a role model for those who are not able to share their story. The more we talk about mental illness instead of glamorizing it, the more we are able to shine light on the lives of people who are affected by it.