Saturday, October 10, 2015

World Mental Health Day and My Experience with Mental Illness


Just this morning I found out that this past week was World Mental Health Week and that today, October 10, is World Mental Health Day. I was so excited to find this out because, as someone who's dealt with mental illnesses, it makes me feel like I'm not alone. Like there are others out there who are like me. Sure everyone tells you, "You aren't alone. Others have felt the same things as you." But with mental illness, no one wants to open up about it. It's a taboo subject, even with this "Let's talk about it" mentality, still no one is willing to even address this.

And it's so isolating.

Nothing hurts more than feeling like you're alone. And when you have a mental illness, or more, you're constantly alone. Even when you're surrounded by people at school, work, or on the bus. You're just a tiny island surrounded by an ocean that separates you from the rest of the world.

For the past 7 years or so, I've dealt with a variety of mental illnesses. I've been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder and have dealt with body dysmorphic disorder. I woke up everyday wishing that I hadn't and was hoping that that day was the last. I was obsessed with death and dying and that was all I thought about.

My first experience with a therapist, or social worker, was shitty. I was 13 years old in middle school, my grandfather had just died (not even two weeks after my birthday), and my best friend had just ditched me in hopes of becoming "popular." Needless to say, I felt sad and alone. I always had anxiety issues and had always felt lonely. I had talked to a counselor in elementary school; I guess you could say things never change. So when I opened up to my mom about feeling really sad and lonely, she took me to the social worker at my doctor's office. Let's just say she wasn't warm and fuzzy. She seemed to interrogate me to see if I REALLY was as sad as I said I was. I didn't continue seeing her for very long. I held in everything I had felt for about 3 more years.

Fast forward to my junior year of high school. I was holding everything in and it was starting to fester and grow into a giant ball of ugliness and darkness. My persistent sadness continued to worsen. I had always loved school and got high grades, but I was starting to not care. I stopped doing some of my homework. My grades started to go down, yet somehow I still got high grades in my classes. (I'm still trying to figure that out.) I had been dancing for more than 10 years, and going to classes became a chore. I just wanted to quit and stay in bed. But I continued going because deep down, I still loved it.

Dance, in a way, made things worse. The girls I danced with ignored me, and most of the teachers were not encouraging and just told me everything I did was terrible, even when I knew I had done well. However, everyone seemed to notice how small I was. I've always been really small. Like between the 5th and 10th percentile for weight and 10th and 15th for height. I was barely 5 feet tall and was about 85 pounds. Yep. I was mistaken for a 12 year old when I was 15. They always commented on it, saying things like, "I can see all your ribs!" "You disappear when you turn to the side!" and "The wind must knock you over all the time!" After being ignored by them from years, I was finally being given attention.

And I loved it.

Even my teachers started giving me more attention. I was being featured more. I was put in the very front. That's HUGE in dance. I started working towards keeping my body looking the way it was. I couldn't gain weight, or else I'd lose all of this attention. I couldn't let that happen. I started eating less. I stopped eating before dance class. I gave away some of my lunch to my friends. I ate less at dinner. I've always been a light eater, so no one noticed anything. Gradually, I started only eating half a sandwich at lunch and claiming I was never hungry. I was getting smaller. My ribs more pronounced.

And that was the happiest I had ever been.

The girls I danced with were happy to be paired with me for lifts and always said they got the best partner. I was so happy, but I felt so weak. I felt dizzy all the time. My vision would get blurry or go black and I'd lose my balance. And I still felt depressed. I finally admitted that I didn't feel right.

In one of my classes we somehow got onto the topic of suicide. All of a sudden, I couldn't stop crying. Fortunately very few people in the class saw. At the end of class, I approached my teacher and said that the lesson really affected me. She asked me what was wrong. And I had finally admitted what I had been holding in for years:

I was planning on killing myself.

My teacher immediately took me to one of the school counselors and I repeated everything I had to my teacher to her. Then she called my mom, and that was the scariest part. Thirty minutes later, my mom came rushing in, scared to death. I had to repeat everything I had told the other two women, and that's what finally broke me. My mom just stared at me, tears streaming down her face, silent. The counselor suggested going to the local psychiatric hospital to be tested. That TOTALLY made me feel so much better. I had to go to another place, full of strangers, retell them everything, and wait and be tested for hours, answering a ton of unnecessary questions.

For some reason, they thought I was absolutely fine. I was just a dramatic teenager who would feel better in a few days. That really pissed off my mom. We left and my mom started looking for social workers and psychiatrists. After seeing a few people, I finally found someone who I connected with and felt comfortable opening up to. I fessed up to all of the starving, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, being unhappy with how I looked, being anxious all the time. Everything.

My social worker helped me realize that I didn't deserve to feel the way I did and that I deserved to be happy. I had meetings with her regularly and started taking Prozac. The idea of taking meds scared me, but they worked. They helped me actually want to live. They were my life line. Things were great. Until Christmas Eve.

I was molested. I felt dirty and ashamed of myself. I was scared to open up. And when I did, I didn't get much of a response. I had to pretty much start over again with my social worker. She had to constantly remind me that I did nothing to deserve it. I'm still working on dealing with it. I still have trust issues and am uncomfortable being too physically close to people. But I'm getting better. I'm still trying to accept everything and not feel ashamed and embarrassed about everything. However, it can be hard when society paints you as someone who's defective or deficient.
Fast forward about 4 years to today. I've gained weight, not much, but it's still some. My ribs and the rest of my bones are as obvious. I feel happier. Yeah, my anxiety can become a little intense at times and I have bad days, but they're less often and more manageable. Sometimes I still flake out when it comes to social events, but it's not as common. I'm now in college, something I didn't think I'd every reach 4 years ago, studying psychology and dance, which is now healing me, and I plan on helping others who have feelings similar to those I had. No one deserves to feel worthless and unwanted, and I want to help them feel important.

Whether or not anyone reads this, all I want to do is open up about my story and, hopefully, someone will see that they are not alone. That there REALLY ARE other people like them. While it may not seem like it, you are important and there are people who love you. My opening up is what saved me. You shouldn't hold those feelings in. They'll continue sitting in there and will only get worse.

It gets better; I promise...

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