My messy story is something I have largely shielded from the public eye, but I figured there is no time more appropriate to speak up than today, which is World Suicide Prevention Day.
Anxiety and OCD are mental illnesses I have struggled with for my whole life. That is no secret. I will tell anyone willing to listen in order to end the stigma and break down the stereotypical “face” of mental illness. But the past year, I have largely held back. I have written this post in my head over and over again, but have been too afraid to post it because of stigma and fear. Today I am facing that and saying that my story is worth posting. Is worth hearing. That being said, take caution. Trigger warning, if you will. This story is raw and talks about mental illness a lot.
A year ago today, I wrote a poem about the beauty of life. I do so every year on September 10th, but last year, the prose read as a persuasive essay to myself. That life was worth living. Last September, I entered my first major depressive episode. I quite honestly did not recognize myself. It was during that time that I understood the power of depression as a real illness. My brain and heart were at war every day for life, and it brought me down to a low place that I had never been before. I was in constant denial that such a thing was happening to me. Depression was something that happened to other people, not me. I helped walk people through depressive episodes, but was at a loss when it came to guiding myself through it. I secluded and isolated myself from community, and lost many friends in the process. If you know my extroverted self, this characteristic was completely unlike me. And though I was writing poems and posts encouraging people that life is worth living, I didn’t even truly believe it myself.
After opening up to some concerned friends that I still had and family about what was going on in my head, I went to a routine therapy appointment and broke down. I thought I had hit rock bottom before, but I was wrong. This was rock bottom. I begged for help because I wanted to live a happy and productive life but my mind did not. My brain doesn’t produce neurotransmitters like a normal brain does, and during this time, I was cognitive that something was physically wrong. After discussing options, my therapist and I agreed that admitting myself to a hospital was the best decision for me to get immediate help – which is what I needed. I fought the idea for a long while, thinking I can’t possibly be THAT bad. That day, I chose to do what was best for me, in order to get to a point that I fell in love with life again.
After navigating the tricky and troubling triage of mental hospitals in California, we decided that an outpatient program was best for me. This way, I could continue with school, though I would have to rearrange my schedule. For 4 months from October to February, I was a patient who attending 4 hours of intensive outpatient group therapy, education courses, individual therapy, and psychiatrist appointments, 3 days a week. Taking care of my mental health was a full time job for me, and during those 4 months I learned more about myself and the mental health system and stigma more than ever before.
I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and was in group therapy with those that were in a program for all mental illnesses and chemical dependency. I gathered with people who have been written off by the public as crazy, weak, and lost causes. I met their defeated selves with my own defeated self multiple times a week. I went in with biases and walls that I am not proud of. But through 4 months of sharing, listening, and crying with these people, I learned arguably the most important lesson of all – though stigma puts a scary mask on people, we are not scary people. Every human being is worthy of love, and every person has dignity and worth. I made friends with people in the program that I still keep in touch with, and I have never in my life met people with the amount of strength they had and hope they carried. The people in the program, who have always been told they are weak, fight every single day for life and worked diligently to make the fight easier. I was humbled to sit amongst such admirable people.
I graduated many months ago with a passion for the mental health community, which is a population I am studying to serve in social work. I can happily say that through it all, I was able to stay in school and graduate a year early, just a few weeks ago. I have since started graduate school to follow my heart in social work. Through continuous self-care and being real, I am incredibly excited to share that I am the happiest I have been in a very long time. I am a story still going, and there has been life that has risen from what could have been ashes. I consider every day to be a miracle, and I like to live like it.
I could not be here alive and thriving today without the support of my family and friends. I also am thankful for my therapist, social worker, and community from my time in the hospital. Ultimately, it is not by my strength, but by the strength of the Lord that I am here today.
If you feel as though you are heading towards rock bottom, please reach out to someone you trust and see a therapist. If you feel as though you hit rock bottom, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 for support. I promise recovery is possible and worth it. No matter how hopeless the situation may seem, there is hope, and you make today better.