My heart aches sometimes. From what I can tell, it’s referred pain from my brain being sick. I don’t really remember a time I wasn’t depressed or anxious. Once I was diagnosed, my mom said she always knew I “wasn’t like the other kids.” She unjustly blames herself for not noticing earlier.
The events leading up to my diagnosis were dark; I’m not sure if I’ll ever be ready to speak about them in detail. To give you a brief insight, I cried myself to sleep many nights. I stayed in bed over twenty-four hours at a time. I didn’t leave the house unless it was absolutely necessary. I thought about ending it so many times I lost count. There were nights I fell asleep holding a pill bottle because I was too scared to actually die. I started self-harming, hoping the physical punishment would bring some resolve to what I was feeling so deep in my soul.
I woke up one day and realized that I couldn’t take much more. I was done feeling hopeless and worthless. I was done with the exhaustion no amount of sleep could fix. I was done with the intrusive thoughts. I was done, period. I started becoming reckless. I didn’t want to die; I was scared of it. I just yearned for an end to my constant pain. To make a long story a little shorter, my actions landed me in the emergency room where I was treated like a helpless baby. I was disrespected, ignored, scolded, and not taken seriously. I was made to feel ashamed. Even in recovery, there are occasional nights when that shame creeps up inside me. Those are the nights I restrict my sobs and want to scream to the world that stigma is deadly.
My actual diagnosis came from a brief, voluntary stay in a crisis center. I was taken to the crisis center immediately after leaving the hospital. I’ll never forget the compassion, support, and encouragement I received while there. During a group therapy session on the day of my discharge, I met a young man roughly about my age that’d been admitted while the rest of us were sleeping. When there were new patients, protocol was for each person to share a little about themselves and what brought them to the crisis center. As I’d done a couple of times before in my stay there, I told a brief version of my story, all while looking down in that shame that’d been instilled in me. After I’d finished, he looked at me with the biggest smile and says, “I’m glad you’re here.” Those words reverberated throughout my heart and soul. I could not remember the last time I’d heard those words from anyone, let alone a practical stranger. Shortly after that, I was discharged, never to see the man again.
It’s been almost a year since that day and life’s much better now. I’m on medication that helps me manage my symptoms. I’m able to talk to people I can trust about how I’m feeling. I can leave my house with less fear of what the day will bring. My young body doesn’t ache as much as it used to. My mind is clearer. I can do so many things I couldn’t do before getting treatment and support. It’s like I’m a toddler again experiencing everything for the very first time, and in a way, I am. I am living fearlessly and intently for the first time in my life. Though I’m in thriving in recovery, there are still dark nights were that shame sneaks in, seeking to destroy my new found hope. And let me say: It’s petrifying to lose hope. Because of that lost hope and found stigma, I never thought I’d recover. My plans for my future never went past the age of 21 because I genuinely felt I’d never make it there. Now, a month away from my 21st birthday, I want everyone to know that hope is real. You can find it in the smallest of details. It might come in the form of a new day’s dawning. It might come from your faith. Maybe even from an inner desire to see a better day. It might even come from a stranger telling you he’s glad you’re still here. Stigma kept me from getting help for a long time. Learn from my mistake; you owe it to yourself to seek help and support. Lastly, to anyone reading this, take heart; I’m glad you’re here.