Childhood Mental Struggles
“6 years ago my life changed. 6 years ago I tried to kill myself. 6 years ago I attempted to overdose to end my life, to end my pain.
Illness, disease, grief, bullying, and self harm had all collided creating the epicenter of the storm that was unfolding. But my story didn’t end. I’m still here.
In the early morning of February 1, 2013, as my mom and dad slept quietly, I snuck in to the kitchen, took out a bottle of prescription pills, and swallowed them. I was 13 years old and ready to end it all.
I had been a very happy child. My dad had retired as an officer in the Air Force and was working as a school teacher; my mom was working as a registered nurse. My brother, 8 years my elder, was in high school and then began attending college. Life was pretty normal. I enjoyed school, gymnastics, and volleyball. In my younger years, I remember telling my parents on several occasions, ‘I love my life.’ That would soon change.
Looking back I can honestly say my depression and anxiety started around age seven, a good year before my physical health took a turn. But by age nine, I had thoughts about my own funeral; I wondered what it’d be like and who would attend. I was constantly anxious and hated being away from my parents. Over the next few years, my mom would find notes with my Barbie dolls that said words like ‘I want to die’ or ‘I hate me,’ things that are not at all normal for a child to be saying. The summer between third and fourth grade, I became ill, not only mentally, but physically as well. I began battling neurological Lyme disease that had not been treated in the early stages because doctors didn’t believe it existed in Indiana. By sixth grade, I was in constant pain, I couldn’t concentrate, and I had no energy. I also found it difficult to walk at times, my legs becoming completely numb. My mother had to help me shower because I would pass out. I can’t explain how dehumanizing it is to be a pubescent teenager who has to have her mom help her shower.
I had lost the ability to take care of myself. To make matters worse, I had lost the majority of my friends due to missing school and bullying. And while I do hold those who were terribly cruel to me accountable for their actions, I can’t say I blame those that simply left me or drifted apart from me; the individuals that unintentionally hurt me. It’s not always fun to hang out with the ‘sick kid.’ My life had become different than theirs. And I understand that. It made those few friends that stayed so much more special. In the midst of this turmoil, a young man I considered to be a second brother, was killed in action in September of 2011 while serving in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. I was 12 years old and grieving loss in the every part of my life… it was a perfect storm.
One of my worst symptoms was insomnia. I began staying up all night, every night, unable to sleep. By daytime I would be so exhausted that I would fall asleep for brief cat naps accumulating to an hour. During academic year 2012-2013 I was no longer leaving the house to attend school because I did not have the physical strength to complete a normal scholastic day. Instead I took classes through an online school where I could stop and start as needed. My mom had stopped working to take care of me. With my illness, I had few friends, no extracurricular activities, and no energy. I felt isolated and could not imagine a future. I began self-harming as a form of control and way of mentally feeling something. I was not in control of anything in my life anymore, and self-harming was something I thought I could control. Suicide had been in the back of my mind for years, but it now was in the forefront.
On February 1, 2013, I went another night without sleep. I decided this would be the night. The cutting wasn’t working, the medication I was on wasn’t working, the binging, nothing numbed the extreme pain I was going through anymore. I couldn’t continue on with the pain I was suffering from. I convinced myself that my family would eventually move on, that their lives wouldn’t be ruined, but instead, I would no longer be a burden. I convinced myself of every lie I could think of just so I could go through with my plan. I opened the cabinet, grabbed the first bottle of pills I found, took them to my room and swallowed. I waited and waited, and waited. I began to think, ‘What if I don’t die, but, instead, become a vegetable?’ Frightened, I woke up my mom. After minutes of confusion and avoiding telling her, I finally uttered the words ‘I took pills.’ That was all she needed to know about what happened. My mom called poison control and they directed her to take me to the emergency room. The next order of events was fuzzy, waking my dad to tell him, driving to our local EMS center, and being transported by ambulance to the hospital.
‘I couldn’t even kill myself. I’m a failure.’ Those words repeated in my head as I rode to the hospital. I felt so empty and numb. Once at the hospital they kept me for several hours to ensure the medication I’d taken didn’t cause damage to the heart. They attended to my cuts and asked a long list of questions. When I returned home I found a note I’d written that didn’t make sense, a testimony to my state of mind. I stayed sedated for multiple days before having a bed open at a pediatric ward. It was there that I addressed my issues head on. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder. I was given new medications that allowed me to have my first full night of sleep in nearly five years. This allowed me to have a clearer mind to make the decision that I wanted help. I began working a treatment program and working through the years of mental and physical illness and the effects it caused in all aspects of my life. The counseling sessions helped and I was in a safe environment where I couldn’t harm myself. I met others that suffered in similar ways and realized that my feelings were valid. My hospitalization saved me.
You’re Not Alone
I am now a 19 year old honor student in college with friends, a beautiful 1 year-old niece, and a family that continues to love me unconditionally. I never imagined I’d have the meaningful life I do now. The road to recovery has certainly had its ups and downs. I was hospitalized twice more for depression, but it was after I recognized that I was slipping and in crisis, and requested the help after knowing I was no longer safe with myself. I still deal with the extreme low moods swings that come with MDD. And I still am learning how to not overcompensate, acting too high, when I’m feeling extremely low. I have become an advocate for both suicide prevention and for taking the stigma away from mental illness. Had I known I was not alone in feeling how I did, I would have sought help earlier and things wouldn’t have had to progress to the severity they did.
If I could share one piece of advice with another young, broken girl who is struggling right now, it’d be this. You are not any less brave for seeking help. You are not alone in feeling the way you do. Studies show 1 in 4 live with mental illness. You are NOT alone, you are not crazy. As cliché as it sounds, your life will get better, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day you will look back at this time and realize how incredibly strong you are. I didn’t believe that when I was at my worst, but I do now. I’m not saying you won’t battle demons. I still battle my mental illnesses, however, I can tell you this: life is worth living, even if it doesn’t feel like it at times. The constant tiredness subsides, the deep pain you are feeling can be healed. Reach out to someone, and if they don’t get you the help you need, reach out to another. And if no one has told you today, I think you’re incredible.”
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