I Had A Good Childhood And Got Straight A’s, But Mental Illness Doesn’t Discriminate

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Disclaimer: This story mentions self-harm and suicide attempts and may be triggering to some.

“I had a good childhood. I was so happy, I was known for always smiling. I was super involved with sports: soccer and cheer. I got all A’s throughout school. But mental illness doesn’t care, it doesn’t discriminate, and it can happen to anyone. Everything was going great until 7th grade in 2014. I had been having some stomach issues, and after bloodwork and an endoscopy, I was diagnosed with celiac disease.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where gluten damages your small intestine. Going gluten-free was a huge change for me and really impacted my life. As all this was happening, I noticed I had become quite sad and anxious. I stopped hanging out with friends and became too anxious to even go to my soccer practices. I ended up having to quit mid-season. I wasn’t sure what was going on because at the time I didn’t even know what depression or anxiety was.

At my next doctor appointment, she asked how I was doing. I was tired of holding all my emotions in and I burst out crying. I told them how I felt sad all the time for no reason and was having anxiety. She recommended a therapist to my mom, and I went. This therapist ended up diagnosing me with depression and social anxiety. I was put on medication and started going to weekly therapy. Things improved and I finally felt like myself again.

Over the next couple years, I did alright. Every once in a while we would adjust my medication if my depression was coming back. The therapy I did for social anxiety helped a ton, and I was able to overcome most of it. In school, I got really involved with clubs, tennis, and my academics. I was getting all A’s and was even vice president of our school’s medical club.

Then, in February 2020, we upped one of my medications. But this time was different. I got worse and started having suicidal thoughts and self harming. I had never had suicidal thoughts before so this was really scary. I ended up texting my therapist about what to do and she told me to go to the hospital. It was really hard to tell my parents how I felt as they were super against me going to the hospital at first, but eventually they listened to me and we went.

We went to a local emergency room and I was immediately admitted. After being checked out and talking to many different people, I was admitted to their behavioral unit. The first night there I just cried. I was really scared because I was only 18 in an adult ward and didn’t know what to expect. I was there a few days and went to the groups and therapy sessions. I was eventually released and felt better.

However, COVID then hit and when I couldn’t go to school to see my friends, I became depressed and suicidal again. I ended up being admitted to a different, but much better, psych ward. I once again had a short stay and felt temporarily better after. I participated in the hospital’s partial hospitalization program (PHP) and intensive outpatient (IOP) where I went to group therapy for three to six hours each day.

At the end of March, I was tired of feeling the way I did and attempted to take my life. I overdosed and stayed in the ICU to get treatment for the night. After that, another hospital stay. This stay was longer as I was having a hard time keeping myself safe at the hospital. During this stay, one of my doctors mentioned residential, which I had never heard of before. After this more serious stay, I knew that what we were doing wasn’t working and we needed to try something else.

I started a treatment called Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) which uses magnets to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression. I thought this treatment helped for a little and continued with the hospital’s outpatient programs. I talked with my parents and while they were against the idea, they eventually agreed, and after a couple weeks, I was put on the waitlist at a residential center. A few weeks later, they had a bed for me.

During this time, the psych ward that I had been to multiple times diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). BPD is a serious personality disorder characterized by intense mood swings, unstable relationships, impulsivity and intense fear of abandonment. It’s usually diagnosed in early adulthood. Now before receiving this diagnosis, I had asked my therapist about it because I saw I had many of the symptoms online. She told me I didn’t have BPD because I wasn’t ‘manipulative’ and she just added to the stigma of BPD. After being diagnosed and hearing that, I decided it was time to switch therapists.

My high school graduation was set to be in July and I had to decide if I wanted to go to residential or go to my graduation. I ended up choosing residential and went on June 25th. Residential ended up saving my life. I learned so much there about DBT therapy and coping skills. DBT is dialectical behavioral therapy. It focuses on mindfulness, emotion regulation, interpersonal skills, and distress tolerance.

Those coping skills are what I use everyday now that help keep me safe during a crisis. I made what’s called a self soothe box and I put putty, scented lotion, positive cards and notes from people, kinetic sand, and some of my friendship bracelets from people in it. The idea is for the box to help with the different senses. I met so many amazing people there and I still keep in touch with a few. Sometimes, I still miss it. We did a lot of fun things like get takeout on Fridays, go on daily walks around the campus, tie-dye, make ice cream, and paint pumpkins. I spent my 19th birthday there and it was a really hard day for me, but my friends and staff celebrated it with me with a cake and a signed card they had made.

Despite this, my stay was one of the lowest points in my life. I was self-harming multiple times a week. My dog ended up having to get put down while I was there, which was awful to have to go through. I got sent to inpatient twice when they decided they couldn’t keep me safe at residential. I was in inpatient on the day of my high school graduation which made me sad because I had worked so hard. A few nights, I had to sleep in the common area because I couldn’t be safe in my room. I went through various medications, some with unpleasant side effects. However, I don’t regret my decision and if I had to do it over again, I would always pick residential.

During my stay, my therapists and doctors reassessed my BPD diagnosis and ended up re-diagnosing me with BPD, as I had displayed many of the symptoms during my stay. I stayed there for four months. I was initially only supposed to be there for a month because I planned to go to college in the fall. It ended up not working out because we decided I needed more time for therapy. Although this was a hard decision and not what I wanted to hear, it ended up being for the best.

Four months later, I ended up getting discharged on October 8th. I had made a great deal of progress while I was there, but it was a hard transition when I got home. I attended the hospital’s outpatient programs again. Everything went okay for a while until I started declining and ended up overdosing. I stayed in the ICU again and then went to the psych ward. After graduating from the outpatient programs, I found a new therapist.

While this was going on, I accepted a new job to work as a care assistant in the pediatric intensive care unit. I loved the time I spent there and learned a lot, but it became too much for me to handle mentally so I had to quit. At this time, I had another suicide attempt and went to the psych ward again. For some reason this stay was different and I came out of it wanting to do better. I started using my skills more and I was doing a lot better. I got a new job at a frozen custard place. Things were going good for a while, but I started getting more anxious again. I ended up having to quit because my social anxiety got so bad. I still have nights when I’m in crisis, but now I’m able to deal with them without hurting myself or ending up in the hospital.

Currently, I’m doing pretty well. I have a great support system with my family and friends. I use my skills almost daily now. My favorites are the temperature part of TIPP, engaging in pleasant activities and self soothing using my weighted blanket and self soothe box I mentioned earlier. The medications I’m on seem to be working and we’re still working on adjusting my anxiety medications to help.

I’m planning to go to college in the fall at my state university to study nursing and I’m really excited! I wanted to be able to help people through their journey and connect with others that struggle with mental health so I made an Instagram account dedicated to my journey of recovery. I share coping skills, educational posts, and my own mental health journey. I hope I can help educate and support others that are going through the same thing. I really want to educate people on BPD to help end the stigma that people are manipulative, abusive or bad because although that may be the case for some people, the majority of us are not. I hope people will understand BPD more and lessen the stigma. Mental health is extremely important and just as important as physical health, and we need to start acting that way.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by a woman who wishes to remain anonymous. Submit your own story here.

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