Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of sexual assault, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm that may be triggering to some.
“Growing up, I was a very simple child. I was shy yet full of life. I have two older sisters so it’s easy to say there was never a dull moment in the household. As a family, we went camping, hiking, four-wheeling, anything that made the best memories. In school, I was a quiet student, smart for my age, and very engaged with certain subjects. I had a pretty easy childhood until it took a turn for the worse.
In 2011, I was in the fourth grade. It was November 6, 2011, when my parents received the phone call my older cousin Andrel had been in a terrible car crash. He was hit by a drunk driver and sent to the ICU. Andrel was half brain dead, in a coma, and on life support fighting every day for 12 days. He passed away on November 18, 2011. The following day, November 19, my grandmother joined him in heaven.
Within those 12 days, I felt numb. I was young so I couldn’t fully comprehend exactly how or what I was feeling. It was at Andrel’s funeral where I endured the sharpest pain I had ever felt. I was sitting at the service side by side with my family and it felt as if my heart had literally shattered inside my chest. I was out of school for about 2 and a half weeks before I returned to a classroom full of classmates bombarding me with questions, as well as my teacher putting me on blast for having two family deaths within 48 hours. I was embarrassed and I hated the special treatment.
Weeks later, I decided I wanted to honor my cousin by playing basketball. Andrel was a gifted basketball player and it’s extremely unfortunate he passed before he could even play for his college season. I began practicing and learned every detail of the game from my uncle and my dad. I had never been so passionate about anything until I viewed my cousin and grandmother as inspiration and motivation.
However, even with the highlights of basketball in my life, with sports came stress. Throughout middle school, I had a tough time with other students. From the typical ‘middle school drama’ to receiving messages telling me to kill myself. I had never been told that before. My initial thought was to keep it to myself, and so I did. But of course, that message always stuck with me. I had my fair share of experiencing sexual harassment and sexual assault while in middle school, and it had mentally taken a toll on me. It made me feel disgusted with myself, and I couldn’t help but blame myself.
To be completely honest, high school was no better. I was always unhappy and felt very out of place. I dreaded waking up and going to school. I started playing high school basketball where I became a top shooting guard and team captain all throughout high school. I grew close to my coach, who had always given me words of wisdom whenever he sensed I was upset. He was like a grandfather in a sense. My coach ended up being diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer and was taken to Arizona for hospice before I got to say my goodbyes.
On my last phone call with him, I had promised to dedicate the rest of my basketball years to him, and so I did. I was stressed, I was hopeless, I was devastated. I was playing basketball for everyone but myself, but I refused to give up because they were my motivation and it was a promise I couldn’t break. During my sophomore year of high school, I hit a low point and realized I couldn’t take it anymore. I began self-harming, cutting my wrists, thighs, hands, and shoulders. It’s a little sad to say I was very good at hiding it from friends and family. Of course, my family did end up finding out, and truthfully their reactions weren’t the best. My family was never very educated about mental health. They weren’t sure why I was doing this to myself and why I thought the way I thought.
My junior year wasn’t any better. I was trying my best to keep my grades and GPA up and I felt like I was just losing myself. My life took a downwards spiral during my senior year in 2019-2020. I had hit rock bottom. Self-harm began being an everyday thing, almost like a routine. I was suicidal, depressed, and always anxious. I always had a heavy feeling in my chest that felt like I was fighting back tears all day. I would have breakdowns in the back of the classroom. I ditched classes just to let out my cries in the car. It was hell for me. I went through a time where I didn’t talk to my own sisters for nearly 6 months while living under the same roof. I was in a toxic high school relationship that had only made things worse. I had never felt so alone in my life and at this point, I was using basketball to let out all of my anger.
I started having Unspecified Episodes where I would cry and hyperventilate for 3+ hours uncontrollably, losing feeling in my legs and fingers, and my whole body would rapidly shake. I finally reached out to my parents about wanting help and they set up an appointment the following week. I was diagnosed with MDD, better known as Major Depressive Disorder. After all of the heartache and self-destruction, I told my mom I just wanted to get better. When my mother expressed her feelings, it broke my heart. ‘It’s hard to see your daughter’s light go dim, her smile completely wiped away with tears. She began to sleep and isolate herself away from family. All I wanted to do was hold her and tell her she was going to be okay… but I wasn’t sure if she was really going to be okay.’
I knew exactly what my mom had meant. I felt it deep down but was always in denial. My parents began doing their research in order to educate themselves, I created stronger bonds with my sisters, I got rid of the toxic relationship, I dropped friends who were dragging me down, and I created my own support system consisting of the people closest to me. From my sisters’ point of view, she had said, ‘During her episodes, it was lonely, we were close and it felt like she was becoming a different person but not for the better…’ As a family that’s more on the complicated side, we usually kept our feelings to ourselves so it was hard dealing with our own emotions on top of what she was feeling.’
Even my closest friends had seen the Jurassic change within me. My friend of 5 years had said, ‘I’ve never seen someone cry so often, so mad, and sad throughout the day. When the episodes kicked in, it was a whole other person that came out. Never eating, always sleeping, and never showing emotion. It was one of the saddest things to see one of my closest friends go through, especially since Aliyah was so sweet and happy before.’ I learned that I had to build my own happiness and put my happiness over anything. Obviously toxic people hate to see you do good for yourself.
I made my mental health page after a certain individual had exposed my mental health struggles on his social media and made a joke out of it by saying, ‘You still have mental issues.’ I was told I was pathetic, crazy, all of the above. Solemnly because they didn’t understand that mental health is much more than just being moody. I felt like I had no place to tell my story and speak on my behalf. I ended up posting a paragraph explaining my struggles and the amount of love and support was unbelievable. I also began volunteering at an Equine Therapy facility, where I had the amazing opportunity to help children with special needs for about 3 years. As cliche as it sounds, it felt like a weight was lifted from me.
My journey to recovery has been a rollercoaster. I picked up the habit of writing out my feelings, keeping myself busy with work, and allowing myself to take time to unplug and reflect on my feelings and thoughts. Now that I have worked so hard on my road to recovery and healing, my mother had explained, ‘She started a little forum talking to others and trying to help them cope, I noticed a change in her. She knew she could help others understand things about mental illness, being she was going through the same type of things. Slowly but surely I saw my daughter’s bright smile come back and that light within her. I am so glad that I see my daughter’s beautiful smile again and seeing her back on track, helping other people with this illness. I’m so proud of her.’
Within my 19 years of life, I have experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault, suicidal thoughts/ tendencies, and over four suicide attempts. I am proud to say I am a survivor. I no longer feel ashamed of my story because it made me into the strong and independent person I am today. On my mental health page, I spread love and positivity to all readers. I allow people of all ages to direct message me whenever they need someone to listen to what they have to say. I provide advice, help individuals construct a routine of healthy habits/new hobbies, and I also help them find local resources near them. I do all of this free of charge.
Most importantly, I remind all of my followers: You Matter Too. No one should have to fight mental health disorders alone, so I am here every step of the way. If there is one thing I would like you to take away from my story, it’d be: Your struggles do not define you.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Aliyah Avila. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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