“In the fall of 2014, I was a hopeful and determined 19-year-old student starting a rigorous sports medicine program at the University of New Mexico in my hometown of Albuquerque. I was ready to be free, to be independent, and I had one big dream- to eventually be an athletic trainer for the US Women’s National Gymnastics team. More than anything I wanted to make my parents proud and I was determined to be a good example to my two younger siblings. Little did I know that my acceptance into that program would mark the beginning of a long and treacherous downward spiral. I was about to fall into the deepest depths of what I would later find out to be Major Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Each day in the university program I was pushed to a new limit and more and more was asked of me. The program director’s favorite line was repeated to my class dozens of times, ‘We don’t burnout, we burn IN!’ It quickly became normal for me to sacrifice friendships, hobbies, sleep, and mealtimes to make more space for school and clinical education hours. The pace that I had to keep in order to retain my enrollment in the program was unbelievable, slowly eating away at my self-confidence and breaking my spirit. Beneath the pressure to succeed I began to crumble, developing severe anxiety that crippled me each morning as I woke up to realize I needed to show up to class. Halfway through, I thought about dropping out for the first time. I didn’t even want that career I’d dreamed of before, but I couldn’t admit that to myself at the time as my dad’s lecturing rang in my ear each day, ‘You don’t want to be like me, a college dropout working twenty-five years in a job I hate. You better graduate!’ I felt stuck, scared, overwhelmed, and lost, but my mindset at the time was that I was going to make my family proud by becoming a college graduate no matter the cost. My own self-worth was now completely dependent on how well I was doing in school, and I happened to be failing, dropping, or retaking a class each semester from the halfway point on.
I turned to binge drinking and partying on the weekends to cope with the immense pressure I felt throughout the week. My partying put me in terrible situations from hitching rides with drunk drivers to the next party spot, to narrowly escaping a shooting. Like thousands of college students across the United States, I fell victim to a sexual assault and I never reported it out of fear and embarrassment- a major catalyst to the downward tailspin that already had so much momentum. I became trapped in a world that was getting darker and darker by the day, and I did not know how to express my pain or ask for help. I only knew to bottle things up and press on, and so I did.
Miraculously, I graduated in May of 2018; but not without ignoring myself, not without abusing Adderall to get school work done, not without losing my sense of self, and not without suicidal thoughts and self-destructive habits. My graduation for me was not a celebration of a milestone, but a celebration of newfound freedom. Here I was at 23, finally free of school obligations and I’d made my family proud. I did it. But I was left totally confused about what I wanted in life. I didn’t know what made me happy and I had these feelings I’d never addressed, stories I’d never told that were weighing heavily on my heart. I spent the nine months following my graduation trying to start a career I knew I didn’t want. I was afraid of hearing, ‘You wasted all of that time in school,’ if I were to make it known that I’d changed my mind. The anxiety surrounding my desire to succeed and keep my family proud made me physically shake with worry as I searched frantically for a path on which to travel. ‘You’re stupid, and you’re worthless, and you’re a failure, and you should just die,’ I used to think to myself as I looked at the underweight, greyish alien girl that stood in the mirror. By March 2019 I decided I was either going to seriously hurt myself or get serious help. I felt dead inside already, I’d hit my rock bottom. What did I have to lose? At this point, my parents and siblings still didn’t know my struggle. Imagine their surprise as I said, ‘I’m sending myself to a treatment center in Pennsylvania. I’m leaving in three days and I’m not sure when I will be back.’
I lived in the treatment center for twenty-five days, finally dedicating time to myself and working so incredibly hard to process the darkness that I’d walked through. It was there that I was told I had Major Depression and PTSD, and I was given medications that finally slowed my thoughts down enough to make sense of what had gotten me to that point. Once I came home, I jumped straight into another intensive therapy program for the following six weeks and continued to learn about myself, grow, and find hope.
For the first time in my life, I realized I wasn’t alone. I realized that so many people struggle to make sense of their own thoughts and emotions. I was not the only one on the planet that, as weird as it sounds, didn’t know myself. I was learning that I could change my perception, that there could be light found in the darkness that I’d become so accustomed to. I began to become a friend to that sick girl I saw staring in the mirror before, acknowledging her feelings and hearing her out. For until now, she’d never used her voice. I started sharing about my ups and downs on Instagram to continue to acknowledge myself, to inspire others going through something, to connect with people, and to prove to my social anxiety that he was a monster that was not going to win.
I still have a long way to go; overcoming mental illness is to go to war with yourself. But, through this journey, I have learned that I am incredibly strong and amazingly resilient. I am thankful for my decision to commit to therapy as it has truly changed my life in infinite ways. I can achieve anything I set my mind to, and I am so deserving of happiness. Right now, I have so much hope for my future and so many new goals and dreams to achieve; a completely new mindset from the one I was lost in less than a year ago. I’ve finally realized that I can live for myself and that I don’t deserve to crumble beneath the pressure to impress someone else. The only one I need to impress is the giggly, crafty, compassionate, adventurous woman in the mirror.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Bria Manly of Albuquerque, NM. 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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