A very good friend of mine recently put her story out there for all to see, and I was so proud of her courage to share her very real, raw self. While reading her story, over and over, and seeing some of the things she was sharing afterwards, I realized she wanted people to have the courage to share themselves, their raw selves. After all, how can you raise awareness to mental health without shedding to light to real stories from real people? So, here I am, deciding to share myself, because she gave me the courage to do so.
The first time I felt like I wanted to die, I was in 5th grade. I stood in my kitchen with a knife in my hand ready to go, but I put it down and cried to my then 6-year-old sister to get my older brother because I didn’t know what was wrong with me. My parents talked to me, and then it was swept under the rug for the rest of my life. That same year, I witnessed something that led me to have night terrors, anxiety attacks, and flashbacks for years before I was finally a 14-year-old being diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is not something that only people in the military get, there are 11-year-old girls suffering from the same disorder. My symptoms didn’t stop, they’ll never stop, I’ve learned how to calm myself down, and how to cope with my world being different than anyone else’s.
I started to see more changes in brain when I was writing down everything I ate, how many calories were in it, and snapping a rubber band on my wrist when I was hungry. I never got my weight low enough to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, but I lost 50 pounds in 4 months because I ate less and less calories every day, and if I felt like I ate too much I was hovering over the toilet. One time I had such a breakdown that I punched out my mirror.
When I went away to college, I was suffering from more anxiety and was sleeping less than ever. I finally went to see a counselor there, and was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety, Insomnia, and a new one I had never heard of: Dissociative Amnesia. Dissociative Amnesia is my brain suppressing memories, and even with a trigger not being able to remember them, and that stems from my PTSD.
I’ve taught myself that positivity is key, but that hasn’t stopped me from needing to pull over on the side of the road and cry because of a flashback, or because I almost didn’t stop at a red light. I’m generally a very happy, smiling person, but some days my brain won’t let me be that. I’ve painted a picture of my life to hide my suffering, and today I’m letting the world know my brain may be different, but I am still me. I've taught myself that while I may be different, I can still love, live, and laugh just as hard.
My friend ended her story the same way I’m going to end mine. “It is so important to not neglect our fears - they do not define who we are. This process of feeling better didn't happen overnight. I work extremely hard everyday. The stigma of mental health needs to change. And it's going to start after I tell my story.”