(Editor’s Note: May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and The Smoke Signal asked Pascack Valley students that struggled with their mental-health to tell their stories, some of which may contain sensitive content. This is the seventh article of an eight part series.)
I can not remember when I started feeling different. I definitely have a few ideas, but there was not one moment where my entire life crumbled before me and I had some sort of realization that maybe something is not right.
My journey to getting better started when my friends approached a school counselor towards the beginning of my freshman year. I am a senior now, and I am so thankful that I had people there for me when I refused to be there for myself. I did not know how to ask for help; I did not know if I needed it or even wanted it.
I realize now that getting help is the reason I am still here today.
Again, I do not really know when it started. It just did. I remember middle school being difficult for me at times, and even elementary school. I was really insecure about my personality and my relationships with other people, but it was not something I let other people know about, and it seemed fine.
The most difficult thing for me then was probably my parent’s divorce. Truth be told, for my entire life, their relationship was never really good, but the logistics of that is not really to be discussed right now. I never felt comfortable talking to anybody about it anyway, and I only really did if someone asked me first.
I remember my mom wanting to bring me to a therapist to help me through it, but it never happened. I think that now I am glad that it did not, but if it did, maybe I would have skipped out on of the worst times of my life so far. I think it is best to not think about it.
Jump to my freshman year of high school – I had been struggling with trusting people, body issues, anxiety, and maintaining a sense of self worth for quite some time. However, it was not something that took over my life, yet. I started feeling really depressed and anxious. I felt like a burden all the time to everyone around me, and I had no idea how to cope. Completing school work was really difficult for me and I remember having anxiety attacks during school and after school for so many different reasons.
For me, depression felt so heavy. It hurt. Everything took more effort than it ever had before, and my mood fluctuated between deeply sad and numb. I was so scared of people leaving me because they were sick of me.
My friends started to notice a change in my attitude, and so did I, but I told myself that I did not need any help. I used humor to cope with what I was dealing with, but it came to a point that my friends knew I was not kidding anymore. So, two of my friends approached a counselor at school, and I started to talk to her. I do not remember it much, but I am sure it was better than keeping everything to myself.
Everything stayed quite the same until she asked me to roll up my sleeve. I can not say that without cringing a little bit, but it is true. She had discovered that I had been harming myself, and though I was under confidentiality, she had to tell my mom because it was a matter of my safety. I remember feeling absolutely terrible, and that was the moment I regret it the most. I felt so sorry, and I felt like such a burden to everyone around me, especially my mom. She had to basically pause her life to help me, and I can not even imagine what it felt like for her to know that I was so unhappy.
I remember my mom came into school that day and we had a meeting with the counselor. That same day, we found a therapist for me, and I left school early sobbing. I remember walking through the lobby feeling so ashamed.
I honestly can not remember it anymore (I think I have discovered that I block painful things out), but I think I saw a therapist that day who referred me to another therapist in her practice. I talked to that therapist for quite some time, and I came out of every session sobbing. Things did not seem to be getting better for me. She referred me to a psychiatrist and I started testing out medications.
I remember the first medication I tried was absolutely terrible for me. I did not think I could feel any worse than I did, but somehow it made me more suicidal and my thoughts absolutely took over me. Needless to say, I was slowly taken off that medication and was put on another.
At this point, I had started seeing a new therapist, and I still see him to this day. When I first met him, he said to me: “I can tell you do not want to get better.”
He was right. I did not. But after weekly sessions with him, I started to want to feel better. With time and effort, I did.
I still take the same medication, but a different dosage than I started and with a different psychiatrist. She actually recently increased the dosage of my medication, and I remember feeling so defeated. I have improved my mental health so much these past few years, so why did a need a bigger dosage? I realize now that a small increase in an SSRI dosage does not diminish my progress. Remember that progress and recovery is not linear, therefore setbacks and relapses do not erase the progress one makes.
I have had my setbacks. I have had my relapses. I have relapsed in self harming before, but I have not harmed myself in a long time. I started to gain trust in people, but someone who was emotionally abusive to me set me back. Seeing a psychologist and a psychiatrist did not “cure” me, but it has helped me immensely. However, the forms of treatment I have underwent may not be for everybody. The school counselor wanted to send me to High Focus, but my mom protested, and I was almost sent to an inpatient program. I am grateful that I have resources and that they worked for me, because not everyone has that.
I still have issues with my self image, my relationships with other people, and anxiety, but I do not feel crippled by those things and I am not depressed anymore.
It is not that I do not struggle anymore. It is not that I do not have bad thoughts anymore. It is that I know how to deal with them.
I have a support system, healthy coping mechanisms, and even a dosage of medication to help me along the way. It has taken so much effort to get where I am now, and I remember a time when I did not want to get here.
Things are still difficult, but they are manageable. I genuinely never thought that I would do anything other than tolerate living. Now, I can confidently say that I am so lucky to be alive.
I thank the people that stuck with me and tried their best to understand my mental processes. I know how difficult it was. I also thank the people who did not understand, and maybe did not bother to. I thank the people who didn’t know what I was going through, but continued to give me their kindness. I do not think I would be who I am today without any of them.
With my experiences with mental health, I want to spend the rest of my life helping people. I will be majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior in college in hopes of going to graduate school and becoming a doctor. All I want to do in life is help people, and I hope that sharing my story is a start.