About A Girl *TRIGGER WARNING* Having mental illness and being suicidal at a young age is strange. You don’t plan for the future. Picking my major, my 21st birthday, adulthood—planning it all seemed like a waste of time. But now that I’m here, I can’t help but feel unprepared. I admit it, I find it sickly pleasurable to press upon the memories of my darkest moments. They are bruises. I touch them where it hurts because part of me feels this is where revelations live. While I take comfort knowing that there are people who live successful lives that are like me, I struggle with understanding why I was dealt this hand and what to make of it. Sensitive is how I was made. Blessed with a childhood close to perfect, I have loving parents who raised me right and have told me I am brilliant and special. Still, I always felt a little off, like all my senses were amplified. Ever since I was a child, things hit me hard. When I got mad, I burned. When I cried, I poured. When I was happy, I glowed. It became clear early on that my life would be a hunt for balance. As I entered high school, I became cripplingly shy. All of a sudden, I didn’t fit in. I always thought I was so ugly. I remember being in my school’s bathroom and staring into the mirror for hours. It was like, if I looked long enough, maybe I’d finally be pretty. It never worked. Nothing about me ever seemed good enough. Focusing on my physical appearance was at least easier than trying to address the internal stuff. I could control the external to a point. I could buy different clothes, or cut my hair, or my wrists, but the pit inside me was too frightening to even look at. Things I once was passionate about left me feeling unfulfilled. Like most seniors, I was ready to get the hell out of my school and never come back. But when I was accepted into college my desire to escape turned to dread. I was so homesick that I couldn’t eat without throwing up for an entire month. Eventually, the homesickness eased and I found joy. I realized the power that comes when you stop seeking approval and validation from others. Day by day I was learning and exploring myself. Looking back, I realize how small my world was pre-college. At my university, people challenged my world and the way it was, which I loved. I questioned things that I hadn’t before. I was thinking for myself and it was incredible. While I was often full of an unexplainable melancholia, I knew I loved life and the people in it. It was this time in my life that my body began to betray me. My joints worked right, but my brain didn’t. Something awful started to grow inside of me. I couldn’t shake this feeling that the loneliness I felt would never go away, and worse yet, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. Over spring break my sophomore year, my mom read my diary. While I was—and still am—furious with my mother for violating something sacred, it opened up a dialogue we had never had before. I wish I could say that this was the point when my parents realized how seriously my thoughts of sadness and self-destruction were. Sadly, I was able to convince them that the things I’d written about drugs, suicide and sex were meaningless. I continued to hide my darkness while self-medicating. Although I felt that my thoughts were written clearly on my face, my family and friends had no idea I was struggling. My major depression, anxiety, BDD and most specifically OCD, had taken over my life in multiple ways – my obsessions often shifting between counting calories, skin picking, planning my suicide, paranoia about my family being attacked by ISIS, relationships, pulling my split ends out, watching every episode of Dateline possible and picking my skin raw. My depression wasn’t poetic. It was all ugliness. It was not being able to shower. It was only being able to eat a candy bar a day because I couldn’t choke any food down. It was my mom washing my hair in the sink and brushing my teeth. My parents put me in treatment. I wish I could say it was easy and went well, but it didn’t. Even for a white, upper middle class young woman who can afford treatment, the mental health care system is difficult to navigate. I had a hard time finding the right medications and couldn’t find the right therapy. It is trial and error. Discussing my depression and other mental health conditions is terrifying for me. I hate seeming vulnerable and I hate being labeled. I have lost friends due to lack of understanding. I get how it can scare people away. Talking about the things in my head saved my life. And after going through this, part of me wants to talk about it. I want to shout from the rooftops that I’ve survived something so painful I felt it deep in the marrow of my bones. I wake up some mornings and can’t believe I made it out. Depression is more than being sad. For a long time, I felt like a criminal for feeling so intensely. I would be lying if I said my self-hate was gone. I often wonder how other people are making it through life, how they cope with the things that hurt. I feel like everyone got the rulebook but me. I worry I am awful; that I’m heartless. I am scared these things are true. A few months ago, at my last physical, my doctor told me that I was medically cleared of major depression. It’s true; things are different. She was no longer looking at me like I was a martyr without a cause. But I remember feeling for pulses in case none of it was real. Looking down at my wrist, I saw them pumping, the veins under my skin insisting that I’m alive. I realized that since I am alive, I must embrace the future. I know I am not going to wake up one day and find that my mental health conditions are gone for good. Right now, I am stable. But I feel it lurking inside me waiting for a chance to bite. Healthy to sick. That scares me more than anything else about my future. I know that I must be gentle with myself and practice self-care. But self-care is both being gentle with and challenging oneself. No more ripping myself apart, telling myself I’m worthless, or thinking of suicide as a solution when I feel my life is out of control. I deserve life and my health comes first. In the future, I hope to have more inner peace than I do now. I hope I can eat more vegetables and stop—or at least slow—my candy and alcohol intake. I hope the constant bounce of my leg will slow because I’ve reached a level of comfort within myself. I want to discover new parts of my personality. I hope to stop looking for validation in the wrong places. While I have some images of clarity, I can’t help but imagine the next few years of my life as a foggy pit, with me standing at the edge. Any second now, I’m getting shoved in. Luckily, I am my own light. Though I have done many shameful things, I am not ashamed of who I am. I have tried to rip myself open and expose everything inside—accepting my weaknesses and strengths—not trying to be anyone else. I am in equal proportions as in control of my life right now as out of control. I frequently try to compensate for fear of the unknown. The change that is happening right now is uncomfortable, but I know that I should embrace it fully. I am stepping forward into growth and the future. Bit by bit, I feel myself becoming whole. Share your story, message, poem, quote, photo or video of hope, struggle or recovery. By sharing your experience, you can let others know that they are not alone.