Experiencing and Developing Mental Illness Experiencing life so far has been an emotional roller coaster. A really emotional roller coaster. Around the age of 11, I had moved to a new place, three hours away from my previous home. Then everything was completely different; including the behavior of the man my mother had fallen in love with. At first, he was the kindest, most wonderful man I had seen her with after the passing of my father three years before then. About the first year-and-a half after we had moved to his home—I was now 12-years-old—things began to, well, change. He started to become more controlling. More aggressive. More dominant. Every little thing had to be done his way, and his way only. I now had to run somewhere close to a mile a day, exercise constantly, and I wasn’t allowed to eat certain foods or eat at all sometimes. Naturally, after the incessant comments about how “fat” and “unhealthy” from him that I heard, I viewed my body as disgusting, unhealthy, unworthy of the love of others; unworthy of my own love. I stopped eating. I never had gotten to the point of appearing as skin and bones, but the color of my skin flushed out, my hair became more thin and I didn’t look like the “Julia” that people had known me as. With the days of starving myself also came days which I would binge on whatever food I could put my hands on. It was an endless cycle of unhealthy habits that I engulfed myself in as well as self-harm. Around 12-years-old, grief from my father’s passing began to make more sense to me. I finally realized; he’s not coming back; not now; now ever. Because of this, and the physical and emotional abuse I began to experience, I began to develop depression. Along with this depression, self-harm and thoughts of suicide emerged into my mind. It never helped to have the reoccurring thoughts of this man, whom I had once hoped to be my new father-figure in my life, yelling to me about how worthless to him; how sickening I was to him flow through my mind. Self-harm became a daily routine for me. Nothing else mattered except the sense of escaping from everyday life. Escaping from feeling so numb and hopeless. As one thing led to another, the thoughts of suicide were constant. By the age of 13, I had attempted suicide three times. Eventually, on January 1, 2015 (the fifth anniversary of my father’s passing to be exact), we moved out. However, freedom wasn’t completely within reach yet. He would still drop letters off at our rental home on the other side of town. He would still stop by. My mom and I never knew what to do. Was he going to hurt us? Kill us even? I knew he wasn’t thrilled about the thought of the two women he “loved and adored” moving out of his home, taking our stuff back, and leaving him behind. But better times came. I started working hard towards recovery. I began to enter a healthy eating cycle again. I took warmer showers and cared for my hair and skin. I began to look and act like “Julia” again and man, did it feel good to be back. Summer of that year, six months after moving out, we moved back home. I returned to my old county school—though now I was in high school. I reunited with an old friend and became best friends with another. I joke. I laugh. I have fun. I yell at the pep rallies. The strong anxiety and fear I once had isn’t as strong as it was before. Though the thoughts of self-harm still present themselves now and then, I’m able to push it away. I’m able to say “no.” I now take antidepressants to keep my lows from being so low because I’ve realized that taking medication doesn’t make me any weaker. No matter how bad things are in life right now, the decisions you make can lead up to something better. Something much more meaningful in this life that you’re living. Sometimes, it may just take you realizing your strength, intelligence and potential to better the life you live. I’m Julia Hedrick. And this is my mental illness story—well, so far that is. 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.