Taking Back My Adolescence | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Taking Back My Adolescence

By Kylie J.

Growing up, I never would have guessed that three years of my adolescence would be stripped away due to a mental illness that I couldn’t even identify at the time. When I was 12 years old, I decided to watch a thriller TV series with my sister — a series that included themes of suicide, death, depression and paranormal activity. When we began to watch, I had no idea that one scene of a character dying by suicide would soon play on repeat in my mind on repeat for the next three years.

After watching the show, I remember feeling a deep sense of disturbance and anxiety. Usually, the effects of a horror movie would linger with me for a few days after watching, but this time it was different. The unsettling feeling started to affect my daily life, at first haunting me just occasionally, but eventually expanding into my everyday life, affecting my participation in school and sports. Simply put, I found myself simultaneously disturbed by and obsessed with the concept of suicide. I spent countless hours convincing myself that what I was experiencing was normal and that everybody had gone through something similar after watching a scary movie.

But what I was experiencing was far from normal. Whenever I would hear mentions of suicide or even see objects that could be dangerous, I was triggered almost immediately, and I would either shut down or break down crying. I could barely bring myself to use knives to cut up fruit for myself without feeling a deep sense of fear and discomfort. These thoughts would only disappear on rare occasions when I could talk about them with someone or when I could fully distract myself with schoolwork.

I didn't share much about what I was experiencing until a year after the onset of my obsessive thoughts. It took this long because I was worried if I were to tell someone about my emotional state, they would be afraid of me and send me to the psychiatric ward. I knew that my obsessive thoughts would not lead me to a suicide attempt, but I wondered how, exactly, I could explain my intrusive thoughts without sounding like a danger to myself.

After a few years, my thoughts about self-harm and suicide faded, and I started to develop a regular sleeping pattern. My experience in school improved, my grades went up again, and I made more social connections from actually being present in my day-to-day life.

I never fully understood what I had experienced until seven years later, when I listened to a podcast about mental health and well-being. One of the podcast hosts mentioned that they had struggled with harm obsessive-compulsive disorder (harm OCD), a mental health condition characterized by the fear of harming yourself or others, coupled with the excessive avoidance of objects such as knives, rope or other weapons.

Hearing that story and finally being able to identify what I had experienced was both gratifying and heartbreaking. In some ways, this was validating because I felt like all the years of suffering and pain were real (and even something others could understand). However, I also felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and pity as I reflected on all of the time that I suffered when I could have used that time to seek professional help.

I needed to see a mental health professional, but I forced myself to work through this mental illness alone. And in the those years I spent struggling, I could have spent time meeting new people, developing key social skills and learning where my passions lie. As a result, I still struggle to trust people and feel deep connections.

That said, I can't go back and tell myself and my loved ones that I needed help. However, I can live with the knowledge that this experience shaped me into the person that I am today. Although I may have a hard time trusting others, or letting other people care for me, I also know that I am a strong, independent, empathetic person who will make a difference. Moving forward, I want to help people overcome obstacles like I did.

I am currently pursuing a career in the medical field, where I hope to help people for the rest of my life. I serve on four youth advisory boards, three within the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, and one within a mental health organization called Foundry. Additionally, I am assisting with research in two psychology labs at my university, one focusing on health psychology, and the other on substance use and overdose.

In the future, I hope that mental health education will begin early in life and that more support will be provided for all of those who have a mental illness, but especially children and adolescents. I hope that people aren't afraid of opening up about concerns about their mental health — and that their loved ones will do their best to be understanding and empathetic. But most of all, I hope that people will have the courage to admit to themselves that what they are experiencing doesn’t have to be permanent, and there is no shame in seeking help from a professional or a loved one.

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text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).