Philadelphia, PA USA
"I have struggled with mental illness for as long as I can remember, and I have watched others go through excruciating struggles with theirs. I was diagnosed and medicated for depression and anxiety when I was an early teen. At the time, the therapy didn’t work, my home life wasn’t getting better, just worse, and I quickly sank into years of using drugs and alcohol to combat my feelings of worthlessness and suicidal ideations.
By the time I was 19, I was a clinically depressed and anxious addict with an out-of-control eating disorder. I was fortunate to get help, where I was sent away for over a year to deal with my issues. There, I was given intensive therapy three times a week - personal therapy, eating disorder therapy, and attending an anger group with several other women.
For me, this was life-changing. I went off my medicine, started eating better, and I stopped drinking, 'shooting up', and putting everything that I could think of up my nose. And, I was given the greatest gift of meeting my best friend, whom I would fall in love with, and who helped me ease into trusting people.
A little over two years after we met, he lost his battle with his demons and died from a heroin overdose. The depression that came over me was something I never imagined would come back. After three months of, again, living my life in terrifying darkness, where to this day I only retain memories of his memorial services, I decided on my own that I needed to seek help. I went back on my medicine and back to therapy. With a lot of work and becoming increasingly honest with my friends about my mental health, I started to feel alive again. After a few years, I was able to go off my medication.
Two years after his death, my ex-girlfriend, whom I loved deeply, died by suicide. I knew she had depression, but we never talked about it, never had an honest conversation about it. She said goodbye to me in her own way two weeks prior to her death. But I didn’t see it. I didn’t recognize it. This is not a mistake I will make again.
Today, I can say that I am happy. I sing out loud when I bike or walk. I make eye contact and smile at strangers. I used to be the girl that people would cross a street to avoid. Now, I am someone people approach for directions on the street. I have worked hard to get where I am today. I finally know what it is like to want to live, to truly live. I also know that this requires vigilance and honesty on my part.
Some days, my anxiety and depression still prevent me from leaving my house, answering phone calls, texts, emails. I just can’t do it. But, those days are fewer-and-far-between. And, on those days, I now have my two rescue dogs who show me the love I need to keep going.
Today, I fight. I fight for the people I have lost. I fight for myself. I fight because it reminds me that I am alive and I still get to choose the impact I have on others. I talk to people whenever they have questions. I don’t hide my past and I don’t make my family hide the pain they have gone through. I have given permission to my friends and family to use me as a resource.
When someone is struggling, I will be there. I also volunteer doing behavior work with dogs at shelters, because they deserve a second chance just like me. And, you do too. Our fight may be harder than others, but you can’t know that for sure unless you talk with people and find out what kind of fight they are fighting every day.
You can’t know what kind of strength others can provide for you unless you open the door a little and let them in. Most likely, this will be the hardest thing that you do in your life. But, damn is it worth it. You have everything to give right now, even if it doesn’t feel that way now. There is a glimmer of light in those dark tunnels of your mind. That little light is hope. So run, walk, crawl, drag yourself towards it.
One day, having trudged down your own path, you will come to realize that the little light you almost lost, is now showering you with rays of strength. You can do it, and know that there are people out there to pick you up when you need it most. You will never be left behind, you will never be forgotten. You are loved unconditionally and eternally."