Haley s Story
Los Angeles, CA USA
"While I get that to many people this will sound really lame: it was triggered by my relationship. The guy I was dating was not to blame in any way, shape, or form, but something about my relationship with him is what finally brought all of this to light for me in a huge way.
From the beginning of my junior year of high school, I was not exactly okay. I was already struggling and as the year progressed, that only became more obvious. It eventually got to the point where I was so depressed and anxious, I could barely make it through a full day of school. I can’t even begin to tell you how many classes I sat through silently crying, trying to hide it from my teachers and peers. If I wasn’t at school, I was alone in my room.
I stopped caring about my schoolwork, my friends, and myself. This led to taking a leave of absence from school to go to a Partial-Hospitalization Program. I was in intensive therapy 4 days a week, 8 hours a day. It undeniably helped, and after 6 weeks, I got to leave the program.
However, a few weeks later, I was back in the same dark place I was before I’d gone there. My family, therapist, psychiatrist, and I decided it would be best for me to go away. I was introduced to the concept of Wilderness Therapy Programs, which are all over the country, last for about 2 months, and are seen as a ‘time-out’ from life.
I couldn’t live my life normally. I couldn’t exist in the world in any sort of real way and I needed to hit the pause button. So, in February of 2012, I packed my bags and flew to Hilo, Hawaii to a Wilderness Therapy Program called Pacific Quest. I spent most of the plane ride crying. I’d never been to Hawaii before and I kept thinking about how this was a shitty way to go for the first time.
When I got off the plane, I was driven to the top of a hill, in the middle of nowhere, and the car stopped in front of a plastic, beige shack. I was taken inside and was told to remove everything- clothes, jewelry, even down to the hair tie on my wrist. As this was happening, I was not allowed to be alone, which I soon learned would be a theme during my entire time there- I was never allowed to be alone and we had to be accounted for every second of every day.
I removed my clothes, traded them in for a pair of navy blue sweatpants and a matching t-shirt, bra and underwear they gave me, and a neon orange sweatshirt. I was told this was all the clothing I’d have for the rest of my stay.
It was unlike anything I had ever experienced in my entire life. Most of the kids who go there do not choose to go there. They are taken, usually in the middle of the night, by ‘transporters’, which are essentially two security guards who ensure that you get to Pacific Quest.
I was left with absolutely nothing of my own, in a place I had never been, during the darkest stage of my life, at a place for ‘troubled adolescents’. I got there and immediately understood why very few people choose to go there– it sucks. I wanted to take back my decision so badly. That being said, when you aren’t okay, and you know you aren’t okay, there is nothing more you want than to just feel okay again, so I just stuck it out. I also knew that there was no shot in hell I was going home.
I was one of the less severe cases. Sure, I was depressed, and sure, it was hard for me to function, but many of my peers had serious drug problems, far more serious mental illnesses, and had truly exhausted all of their options before coming to Pacific Quest. Immediately, that put things into perspective for me- while it is not about who has it the ‘worst’, it was nice to be in a setting where I knew that the people around me knew the kind of hurt I was feeling.
I can say now with confidence that if not for my 9 weeks at Pacific Quest, I do not believe I would be here today. Pacific Quest opened my eyes to the fact that life does not have to be that hard. It taught me that there is so much good in the world and in myself if I was only willing to open myself up to it.
My illnesses still come and go in waves. There can be months where it feels like I’ve never had a bad day in my life, so I am fortunate that I usually can manage my illnesses on my own. But, when they get particularly bad, I usually seek out the help of a therapist or reach out to my mom – who has stood tirelessly by me throughout my rollercoaster with anxiety and depression and is always on hand to listen and lend me advice. If not for her, I would be seriously lost.
I still feel like there is without a doubt a stigma that surrounds mental illnesses. Honestly, very few of my college friends know about the extent of my mental health problems- most of them know they exist, but very few know the full extent of how dark things got for me because I do get scared they will see me differently or think of me as ‘crazy’.
But, we are only human and, deep down, we hurt in the same ways. We are so much more alike than different. Everyone wants to be happy and we are all just trying to figure out how to be. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with you if you’re struggling. Be kind to yourself, cut yourself some slack, and love yourself enough to get the help you deserve."