Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

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In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week (8 May – 14 May), I was invited by Becca from Becca’s Love for Life to write a guest post about my experience with mental health and where I am currently.  This post took me a lot of time and effort; I’ve never publicly spoken about my past.  Due to support from my friends, I’d like to share it on my personal blog.  Please be aware that this post may contain sensitive material, which could lead to heightened negative emotions. If you become upset or triggered while reading this, please stop reading and utilize the coping mechanisms that work for you.   Here we go…

I was not only gifted with a predisposition towards mental health difficulties, I was also born into and raised in a toxic environment. Indeed, I drew the short end of the stick in regards to both nurture vs. nature explanations of mental health. My mother was an alcoholic and she passed away at the age of 55 from cirrhosis of the liver. Since my father is still alive, I will not comment on his shortcomings out of respect. Let’s just say that my childhood had very little stability with a lot of domestic abuse. Memories of my upbringing are more upsetting than happy, with most of them being drunken episodes (even Christmas and birthdays) due to my parents’ issues.

I do not agree with the notion of “stay together for the kids,” because life was absolute hell when my parents were together. About once a month, my parents would get into a huge drunken argument and my father would pack most of his clothing in his Mitsubishi Eclipse and leave for a few days. Finally, in 2001, he didn’t return home and this split was the catalyst for my downward spiral. Despite my disruptive home life, I found solace in going to school; academia gave me something to strive for. However, after my father left for good, I completely gave up. I felt abandoned.  At this age, I could not grasp that my father was leaving my mother, not me. My mother fell off the deep end and I looked to the one place I had for help: the internet.

In May 2001, I ran away from home with a 19-year-old I met on the internet. I was lost. I was so desperate for love and understanding. I felt like he was the only person who cared. I was manipulated and abused, though at the time I was completely unaware of the dangers. He talked about taking me to meet his family and sitting here writing this at almost 27 years old, I am dumbfounded. What would a 19-year-old pedophile tell his parents about bringing an 11-year-old home? To this day, I have no clue what his intentions were. Thankfully, I was quickly rescued from that situation and was sent to live with my father.

I must give my father credit here: he had no clue how to handle a messed up 12-year-old girl, so he took me to numerous therapists and psychiatrists in order to give me the best help available. Looking back, I cannot fathom how I made it out; I was torn up inside about what had happened to me. I started to suffer from severe anxiety and depression and was treated with psychotropics for both conditions. I experienced overwhelming fears of abandonment and would ask my father 30 times a day if he loved me. I had no faith or security in my father, no matter what he did for me.

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At 13, I began to self harm. I chose to include this picture of me at 13 years old because it demonstrates that someone can look “completely normal,” yet still be suffering with severe trauma and deep issues. I’d go to school and smile and try to be as normal as possible, yet I was dealing with intense emotions and coping poorly. I would pull my hair, slap my head, and throw/break items in fits of mania/rage. By age 15, those around me noticed an increasing, and profound, fluctuation in my moods. One minute I’d be perfectly happy and bubbly and the next I’d be in the school bathroom scratching at my arm or thigh. I alienated every single one of my friends (even the church goodie-goodies); obviously at that age, no one really understands how to handle those situations.

I somehow made it through high school even though I’d continued to self harm and suffer from depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. At 18, I left home to attend Georgia Southern University, where I graduated on-time with a bachelors degree in Psychology. In university, I found myself. I found my strength. My father pushed me away and forced me to cope with my mental health difficulties on my own, including being hospitalized from an overdose and self harm. Today, I must admit I’m grateful for the tough love. I can’t put my finger on what exactly changed me, but somewhere along the line I became a new person. I became independent and no longer reliant on my father. I developed my own ideas and opinions about the world, which I gained through stepping out of my comfort zone and experiencing new things. I learned hope to cope with and manage my mental health.

Years later, I still struggle; every single day is a struggle even with the correct medication. However, I have developed the skills which enable me to manage my irrational and negative thoughts. I acknowledge them and tell myself that they’re valid feelings, but then I rationalize them and that brings me back to reality. No, not everyone hates me. No, not everyone is out to get me. No, my friend doesn’t hate me because she can’t chat when I message her.  No, my partner isn’t going to leave me because of a fight.

Today I am working as a mental health support worker in a residential care home for vulnerable adults (aged 18-65) with acute mental health difficulties. I aspire to become a psychologist. Right now, I am focusing on developing the skills to be an effective and successful support worker so eventually I am able to work my way up and possibly apply for my doctorate in clinical psychology.

I’d like to end this post with one of my favorite quotes: “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars,” Kahlil Gibran. If you are currently struggling with mental health difficulties, I’d like to encourage you to KEEP GOING. Even if your biggest achievement today is getting out of bed and getting a shower or making yourself a bowl of cereal, BE PROUD and JUST KEEP SWIMMING. Who knows where you’ll be in 10 years time? You could be using your experience to make a change in someone else’s life!

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