If you guys weren’t aware, May is Mental Health Awareness month, so I thought I could use today as a sort of story of my own mental illness (depression and anxiety) and how it’s gone from my biggest weakness to one of my greatest strengths as a writer. It hasn’t been easy to write, but I know I’m making the right decision in sharing it. I’ve been hiding it for so long, but I’ve started to see that trying to hide it and erase it from my past is like pretending it never happened, even though it’s made me stronger.
I’m going to tell you guys now that this post will be brutally honest and heavy, and may be a trigger for depression, self harm, and anxiety, but I’m hoping that you’ll enjoy it and be able to take something from it. I’ve been going back and forth for about a year now on whether or not I wanted to be able to share my story online, for the world to see, because it would put me in a highly vulnerable position. But recently, I’ve come to the realization that I need to put myself out there, totally and entirely, in order to help people grow as people and writers, which is what I started this blog for in the first place. If I can help one person, just one who reads this and feels motivated or inspired to improve themselves, then it would have been worth it.
I’d love to hear from you guys and if this helped at all in the comments below or on social media, but please, be kind. This has been a little terrifying to write, so please be respectful so we can all help each other.
So, without further ado, here is my mental illness story and how I’ve been able to use it to shape myself as a writer.
By the time I was sixteen, I had experienced five deaths in my immediate family, all within the span of about five years. Though I don’t think it’s what pushed me over my edge, I do think it had a lot to do with where the next few years took me. Because of all of this heartbreak in my life, and because of how difficult middle school and high school can be for all people, I struggled in my education a lot emotionally. I was around thirteen when I first started going to therapy and started medication routines, and though I had good days, life was really a battle, my mental illness began taking it’s toll on me, despite how young I was. I was lucky — I had my incredible family, my best friends, and an amazing community theatre program that I’d grown up in that helped support me and distract me as much as they could. When it came time to apply to college, I automatically assumed I would go into theatre, because it’s what I’d been doing my entire life, and I’d been very successful in it and I enjoyed it.
I applied to seven different performing arts programs and was rejected from every single one.
I was lucky enough to be accepted into Pace University, my school I’m at now, and I thought all my issues would fade away with time. For my first few months, they did. I met the most wonderful group of friends I could ask for, I did well in classes. The only bump in my road was a bout of severe cystic acne, which had sprouted up out of nowhere, causing me to eventually begin a regimen of Accutane. This is a very strong drug (previously used for cancer), and I may talk more about my experience with it later, but in short, one of the side effects is mood changes. This, of course, was amplified because of my history with depression and anxiety and eventually led to self harming on a daily basis. I had done it once or twice in high school, but it became too much while I was at school, especially with winter wrapping up and with it being easier to hide with sweaters and jackets.
I came home for Spring Break, and completely broke down in front of my family. I knew I wasn’t ready to return to school yet, and that I needed to figure out what to do about my own health and wellbeing, while under the care of my parents. I did a medical withdrawal from school, and spent the rest of the year at home in California.
Around this time two years ago, the first or second week of May, my self harm and depression got out of control. After a long night that I will never forget, my parents brought me to the hospital and I was soon admitted to an in-patient care facility, which was thankfully near my house, making it a little easier to feel comfortable. I was terrified, and for the first few days, I hated it. I hated myself for causing the situation, I hated the people around me thinking they could help me, and I hated that I wasn’t strong enough to rise out of it. I was miserable.
Five days after I was admitted, I had a complete mental breakdown in my room, when one of the orderlies tried to get me to come to dinner. I refused, not feeling hungry, and snapped. I remember the old woman, sitting in the corner, seemingly unfazed by my “tantrum” as pillows and magazines flew around the room in my rage. I didn’t feel like myself, I didn’t feel like I was even human. All I knew was the pain inside me and I didn’t know how to release it. The orderly kept asking if I would tell her what I was feeling, if I would scream to feel better, and I tried, but the words didn’t come out as my own. I felt like the character of a book, like I wasn’t in control and I couldn’t stop myself from doing things I know I may not have wanted to do. I wasn’t in charge of my own story.
Then, the woman handed me my journal given by the hospital, and told me to write it down. By then, I had exhausted myself like an angry child and stopped, so I took it from her. Once she saw that I had quieted down, she left me alone in the room with my pencil and that notebook.
I had a few pages missing, because I’d ripped them out in anger earlier, but I decided to open it and sit down and try it. I didn’t even write much, maybe only a paragraph or so. But the catharsis I felt was astonishing, to say the absolute least. In my mind, I found the words and the letters, arranged them in coherent sentences to write down what I felt, what I hated, what I loved, what I wanted.
I haven’t broken down like that since that night.
After another few days, both my doctors and my family noticed the change in me, and I was discharged soon after. I spent the rest of the summer working and slowly returning back to who I was, before everything shattered for me, before I forgot who I wanted to be.
When I returned to school and got back into my routine, I found myself writing more and more. I wrote stories, I joined more creative writing classes, I wrote poetry, plays, anything I could. Writing felt like a language only I understood, and so I felt a compulsion to write out every single word I could, to the point when my fingers would ache at the keyboard.
Obviously, I don’t feel “fixed”. That’s because I don’t think I was ever truly broken, but instead I just wasn’t on the right path. In the past two years, I’ve gotten two half-manuscripts under my belt, nearly finished a 24 chapter story, and I came here — I started a blog dedicated to writing and reading and everything that I adore. From that moment in the hospital, I knew that I’d found my purpose, and I would dedicate the rest of my life to it. The road certainly hasn’t been easy; I’ve spent plenty of nights crying and I’ve slipped once or twice. But I’ve been entirely clean for over a year now, and I know that I partially have writing to thank for that.
One of the greatest things that’s helped me cope with my dark history is the fact that my experiences can create good in my life now. I’ve learned from them, and I have a deeper understanding of darkness in the characters I write, because I’ve seen it and touched it myself, in more ways than one. I can use my story, my pain, to write and to help other people get better, and that feeling of control is the sweetest thing I’ve ever tasted.
I am a writer. And I’m writing my own story now.