Growing up I was taught at a very young age the only way to become successful was to earn a 4.0 GPA. A high GPA meant acceptance into the best universities across the country. So I pushed myself to earn nothing but the best grades so I wouldn’t disappoint my parents. Year after year I continued to beat myself up if I received anything less than an A. But then something happened that would change my life forever.
My mom had a psychotic break.
She was diagnosed with severe depression and bipolar disorder. Witnessing the acts of mania my mom exhibited scared me – she did things that I thought only a “crazy” person would do. My mom was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward for months on and off for a whole year. I was 13 at the time and remembered absolutely dreading going to visit her. Everything was locked and I thought that the patients were treated like prisoners. My mom’s doctors even made me sit in a conference with my mom and her psychiatrist asking if I wanted my mom to get better. That to me was scarring – of course I wanted her to get better but not in a place like a psychiatric ward.
It was all too much for me to handle.
It was during this time that I myself started becoming severely depressed. But seeing what happened to my mom once she was diagnosed with depression made me deny that I had it. Instead I started cutting where no one could see it – my upper thighs mostly. Cutting provided me with a release that nothing else could – it was like it was taking all my pain away.
The pain that I didn’t want anyone to know I had for fear of being institutionalized,
like my mom.
As time went on my mom got better and was released from the hospital and allowed to come home. Things also seemed to be looking up for me as well – I had stopped cutting and was convinced that my “depressed episode” was just a phase. Years later in my senior year of high school I realized that it was not.
My parents grew up in the 50’s – a time where gays were, put simply, not accepted. Summer of 2014 rolled around and my parents found out that I was gay while we were on a family vacation. Needless to say it didn’t go over well – they called me disgusting among many other hurtful things that I will choose to leave out of this piece of writing. Knowing that my parents would never be able to accept me for who I truly am is a pain that I will carry around for the rest of my life. Senior year is supposed to be the best year in your high school career but for me, it wasn’t. Starting out I was already walking on eggshells since my parents found out about my sexuality when I wasn’t even ready to tell them. I was struggling with accepting myself as the months of senior year began to pass. I tortured myself by trying to convince myself that it was just this one girl I liked and that was it. I felt guilty and ashamed for even being attracted to a girl. The words that stuck most with me was when my mom said:
“I would never give birth to a gay child”
So I continued to try and convince myself that I wasn’t. It was an internal battle that lasted for months and one that I eventually lost.
When winter came it was like all hopes of things getting better went out the door. I have never been a fan of winter and have since been diagnosed with seasonal affected disorder. With less than 4 months left of high school my motivation hit an all time low and it wasn’t because of senioritis. I had no will power to get out of bed, eat, or even shower anymore. All of my dark thoughts had consumed every last bit of energy I had left in me. I was convinced my parents no longer loved me cause of my sexuality. I worried I wasn’t going to be able to graduate with my class – all of my years of hard work was going to be for nothing. It was during this time that I had hit rock bottom – I was feeling suicidal for the first time in my life and simply did not see the point of living if no one accepted me for who I truly was including myself. My mom noticed these behavioral changes in me and encouraged me to see a counselor, I reluctantly agreed.
I went into counseling with high hopes and left very disappointed. It did not help me at all and I felt worse than ever. The option of medication was presented and I again reluctantly agreed to try it and there were some improvements in my mood. I saw a little glimmer of hope. Once spring came my mood had improved dramatically and with all of the exciting senior activities going on – they provided an excellent distraction from focusing on my negative thoughts. I had even committed to a college – Umass Dartmouth for nursing. Everything seemed to have gotten better.
I had been a nursing student for a whole semester now. But with nursing also came a new diagnosis for me: pseudo seizures. During my first semester at college, I was in and out of the ER a total of eight times and finally received the correct diagnosis of pseudo seizures which are psychogenic non-epileptic seizures brought on by extreme amounts of stress. My body was so stressed out that it was presenting itself in the form of fake seizures where I would not be able to walk or recognize my friends. It was after my diagnosis that I realized nursing wasn’t for me. In order to treat my pseudo seizures I was diagnosed with anxiety and put on Zoloft to control my stress levels.
I felt very lost knowing that I had to change my major especially knowing it had to be a major my parents approved of in order to sign off on my student loans. My parents only care about end product – the salary earned once your schooling is done. This being said, I went to them with countless majors I could see myself doing and enjoying and was constantly turned down. Despair soon followed – I was beginning to feel like I was trapped. It felt like the walls were closing in on me and I could do nothing but wait to be crushed. I couldn’t find a major we both agreed on. This uncertainty regarding my future flung me into the worst depression of my life. I wouldn’t get out of bed for days at a time – my roommate had to literally drag me to the dining hall just so she would make sure I would eat something.
It was frightening.
I didn’t care about anyone and definitely didn’t care that I was hurting the people I loved most by pushing them away as they were trying to help. I had lost all hope and started researching how to complete a successful suicide. I became obsessed with researching methods; I wasn’t scared of dying anymore. I just feared my attempt wouldn’t work. Since I failed at being a nursing major I wanted to make sure I didn’t fail at trying to kill myself as well.
How pathetic would that be I thought to myself.
Luckily the night I attempted it (lots of strong sleeping pills and glasses of alcohol later) my roommate noticed I was acting off and called 911. I had so many mixed emotions while I was in the hospital. It was while I was under observation that I realized I needed professional help and started regularly seeing a counselor. Talking to someone every week helped and my psychiatrist also upped my medicine dosage. My mood was more stable than ever and my parents and I had even agreed on a major. Sadly, the dark thoughts kept creeping into the back of my head and everyday is a struggle to expel them.
A reality check came this summer when one of my good friends, Zachary, who was serving in the United States Air Force, committed suicide. I was in such a state of shock – to this day it still doesn’t even feel real. Going to his funeral and seeing the heartbreak, pain, and anguish that filled the room made me realize that committing suicide was something I would never ever again consider. I would never put my friends, family, and loved ones in the position where they had to think “what could I have done to prevent this from happening?” I wouldn’t want them to feel responsible for my death as I felt once I found out about Zach’s death. I thought to myself constantly if I just checked in with him maybe this wouldn’t have happened. Zach was the last person I would have ever suspected to be severely depressed. It just proves the statement that depression discriminates against no one.
Every day presents itself as a challenge to making sure I am one step closer to learning how to love myself- all flaws included. Since senior year I have proudly accepted the fact that yes I do like girls regardless of what my parents think of it and have been in a stable, healthy relationship for a little over 5 months now. Denying I had depression for years because of the fear of being institutionalized made me realize that having a mental illness isn’t the end of the world. It’s simply a part of me and I am learning how to not let my depression and anxiety define me as a person. My depression comes in waves – tiny and big and always unexpected. I still have very dark thoughts, but I now have effective coping mechanisms to kick depression’s ass. Along with new coping mechanisms, I have a strong supportive system in the form of best friends, my two older siblings, as well as my favorite high school teacher Mrs. Holton. Without all of them I can honestly say I wouldn’t be here today.
If you are feeling depressed don’t you dare feel guilty or ashamed. You are not broken and you are certainly not crazy. You my friend are a warrior – someone who has to fight everyday to dismiss the negative thoughts out of your head. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for – carrying on every day when you feel like you cannot bear another hour. You have touched the lives of so many and you are cared for by numerous people. Don’t ever give up hope for times will get better – just keep on keeping on and enjoy this crazy ride they call life.
Thanks to Jacquelyn Pack for submitting her story. Comment below with how stress affected you growing up, and leave Jacquelyn some love. Always remember you are not alone.
You are loved.
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