This essay was originally posted on the website of Mental Health America of Eastern Missouri in 2015.
Content Warning: general mentions of self-harm, suicidal ideation, disordered eating, and a suicide attempt.
This summer I turned 21. It was an age I never thought I’d reach. But here I am, after a decade spent in the cloud of mental illness, just now beginning to emerge on the other side.
I was a preteen when things began to change. Anger arrived, along with anxiety and depression. I felt so alone, betrayed by my friends who embraced puberty’s changes. By age 15 I was suicidal, self-harming, and restricting what I ate. I used these behaviors to cope with overwhelmingly strong emotions. I felt like a terrible person for every little thing I did and thought punishment was only fitting. Feeling sad? Restrict. Feeling angry or ashamed? Self-harm. I was also dealing with acute social anxiety that prevented me from speaking with strangers and acquaintances. My mind was constantly obsessing over every little thing. I was sure people were laughing at me constantly. It was at this age that I saw my first therapist and started my first medication, which greatly helped my anxiety. However my depression continued to worsen.
When I was a senior in high school I decided that I wouldn’t live to go to college. I was determined to self-destruct. Despite my best efforts I headed to St. Louis as a college freshman. It was here, two months after arriving, that I attempted suicide. I was just so fed up with the depressive episodes I was having, and didn’t see the point of life. I was alone and bursting with emotions that I couldn’t seem to control. Even after my hospital stay, I was reluctant to turn my life around. Self-destruction felt comfortable and I simply wasn’t done being sick. It wasn’t until my doctor told me I wasn’t going to survive if I didn’t change my habits that I felt motivated to recover. I entered recovery in the spring semester of my freshman year of college. I slowly began to eat and tried to stop self-harming.
It turned out recovery was much more difficult than I anticipated, so when I finished my semester I made the decision to take a year off on medical leave to focus on getting better. I moved home, entered a Dialectical Behavior Therapy program, got a job, and began my year of healing. Over the course of the year I found a combination of medications that worked. I started relearning how to feed myself. I took suicide off the table as an option for escape. I reduced my self-harm behaviors. My fierce negativity slowly turned into something more positive. DBT played a crucial role in my recovery. It gave me the skills I needed to get through intense emotions and urges. I learned to take care of myself and to love spending time alone. I began to enjoy life. After a year I was ready to return to school.
Now I’m back in St. Louis, having just finished my first year back at school. I’m still working on building my life worth living. Right now it consists of taking pleasure in the little things. The spring flowers or the changing colors of the leaves in the fall. Running into a bunny on my walk home. Taking pleasure in the way I dress. Watching my pet frog hunt his crickets. Listening to music on my way to class. I try to dive into my school work which can help take my mind off my insecurities and other problems. I do a lot of cheerleading and pumping myself up. I’m even starting to plan my future, something that once paralyzed me with fear and that I was convinced I didn’t have.
Things are still hard though. I haven’t been cured; I never will be. I have to fight every day to avoid sliding backwards. I struggle with finding a balance between alone time and being social. There are still days when I don’t want to get out of bed or leave the house. My mood still fluctuates, rising and dropping, though not as severely as before. I still go to therapy each week and take my medicine every day. What’s different is the ratio of good to bad days. There are more good days and moments than before. And I have hope. Hope that I can accomplish the things I want to do. Hope that my life will continue to improve. Hope that I can survive.
Recovery is undeniably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. When I started I honestly didn’t believe my life could improve. But it has. Through therapy, medication, mindfulness, dedication, and hard work, I have slowly built my life worth living. I once was skeptical, and very jaded but I’ve come to admit that recovery is hard, but it’s worth it.