The reality of mental illness forces life to a screeching halt

  Last year, I moved to Seattle in search of a change. What exactly I wanted to change, I was not entirely sure; I just knew I could not be in Sheridan anymore and I had to leave. Despite the fact that Sheridan was the only town that I had ever known, a culture and community that I had spent the entirety of my 16 years of life living in, I just kept telling myself that I could not do it. I told myself that if I stayed, I was unsure if I had the emotional and mental strength to endure another year.

  To put things in perspective, the biggest reason that I wanted to leave Sheridan was because I was desperately struggling with my mental health. At some point in my life, it was like a switch flipped and everything meant nothing. Sure, some things made me happy, like spending time with my friends, creating projects in Broadcast Journalism, and writing articles that I was proud of for The Ock, but at the end of the day, I had no motivation to do anything. Every morning when my alarm went off, I considered whether or not school was really worth it. I would refuse to drag myself out of bed until the very last minute. I would neglect to brush my hair or my teeth, and I would stumble into class only halfway conscious, typically in whatever shirt I slept in the night before.

 I could feel my brain filling with toxic chemical soup, and that cocktail was gradually beginning to combust. I had no interest in any of my previous hobbies, and that shadow ended up consuming my livelihood completely, which took a rough impact on my grades. My GPA dropped from a 3.4 to a 2.4 within the span of one semester, and when the pressure of getting my grades up began to weigh on me, it was game over. No matter what I tried to change or approach differently, nothing was getting any easier. If one thing was not going wrong, it was something else. Absolutely no level of optimism could help me crawl out of the hole I was buried in. I found myself dreading every Thursday, knowing that the weekly phone call describing my failure to fulfill my parents’ academic expectations of me would result in conflict. I wanted to explain myself initially, but it became tiring when I came to the conclusion they did not understand and were likely never going to. Of course they cared, but in the moment it is hard to see that through the absence of a rush to help.

Slowly Poisoned

It was on a cold night in December of my Sophomore year that I broke down in hysterical tears at Andi’s Coffee House over a pile of missing assignments that had accumulated over the months. That night I confessed to a friend that I saw no point in being alive anymore, no point in pushing forward if I feel completely empty inside. The scariest part of that feeling of emptiness is that it comes simultaneously with a throbbing ache in my chest, head, throat, back, and stomach, like the kind of paralyzing fear that one may feel if they were cornered in an alleyway with a gun to their head and the kind of nausea one may feel if they had just swallowed a gallon of poison. The desire to scream and cry and throw a chair through a window dominates any last trace of rational thought, if only one weren’t so void of energy that they physically cannot move any limb further than an inch and at any speed faster than that of a slumped crawl. It is the feeling of complete debilitation, destruction, and absolute devastation, like watching everything you know and love burn to the ground and being left with nothing but the ashes.

  That was when I realized that what I was going through was not the product of laziness and a lack of interest in learning, but rather that I was being slowly poisoned by the hands of my own mind. For the remaining months of the school year, the only glimmer of hope in my life was knowing that I would be moving away soon, desperately hoping that my demons would not follow me there. I thought I could run from them, and I thought that a change in mindset alone would be enough to scare them away.

Hope through change

  The drive from Wyoming to Washington was met with enthusiasm on my part because I remained optimistic that a change of scenery was the first step to getting my life together. From that point, I had a whole month to get settled in and spend some time with my mom and my two older sisters, and then I would be subjected to what I hoped would be a significantly less stressful trip through academia.

  I was wrong, and I have come to realize that it is okay to admit that.

  When school started, I got yet another taste of depression’s sick bitter. This time around I was dealing with the exact same struggles from last year, only I had no friends to support me and no bright light to look forward to. But, all the while, I remained stubborn in my idea that Washington was my saving grace and that it was only a matter of time until I would start to feel better. As is typical in my life, it seems, I was disappointed yet again.

 After I moved, I started developing spontaneous anger issues that disgusted me because they were so uncharacteristic for me. I would get incredibly angry over such small things that I would start crying, my shaking hands curling into fists, begging for me to punch a hole in the nearest wall. In one instance, I actually did split open my knuckle after losing a fight to a dumpster, and no more than two or three days before that, I had a random meltdown and cut my own hair in my bathroom sink. This was my breaking point. Later that week, as I sat by myself in my car during lunch, I made a phone call to my dad and told him that I wanted to come home. Since then, moving back became that glimmer of hope. It’s funny how things change.

  I gathered up the courage to beg my mom to take me to therapy. Looking back at my life, I can’t think of a time in which I wasn’t cowering under depression’s gloomy pall, and sometimes I can’t help but feel a little bitter when I remember all of the times I told my parents that I was really sad and they told me that it was just part of growing up. In reality, I had asked for help multiple times in the past, but my issues were written off as me being an angsty teenager.

  As full disclosure, I find it important to mention that I in no way blame my parents for what I am going through. I absolutely cannot blame them for struggling to understand, because I even have trouble understanding what goes on in my head. But, for the longest time, it made me angry at the world to think that if people would have just taken me seriously from the get-go, maybe I could have just nipped it in the bud. Maybe I never would have moved to Washington. Maybe I would be valedictorian of my whole class. Maybe I would be a varsity athlete. Maybe I would be the best version of myself, able to accept my depression as a part of that, but not allowing it to destroy everything good in my life.

Return for support

  But of course, after three months, five therapy sessions, and a 1,400-mile trip back to Wyoming, my demons snatched me at the Montana-Wyoming border and were back with a raging vengeance. They gave me a few weeks to spend happily with my friends before I was violently dragged into my grave again. But this time, they brought friends of their own. The urge to self-harm, an old vice of mine, started to nag at me loudly, and not just from inside my head. It is not like hearing a voice that tells me to do it. It is more accurately described as a throbbing pressure, an unscratchable itch beneath my skin, and it lies dormant in my left wrist until it finds any trace of unhappiness in my head, and then it slams into me full force. All I feel is this itch, this insatiable itch, and once it drives me into madness, the only thing I can think about is ripping myself open and dismantling every nerve and tendon in my arm until I feel nothing. I am proud of myself for not acting on it, and I am currently just over a year clean. What is disappointing, however, is that the last time I did it was less than a week before I would have been three years clean. I kick myself for it every single day, and one of the only things that stops me from relapsing yet again is knowing that intensifying my already intense guilt would do nothing more than make things worse. No matter how strong my urges get, I do not see myself indulging anytime soon–I have come to realize that making my friends and family proud of me, and making myself proud, is far more important than satisfying a self-destructive need.

  And, as it goes every school year for me, my grades are suffering yet again. The stress of desperately trying to raise them keeps me up at night, sets a powerful ache in my back that is impossible to ignore, scrambles the thoughts in my brain, makes me feel hopeless, makes me feel stupid, makes me feel ashamed, makes me believe that I am by far the dumbest of my siblings, and convinces me that I am so far gone that I have no remaining hope of restoring my parents’ faith in me. This is something I am working on, and what keeps me going is the closeness of summer, the visual of the final bell ringing after my final day of my final class period, and the overjoyed tears that will undoubtedly escape me when I revel on how incredible it is that I have made it through three years of high school without dying of stress and misery.

The next step

  I did not write this article for pity. I am not publishing this article so people will look at it for thirty seconds and then forget about it. I am not displaying the most vulnerable parts of my life for any other reason than to show that mental illness is a real issue. Mental illness is more than being occasionally sad, it is more than a character in a TV show or movie crying softly to herself at night before being swept off of her feet and saved, and it is certainly more than one therapy session or half-hearted reassurance can help. It is angry, it is evil, and it has more control over people’s lives than some might think. At first glance, it is impossible to tell who is constantly involved in an internal battle and who isn’t.

  Finding help within yourself when there is no other option can seem impossible, and although those suffering from mental illness are surely tired of hearing this, a change of mindset is definitely not a fruitless endeavor. Finding any amount of good in a world that sometimes seems so incredibly bad is crucial to the healing process. However, trying to look at life in a more positive light is also not going to completely turn things around and fix everything. What has further helped me to stave off that dark cloud is enforcing stricter self control. While it is tempting to continuously shut off my alarms and sleep in until the last second, skip class, scroll through Twitter instead of doing homework, or keep quiet in class instead of asking questions, I try to force myself to understand the importance of keeping things moving. I make daily to-do lists with points as little as drinking water, and points as big as sitting down to finish hours of current, and missing, assignments. I have found that staying organized makes mundane tasks seem a little less daunting.

  It is important to listen to your own body when it tells you how it feels. Sure, not everyone has a mental illness, but that does not mean that they are incapable of hurting or going through dark times. Learn to communicate with and understand your own mind. That will make it so much easier to tell when something is not right, and if you can get help for what you are feeling sooner rather than later, that’s even better. Understand that no one on this Earth deserves to go through this alone, regardless of whether or not it is actually due to a mental illness.

  There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help, and no one should have to feel afraid or ashamed to do so. Society desperately deserves stronger mental health awareness.