I was always a little shy. When I got to 7th grade, I was sent from my mother, to my father, to my grandmother, then back to my mother. I felt abandoned (by all but my father, who’d wanted me to stay but was in a bad financial situation) and like I wasn’t good enough for anyone to want me near them. My sister and I were split up. She was always the talkative one who made friends and protected me, even though we didn’t get along very well. Without her, I felt out of place and awkward, and going to my third Middle school in a year, I felt crushing anxiety. I also started feeling empty and having trouble finding anything that made me happy, besides eating and watching TV. I gained about 50 pounds in a very short period of time. That wasn’t the worse thing, though.
I couldn’t handle school. I’d always been a good student, but suddenly I found myself so crippled with discomfort about my looks, the way I talked, and the way I acted, that I couldn’t concentrate on school work or talk to others. I was always sad, and cried a lot. About a week into school, I stopped going. I pretended to go to school in the morning, carrying a book bag and everything, then sneaking back when my parents had gone to work. At night, I’d to the fake homework I’d invented for myself. I wasn’t proud of myself, and I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. I confessed to my mom about a month in to ditching school, and she reacted, as most people would, by being shocked and incredibly angry. I was scared of her reaction, and although I tried to explain how I was feeling when she was more in a mood to listen to me, she told me I was just having a rough time to adjusting to a new place and a new school, and I’d be fine.
I went back to school and was placed in remedial classes because that’s were the troubled kids went, but that was even worse. Although my classmates were nice, I still felt anxiety being around other people. Plus, I already knew the material and being bored made the day seem like it was 12 hours long.
I dropped out again, and this time refused to go back for years. I learned on my own, but I put no value on what I learned because wasn’t in school, where I was supposed to be. Many days I slept all day and watched TV all night. I had one friend, someone who I’d known as a kid, and without her I wouldn’t have made it. She got me out of the house once or twice a month during the school year, and almost everyday during the summer, which was when I felt the best. But I didn’t manage to go back to school. I did Independent study for a year, and tried high-school when I was given a social promotion to the 9th grade. I hung on for a few months, this time a target for bullying on top of everything else. I gradually went less and less until I’d dropped out again.
I became suicidal, especially when my friend moved away. I began cutting, and I started to realize that what I was going through was not normal. I wanted to see a psychiatrist, but my mother was resistant to the idea and said I didn’t need one. My sister was diagnosed bipolar at age 13, and basically grew up in group homes for teens with mental illness. My mom wanted at least one normal child, and I tried to pretend I was okay because I wanted to be that for her. I knew that she’d also received mental health treatment when she was younger, and had felt attacked. I think she didn’t want that to happen to me.
But when I was 17, I cut myself very visibly and was sent to the hospital on a 51/50. (Involuntary hold.) There, I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and a possible mood disorder. I didn’t believe I’d get better, though, and only took the medicine I was prescribed for a few weeks.
I felt awful, stupid, ugly, and useless. I kept cutting and kept being sent to the hospital. Eventually I realized that I wasn’t going to get better if I didn’t try, so I began seeing a psychiatrist. I started to have hope for the first time in years. I wanted to go back to school.
I passed the GED at 18, but rather than being happy I felt ashamed. My mother lied to the rest of the family that I’d graduated High school, because she was embarrassed. I was hurt, but I felt that I deserved it. I called myself a loser, crazy, stupid. I realize now my mother was just afraid for my future, and didn’t know if I’d be treated badly in the workforce with a GED instead of a diploma. If she’d known the things I was saying to myself, she would have cried.
Eventually, though, I turned 18 and got a job, and surprised myself by being able to do it. I made some friends, I took the bus places by myself, I said Hi to people when they passed me on the street. I started feeling more human, and I wondered if I could do school. Eventually, I went to community college, where I dropped so many classes I was kicked out. I didn’t finish even one class in 3 years.
I almost gave up. I almost decided that my depression and anxiety were going to keep me from getting an education, and I told myself that I wouldn’t know enough to pass the classes anyway. Something- I don’t know what- made me ask to be readmitted. When they let me back in, even though my illness didn’t magically go away, I told myself I couldn’t waste the opportunity. I didn’t only start passing classes, I became a tutor in the campus drop-in English lab, and an instructional aide in two classes. I saw a student struggling one day and went up to help him, not realizing he was actually in a class that was visiting the lab. I didn’t say anything amazing- just told him to listen to himself read out loud and put commas and periods where he paused. He corrected his own paper, had a huge smile on his face, and I felt amazing. What I didn’t know was that his teacher had watched the whole thing. She offered me a job in the disability office being an Instructional Aide for students with learning disabilities. It was a job that usually was only open to people with a bachelor’s degree, and although I thought I was interviewing for it, when I went to the interview I discovered she was trying to convince me to take the job!
My boss was what made me succeed. I told her about my depression and anxiety, and she reacted by telling me if I needed to come in and do paperwork instead of work with students, or if I needed to do work at home, or if I needed any accommodation at all, we could figure it out. I felt respected and like my illness was- finally- just an illness, rather than what controlled my life. I barely missed any days, and when my father passed my work and school were what kept me from breaking down. It was surreal to love and feel at home school- a place that I had been scared of since I was 13.
I didn’t suddenly become better, though. I still had anxiety. I still had problems with depression. I still cut, occasionally. But I knew I could move toward being better, knew that I wasn’t useless, and had found a reason to commit to controlling my illness with therapy and medication. Gradually, people weren’t as scary anymore, and I made friends.
In 2006, I received an AA in social science with High Honors. In 2008, I received my Bachelor’s degree. It wasn’t easy. I did one semester independent study from the hospital. But getting that diploma was a triumph, and when I received it was the first time I truly knew that I was not my illness.