Melissa

Let me start by telling you a little bit about who I am today. I have been married to my best friend and the love of my life for almost 10 years. My husband is a captain in the US Army. We are currently living in North Carolina 2 hours from the beach. We live in a nice house in a good community so our children can go to one of the best schools in the area. We have two children that are perfect in every way. My daughter is eight and is at the top of her class in school. My son is a typical three year old and keeps us on our toes all the time. We have had the opportunity to live all over the country and see many different places. We have made many good friends all over the country. I have had the opportunity to support our community and country in many different ways.

I finished my LPN program in 2004 and was awarded best clinician out of my graduating class. In May of 2014, I finished my Associate’s degree in General Studies with a 3.9 GPA. I am currently receiving a scholarship from the University of AZ and projected to finish my Bachelor’s degree in Human Services next fall. I have gotten to do things that some people could only dream of doing. I have shaken hands with advisors to the president and rubbed shoulders with three star generals. It may look as if I have a good life and I would agree that yes I do have a good life. However, at one point in my life I would have never imagined any of what I have today. Let me tell you my story.

I was raised in a lower middle class family by my grandparents. On the outside, it looked like I had everything that I ever needed. I had a roof over my head, food in my stomach, clothes on my back, and normally a smile on my face. I was a good student, mostly A’s and B’s, never giving my teachers any trouble. My grandparents were always told during PTA meetings that the teacher wished that they had a classroom full of students just like me. I was involved in church and other community activities. I found out that I had a passion for Karate and became pretty good at it. My picture was in the local newspaper after winning trophies at statewide competitions and achieving my black belt at only 12 years old. To many people on the outside I looked like I had a great life. No one and not even I knew what was starting to happen inside my brain.

In my teen years, I started to experience low self-esteem and felt as if I did not fit in. I always needed to please everyone else. Be the good student, the good grandchild, and always help when needed. Looking back at it now, I realize that I was probably starting to deal with depression in my early teenage years. I can recall one point in middle school when my friends were talking about how they saw their lives after high school and what they wanted to do in the future. I really was not able to picture my life too far in the future. All I could really imagine was a hopeless dark road ahead.

The stigma surrounding depression and mental illness led me to keep my feelings to myself for many years and until I found the strength to trust in an adult friend and let her know how I had been feeling. She recommended that I go talk to a professional. At that time, we only had one local mental health clinic and the stigma surrounding this clinic was that everyone that went there was crazy. I did not want to be seen as crazy. After entering High school, my grades started dropping a little, my life seemed to be even more hopeless, and I needed to take the advice of my friend and see a professional.

Even though I would not need permission to see a therapist, I was told because I was underage it would be a good idea to let my legal guardians know, which were my grandparents. It took me a few days but I finally got up enough courage to talk to my grandmother and tell her that I wanted to see a therapist. The first thing that came out of her mouth was “Why would you want to talk to a therapist you have a good life.” This made me feel even worse and made me second-guess myself. Why am I feeling like this, I do have a good life? I was dealt some bad cards early on in my childhood, but I did currently have a good life, I should not be feeling this way. I never truly told my grandparents how I had been feeling. Just like everywhere else, I wore a mask. I wore a mask at home. I wore a mask at school. I wore a mask everywhere I went. My grandmother did allow me to go see a therapist; however, it was kept secret.

In Feb 1997 at the age of 16, I was diagnosis with depression and PTSD that had resulted from an early childhood trauma. I was started on Prozac soon after that. I wish this were the end of my story but it is not. I started to wear a mask even in therapy sessions and I did not realize how life threatening that would be in the year to come. The stigma sounding mental health issues that I was so used to hearing about kept me from confiding in, and trusting the people that could truly help me. I was afraid of being thought of as crazy or mental.

I was seeing the same therapist on a regular basis, dealing with issues as they surfaced but not really allowing her to know how depressed and hopeless I was. I also hid the fact that the medication at times really was not working. Every session I would go see my therapist, she would ask me how I was doing today and my response was always the same, “I am FINE”. I was not fine; I was going through life on autopilot, trying to make it through to the next day. I would have good days and bad days. I felt as if I had no control over my life. I felt I had no control over my emotions. I would wake up every day never knowing what that day would bring.

I was still maintaining passing grades in high school, involved in Beta Club, had some good friends. Most people did not have a clue that I was wearing a mask. There were a few teachers and family members that saw through the mask at certain times but I always assured everyone that I was doing just FINE. So days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months and before I knew it, a year had passed. I found myself in my senior year of high school. My senior year of high school finally arrived and it should had been one of the greatest years of my life. I would soon be going on to college and trying to find myself in the world. However, for me it was not one of the greatest years of my life.

To everyone else I looked like I was doing great. However my depression was getting worse in spite of being in therapy and on medication, but I kept that to myself. I felt even more out of control of my life and my feelings. At this point, I became anorexic, not because I wanted to be skinny but because I could control something, I could control what I put in my body. I could control what I ate and how much I ate. In the short term controlling what I put in my body made me feel more in control of my life but in the long run it made everything even worse.

Feb 1998 the month that I would turn 18, this should had been a very happy time in my life; however, my life was spiraling even more out of control. I would soon be an adult; I would soon be out of high school. I soon would be looked at to become successful in life. However, because of my depression, I was scared and I saw myself having no future. It had been particularly snowy that week in Feb, two weeks before my 18th birthday. School had been cancelled for a couple of days and cancelled again Feb 9. After being stuck in the house for a couple of days where I had been alone with my thoughts, I found myself needing to get out and do something.

Normally when I was feeling down, I would find something to do and try to be around my friends. This day I could not find anyone to hang out with so I started to drive around by myself. The more I drove around the more the depression started to take hold. I started feeling hopeless for my impending future. I was struggling in high school, how would I make it in college? What if someone at college found out about my depression? I had been able to wear a mask in my small town, could I get away with it in college?

No one seemed to understand how I was feeling, heck I really did not understand my own feelings. I felt as if I was a disappointment to everyone. I was supposed to be the one in my family that made a life for herself. Driving around in my car, I hit rock bottom. The depression had taken complete control. I had thoughts about suicide in the past, cutting at my wrist but never able to go through with it. I reached over and took out a bottle of Tylenol that I had in my glove compartment. Once I swallowed the pills that were in the bottle there was no turning back. I would end my pain and would no longer be a disappointment or burden to anyone else.

Sitting in my car around 45 minutes or so after emptying the bottle of Tylenol, nothing seemed to be happening. At this point feeling even more depressed, I could not even kill myself correctly. I remember thinking to myself the next time I will have to figure out a better way. Little did I know the Tylenol was starting to damage my body. I went to a friend’s house acting as if nothing had ever happened. I started slowly feeling tried and nauseated and soon my friend became aware that something was going on. I finally broke down and told her what I had done.

My friend called my grandmother and she rushed me to the hospital. The 30-minute drive to get me to the hospital was probably one of the longest drives I have ever had. My grandmother continued asking me why I would do something like this. All I could reply was that she would not understand. As soon as I got to the hospital, blood was drawn and it was soon revealed that I had indeed taken an overdose of Tylenol and my blood levels were life threatening. At this point it was a wait and see game. Would my liver filter out the Tylenol or would my liver fail and kill me? I remained in ICU for three days after my suicide attempt, but I survived.

My story does not end here either. Because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues and suicide, my suicide attempt was swept under the rug. I went back to school the day after being released from the hospital. I told my teachers and friends that I had had problems with low blood sugar and had to stay at the hospital for a couple of days. My family started to watch me like a hawk but never discussed what had happened. I continued to avoid telling my therapist how I was truly feeling out fear of being put back in a hospital. The stigma kept me suffering in silence for a very long time.

I finished high school and went on to college but flunked out after a year, and it would take many years before I would go back to college and get my LPN and later my Associate’s degree. I found a wonderful man and I married him. He is a wonderful husband and stands by my side no matter what. I became a mother of two wonderful children and they bring light into the darkest of days. However, from time to time my depression does start to come back. I have learned over the years how to take care of myself. Depression is a treatable disease. If I feel like I need to go see a therapist, I will. If I think, I need to go back on antidepressants, I will. I will no longer let depression control my life because I can control my depression.

You are probably asking why I am sharing my story. I am sharing my story because I do not want anyone to suffer in silence as I once did. No one should feel as if their only way out is by suicide. I want to shine a light on the stigma surrounding mental health issues and suicide. I look in the eyes of my wonderful children and I do not want them to feel the stigma surrounding mental health issues. I do not want them to feel as if they cannot reach out for help if they need it. I do not want anyone to feel ashamed, weak, or embarrassed about reaching out for help.

There are people out there that are willing to help. If you feel like you need to talk to someone and the person, you choose to talk to is unwilling or does not know how to help, tell someone else. I wish I would have broken the silence about my depression years ago and told my family, friends, and even my therapist how I truly felt. I do not blame my family or friends for not helping me out more. I truly do believe that they loved and cared about me but had no idea how to help me. How could they help when I really did not reach out and allow them to? That is why education about mental health issues and suicide prevention is so important. Educate yourself so maybe you can be there for someone if he or she needs your help. If you ever need help just keep reaching out because the help is out there. Finally yet importantly, I do not want anyone after hearing this feeling sorry for me. I do not feel sorry for myself. I have overcome and received more in life then I could ever imagined. I do hope you feel inspired to reach out to someone in need or feel encouraged to seek help for yourself.

One response to “Melissa”

  1. Marilyn says:

    Melissa, Thank you so very much for telling your story. As someone who has also walked through major depressive illness for many years, it means so much that you are helping to raise awareness. After a suicide attempt four years ago (following 30+ years of quiet suffering), I’m still sorting out my life and rebuilding. I believe it is key to my own recovery to appropriately reveal my struggle. And it’s also one of the best things I can do to help those who are suffering in silence. Thank you for inspiring me to reach out, and to remind me that every day is a gift. -Marilyn

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