National Suicide Prevention Week begins September 5. An organization very close to my heart, by the name of “To Write Love On Her Arms,” hosts a campaign each year to raise awareness and funds for those struggling with mental illnesses and suicidal thoughts. This year’s slogan is #IKeptLiving.
I struggle with mental illness. There, I said it. It’s not much of a secret anymore—because I’ve come to terms with the fact that anxiety and depression are not anything I need to hide, but it’s still hard.
I, the outgoing, sassy girl who sits next to you in your honors classes that is always cracking jokes, has struggled with anxiety and depression for as long as she can remember.
My very first encounter with anxiety was the first day of kindergarten—when I begged and pleaded with my mother not to make me go. Riddled with stomach aches and panic attacks for the following years—no doctor could tell me what was wrong—I went for tests upon tests and all they could tell me was “it’s just in your head.”
It wasn’t until about 8th grade that I was officially diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder and Depression. It was then that I began taking medication, yes, medication, to help my symptoms. There’s such a stigma around taking medication for mental illnesses, and I was so ashamed of it for so long. It got to the point where I would stop taking my prescriptions just so I could try to be “normal.” But over the years, after being told time and time again that anxiety is just as physical and chemical as high blood pressure or cancer, I finally started to believe it.
Freshman year was when I started struggling with self-harm. Things got really dark for quite some time, until junior year when I attempted suicide. I feel like I can still watch that moment in HD on the big screen in my mind. I remember feeling like there was a 10-story building on my chest, making it impossible to breathe. I wanted to sleep and never wake up. I told myself so many lies; I believed that I wasn’t worthy of life.
I spent a long while in a hospital. They call it a psychiatric hospital, but it’s not like the ones in the movies. It’s just a bunch of kids who are struggling with different crap, trying to will themselves to live. I met three people that were a catalyst for my recovery while there. When I wondered if being there made me crazy—they reminded me that everyone struggles. When I questioned if things would ever get better—they promised me that it would.
Almost a year later, I sit here writing this. Telling this story of hope. This is scary. Being vulnerable—it’s scary. But I’ve decided that if talking about my crap could prove to one person that life does, in fact, get better, it’s completely worth all the disapproving looks I might get while walking down the hallway tomorrow.
#IKeptLiving because, even though recovery is hard, it’s worth it. I kept living for days like today, where self-harming no longer crosses my mind. For the coffee dates, the sunrise, the friendships, the hikes, the laughter, the blueberry pancakes, the warm sheets out of the drier, the movie nights with my sister and the corny jokes. But most importantly: I kept living for me. I kept living because I am worthy of life. Joy is out there, I promise you.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, or are in a dark place, I want you to know that things improve. I want you to know that you are worthy of life. Depression lies. Anxiety lies. You are wanted, needed and valued beyond belief.
Recovery starts when you realize you deserve better. Sometimes you believe the lies that tell you that you deserve pain. You can’t get better if you don’t believe you deserve to. It doesn’t have to start when you end up in a psychiatric hospital; it doesn’t have to come from a therapist; it doesn’t have to be after you start cutting, and it certainly doesn’t start when life stops throwing you curve balls or when things get easy. It can start now because it starts within you.
The darkness doesn’t last forever—I promise you. Take it from the girl who thought she could never find joy. Today, I am joyful. I am the kind of joyful that doesn’t fade when things get tough. The “wake up to your monotonous day of school and stress, yet you still feel blessed to be alive” kind of joy. It’s out there—I promise. When people ask me about my future—I finally think I have one. I finally have dreams I plan on reaching. I finally love life.
Join me in recovery, and be a survivor.
Shed the shame attached to mental illness and start living your truth.