Stigma Fighters: Alaina V.

When I was twelve, my parents and I moved to Orcas Island. They had heard about a new, small Christian school in a secluded island town and wanted me to attend. Just like that, I was in a strange new place where I knew nobody but my parents. Still, somehow, I was hopeful and excited about my first day.

The first day of Junior High is a blurry memory that blends with the next two years of my life. I wasn’t welcome. It was explained to me by my parents that my classmates didn’t like, “another crab in their shell.”

I ran for class president. In retrospect, it was the dumbest idea I ever had. The girl who later became my best friend told me that day that I was an outsider, and to give up. I did. My grades slipped. I stopped trying to make friends. I didn’t want to be at school.

By the beginning of high school, I started pretending to be sick so that I wouldn’t have to go. When I was at school, I would be so stressed and anxious that I would become physically ill. I had no real friends, my grades were terrible, and my teachers were often talking to my parents at church about my scholastic performance. I felt that I was being assaulted daily for being subpar. The worst part was, I started to believe I was less than other people.

It took a year, but I finally asked my parents to let me see a doctor about my stress and my physical reactions to it; shakiness, trouble breathing, fatigue and vomiting several times a week. It took a lot of convincing, but eventually they agreed.

The doctor put me on a daily antidepressant and told me to see a therapist. I went to therapy a few times, but my family couldn’t afford to keep me in.
The medication I was prescribed made me feel much worse. I was always cold, hyper aware, and tense. I started to lose weight, too much weight. I had no appetite and my skin paled. I looked like death, and behaved like I was coming down from heroine, meth, cocaine, etc. I don’t have personal experience with these drugs, but that is how it was described to me, and I understand the association.

Thinking that my continued stress was due to pressures at school, I asked my parents to let me go to public school. They refused, not wanting my faith or education to suffer. I became so desperate, I threatened to move away if they didn’t concede. Reluctantly, they let me switch schools.

It was the second semester of my sophomore year. I felt relieved to have separation between my life at school and at home. My parents had worked tirelessly to keep me in a private Christian school, my father was angry with me for being so ungrateful. We lived under the same roof, but didn’t speak for months. My symptoms from the medication did not recede. It was still difficult to make friends, though I was no longer being bullied at school. I can understand why. I looked and acted like a drug addict. It was strange to my peers. It was so bad that my new history teacher approached me about it.

I told her everything. She was kind and understanding. She probably saved my life. After a few conversations, she helped me realize that the medication I was on was worsening my situation. It’s ill- advised, but I stopped taking my medication without my physician knowing. I stopped picking up my prescription, and it did help me to be off them. I gained weight and color came back in my face.
But, now I was back at square one. Anxiety was still running my life.

Over the last several years since, I’ve tried combating my anxiety and depression with exercise, aromatherapy, art, music, meditation. It’s still a struggle every day. I’ll feel euphoric one moment and unable to breathe or focus the next. Emotions flood my body without me having any sense of why it’s happening.

Being off daily medication is a relief to me, in that my brain is full of the chemicals it produces naturally. That gives me confidence and peace of mind, but don’t think that makes things any easier. Days are hard. Not knowing how I’ll feel from one moment to the next is hard.

Mental illness is a battle, but it’s the battle most worth fighting. It’s worth as many bad days as it takes to make a few unique, happy memories. They are irreplaceable, even those that haven’t happened yet.

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Alaina is a gemini who enjoys art and traveling. Born and raised in Washington State, she now resides on the coast of NC. Twitter: https://twitter.com/belimbecile