Talking about mental illness is weird. Everyone has these ideas of what depression looks like, what anxiety looks like, what schizophrenia looks like… But really they wouldn’t be able to tell someone with these illnesses if they knocked on their front door.

Imagine your house is on fire. It’s been burning for a long time, as long as you can remember. You know there must’ve been a time before the house was on fire, but you can’t remember it. You finally call the fire department and after trying to explain all the ways the fire is affecting you, they say “why did you wait so long to say anything?” and you feel so stupid because the only real answer you can give is “I just hoped it would go away.”

So, just a show of hands, how many people here grew up suicidal? And I’m not joking, honestly; how many people here grew up wanting to kill themselves?

I’ll tell ya the first time I remember wanting to kill myself: I was around 8 years old. I had gotten into an argument with my sister, and I remember furiously scribbling in my diary that one day I would hold my breath until I died, then she would realize how mean she was to me. I later learned that what I experience is called passive suicidal ideation; that although I didn’t have any really specific plans to harm myself, it was always an available option in my mind. A weird sort of fallback plan.

It took me many years to realize that this type of thinking is NOT normal. People don’t usually go through their daily life trying to find ways of convincing themselves to stay alive. Every time I drive over a bridge I’m filled with fear because I don’t trust myself to not pull the steering wheel. And the weird thing about growing up suicidal, you just don’t plan past a certain point. You always assume that at some point you’ll get the guts to do it and that’s that. Again, there’s no specific plan or intent; just a vague notion that if all else fails, suicide is waiting there for you, and some part of your brain assumes it’s the way you’ll go. I’m 22, and I’m winging absolutely everything I do because I legitimately didn’t think I would make it this far. It was halfway comforting and halfway scary to have these thoughts in my head, but after long enough they just became my normal. Minor inconveniences led my mind to “Welp, should probably just kill myself” on a daily basis. Again, I have to stress the fact that I thought EVERYONE thought about death as much as I did–something that intrigued me, yet also sent me into panic attacks if I thought about it too long. I fell into a cycle: self hatred, suicidal ideation, anxiety about death, return to neutral, repeat. I had zero control over my emotions and they swung any which way erratically. I deprived myself of food and slept as much as I possibly could when I was feeling low. One low swing even lead me to quit a job that I loved and irrevocably ruin a relationship with someone I respected very much. I’m actually in the midst of that low swing right now (I’d say the lowest I’ve ever felt), exploring my options. I’ve tried “positive thinking” and the like; I’ve tried many medications but none seem to have any effect. My everyday life may seem mundane to most, but in the battlefield that is my mind it’s hectic every second that I’m awake. I am usually pretty anti-organized religion, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes find myself praying to something, anything that my pain could be eased for a while.

I’m writing this because I’ve never spoken any of this aloud to a soul; this is more raw than what my own therapist hears! But I needed to get it out, just in case there’s anyone else out there that feels the same way. You are not broken; you are sick, and you need help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t let your house burn any longer than it needs to. The fire department is there because they want to be, not because they’re paid to be–remember that they’re volunteers! Never forget your support networks. They can be crucial to you sticking around a while longer… And the longer you’re here, the more of a chance you have at seeing things get better.

Jenna is a 22 year old mentally ill queer woman living in New York.