*Trigger warning -self harm
If you had told me I would be where I am today fifteen, ten, or five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. I was not always the light-hearted, employed, and (for the most part) stable writer that sits before you behind her mac screen. Quite the opposite – not so long ago I had a drinking problem, the sexual habits of a frat boy, and a mental illness that was taking over my life. Unsupervised and overmedicated, my life slowly started slipping away from me. When I see pictures of myself at my worst (around 19 years old), I see a scared, sad, sick little girl who wanted nothing more than to feel “normal”.
My fight began when I was 13 year old, the first time I cut myself. Having been chronically teased for being “oversensitive” my entire life, it all came to a breaking point after one 8th grade soccer game. I couldn’t take the way the other girls treated me any longer, and for the first time in my young life, I wasn’t filled with sadness; I was filled with rage. With no one and nothing to take my anger and hurt out on, I turned my aggression towards myself…with a kitchen knife. My mom caught me and brought me to my first (of many) therapists.
From then on it was nothing but therapists, psychiatrists, and medications. For 10 years I suffered through medication after medication, dealing with the frustration and side effects of the wrong doses or the wrong combinations, all the while pretending to be a normal, happy teenager.
In college, I was put on academic probation (twice) because there were times I could not pull myself out bed. I missed a final because I felt so drained, empty, and unworthy of breathing that I could not pull it together to get to school. I also had a VERY unhealthy relationship with alcohol, food, and sex. I used all three as coping mechanisms to numb the pain and despair I felt. I had no goals, no dreams or aspirations, and I felt like I had no future.
Two weeks into my junior year I hit rock bottom. Mania, depression, and anxiety had consumed my life and scared my friends away from me. My parents pulled my out of school and the next year of my life consisted of only doctors appointments and trips to the hospital to have my Lithium levels checked. Throw in a hospitalization and a suicide attempt and you’re looking at one hell of a college experience. I think the most painful part was seeing the look of fear in my friend’s eyes. People who came to me with their problems, who cried in my arms, and who slept on my chest when they needed human contact were now terrified of me. I promised them, my parents, and most importantly myself that I would get better.
I re-enrolled in college and at the beginning of my senior year I made the bold choice to go off medication and started seeing a social worker I could actually talk to. We used workbooks about CBT and DBT that helped tremendously; skills I still use today. I started running, going to the gym, and cooking healthy meals. I even made Dean’s List my last two semesters, which is something I am still incredibly proud of.
I wish I could tell you that I got a job right of college that blossomed into my current profession. But then life would be fair and as I’m sure you’re all quite well aware, it isn’t. I graduated in December and struggled to find a job since I had no idea what I wanted to do or what I would be good at, which wore on my self esteem. I fell right back into my old slump of sleeping all day, having beer for breakfast, and feeling like I was dying inside. I knew I had to do something, anything to get my out of the slump, so I found a temp job with regular 9-5 hours grading state exams. Having to get up every day and be somewhere gave me the kick I needed to get back on track. I went back to the gym and applied to jobs daily. Eventually (8 months later) I got a position that would what be my first “real job”. From there things started to pick up; I found a wonderful group of friends, lived in my very own one bedroom apartment, and eventually started dating the man of my dreams. Although my life had vastly improved and I was happy, I decided I was finally ready to take on something I had dreamed of doing; moving to New York City.
Although it wasn’t smooth sailing for the first year and a half, now I have a full-time job and I live in Astoria with my boyfriend who is my rock. Everything was going just fine…until two months ago.
Nothing traumatic happened – I didn’t lose my job, no one died, and I didn’t get diagnosed with a terminal illness, but something I had long feared happened; my mental illness came back. Now I know it had never really gone away, but I thought I figured out how to beat it without medication. I thought exercising, eating well, sleeping, meditating would keep it at bay forever. Unfortunately I was mistaken. The past few weeks have been an incredibly struggle for me. There are days I can’t pull myself out of bed and my boyfriend types my emails to my boss requesting a sick day. I don’t want to see anyone, not even my beloved friends who live walking distance from me, because I can barely muster the energy to sit up straight, let alone have a conversation.
My greatest fear, my nightmare, has returned…but I will not let history repeat itself. I know the signs and the symptoms and I’m ready to fight this time. I’ve started seeing a therapist again and I’m seeing a psychiatrist for the first times in five years in two days. I know he’ll put me back on meds, and this time I’m ok with it. I have lost everything to my mental illness and I will not let it take away everything I’ve built again. Even though I always don’t believe myself, I continually remind myself (as do my boyfriend and mom) that I will make it through this. Because I have to, there is no other option.
When I start to lose faith I look at my left wrist – I have the word “Breathe” tattooed on it, right above the five white lines that tried to take my life.
If you’re suffering with mental illness just remember this – it will get better. Find your inner strength, keep trying to make yourself better, and remember to breathe.
Keep fighting the good fight.
Kate is a free-spirited writer who lives and writes in NYC. She loves whiskey, playing with her maine coon/tabby mix Sasha, and hoola hooping. Kate has Bipolar Disorder Type II and is not ashamed (anymore).
Kate, thank you for writing this. It gives me hope that I too can overcome my symptoms, get my degree and live something like a normal life. Wishing you a speedy recovery!