*This is a work of fiction, inspired by real events
He was a beautiful man, with profound eyes filled with pools of copper and a jawline so sharp it stung to look at. I met him through mutual friends – we were at one of those free music festivals Atlanta loves to throw during the spring. “Bijan,” he answered, unsmiling, when I asked for his name.
I had to ask again to hear him over the off-tune indie band playing nearby and the surrounding cliques’ overlapping conversations. I grinned. “Does that mean you’re my hero?” I teased, playing on the Farsi meaning of the name, trying to help him relax. I know what anxiety is like. He merely grimaced and replied, “Yeah.”
My girlfriend smiled sheepishly at our exchange. “Bijan comes from Persian parents as well. I thought I’d introduce you, because Middle Easterners can only date each other, right?” That was a joke, I learned later that evening – Bijan was gay.
We went out for dinner after the festival ended. I ordered spaghetti with tomato and basil sauce, while he opted for mozzarella cheese sticks and a dirty martini. “Yeah,” he said, between licking the salt off an olive, “I used to have a boyfriend. Handsome, tall fellow. A godsend in the gay community – to find a guy who wanted to be exclusive AND was ‘manly’ enough for me to take home without having to come out? Bless. Things didn’t work out, though. It is what it is.”
Bijan wasn’t actually from Atlanta. His parents lived in Nashville; he was here doing his Master’s in Public Health at Emory. He wanted to help impoverished men and women of color in urban communities with commonplace STI’s receive necessary treatment and prevention. Bijan was an intelligent student, but didn’t receive enough funding for his studies. Fortunately, his parents were wealthy enough to fund his degree, housing, and other needs while he built the foundation for his life.
I was fond of Bijan. We didn’t hang out much after that night, but we made time to get cappuccinos or go to shows a handful of times over the next few months. Those few times, we talked (argued) about religion, local occurrences, and epidemiology. I admired him for his pure intentions – he truly believed he could “make the world a better place” through his research, despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles world health organizations often faced, like lack of funding or permission to send aid into certain areas. He had faith that goodness would prevail. But that faith appeared to be nonexistent when it pertained to his own life.
“Yeah, my parents have a list of women for me to meet in the occasion I don’t bring one home before I turn 27,” he’d lament. “Muslim, or Coptic Christian. They really expect me to carry the family name, because I am the ‘man of the family.’ Pardis, my only sister, is older than me, but she eloped with a guitar player a few years ago. Extraordinarily cliché, but aren’t we all? I don’t know where she is now. Anyway, they’ve cut her off and now it’s just me and Parsa, who is still in the 7th grade.”
Bijan spoke quickly, like he wanted to get a confession with a sheikh or priest over with, like I was about to assign him a punishment for simply existing. “They can’t get over the fact that they came here from Iran to have a better life, that they managed to literally go from rags to riches with their business, and they still managed to have a ‘fuck-up’ for a daughter. It puts so much pressure on me and Parsa to be great, to be venerable characters in the narrative they’ve imagined and ingrained in their heads. It’s why, despite the legalization, I will never be able to marry the man I love.
“I don’t know why I’m telling you this. You know, I haven’t made many friends I like here. It’s hard for me to trust people. I feel like everyone lets me down. But I guess telling you all this doesn’t really make a difference.” Bijan confused me sometimes, as well, but when I prompted him for an explanation, he rarely conceded. I chose to enjoy his company, nonetheless, and take what he would give me.
I never got the sense that Bijan was a particularly happy individual, despite his aspirations and fertile inner life. Then again, very few are. Yet, nothing could prepare me for the letter I received early this year from – of all people- Bijan’s mother, stating that he had killed himself and left me a note. She didn’t write anything else, except that she hoped that Bijan hadn’t portrayed her and her husband as ‘bad people’ to me, and that they had tried their hardest to do everything they could for their beloved son.
I hope this letter reaches you well, given the circumstances. If you’re reading this, I am gone. There is nothing you could have done. I want to thank you for being a wonderful friend during the short time we knew each other. In a different life, with different neurobiology, I might have loved you more than a friend. Alas, it was not meant to be.
I write this, because I want you to know. I need to validate to myself that my act is not entirely selfish.
When I was 23, I contracted HIV from a hookup. At least, I want to think it was from a hookup. Unless my ex cheated on me, then I got it from him. It doesn’t really matter though.
Yeah, yeah, I know: HIV is incredibly treatable, to the point where it doesn’t even have to shorten your life expectancy, you just have to take antivirals and enzyme replacement therapy, but that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because HIV is the last straw for me. It’s the last straw on top of being atheist, on top of being gay, on top of an unforgiving world. I’ve been ready for this for years – the universe just told me it was time.
My father once said that he would rather me have cancer than an STI. I took that as indication that he would, façade and obligatory consolations aside, honestly prefer me dead than shameful. Everything about me is shrouded in shame. This, my death, is my gift to my parents: they can tell their family I died of a broken heart, of mental illness, of anything else, rather than the ugly truth. And maybe it’s true: maybe I am a product of my own relentless self-destruction, a product of gin, sex, and blasphemy.
I am not blaming anyone. Some people weren’t just meant for this world, not human enough, too human. I truly believe I will find peace after this. I’m going to sleep – for eternity.
With utmost love,
I did cry. Sobbed, in fact. And I was furious, absolutely enraged, at his casual tone in the letter. Did he not understand the depth of his actions? Did he not understand the implications for his family? His poor brother, now all alone in a cruel world?
His mother didn’t leave any contact information in her note, which is just as well. I had no desire to speak about Bijan ever again. I could only imagine how he completed the act- was it here in Atlanta? Did he blow his brains out, leaving his roommate a grotesque final image of him? I shuddered, and prayed to forget Bijan’s beautiful face.
Bijan was an astounding man that touched my life, and broke my heart with his demise. I wish his tale was a unique one, but I know it’s not, because suicide is the leading cause of death among young adults in the developed world, and I know that a high percentage of suicidal individuals never seek help, and I know that many people of color believe suicide, death, is the honorable way to go when they’ve disrespected the culture they come from.
And I wish for the next generation of humans on this planet to be more merciful to the gays, to the different, to each other, and I wish for the next generation of humans on this planet to cater to those who don’t know how to be alive in their communities, or anywhere else. I wish for a more forgiving world, one Bijan could have lived in, flaws and all.
I have never seen a therapist for my depression, but I do take medicine prescribed by my general practitioner for what she deemed “anxiety with depressive symptoms”. The further I advance in my college career, the further it seems that my depression advances as well.
Some days I just have an underlying sadness that I can’t quite figure out why it is there. Other days, it is hard for me to get out of bed. I feel like I am worthless, that none of my friends truly love me, and that all the hard work and dedication I put into my passions to make the world a better place does absolutely nothing.
Some days, hanging out with my friends is enough to pull me out of the rut, at least temporarily. But some days, or even weeks, I seclude myself and lay in bed most days feeling depressed and lonely. During these times, it takes a lot more willpower to pull me out of my depressive episodes.
I have an extremely close family where I can call them up anytime and just hear their voices, instantly improving my mood. I am lucky to have sisters that go out of their way to make me feel better when they know I am feeling down, like when my mom and sisters delivered a bag of gifts to me after I broke up with my first serious boyfriend. Not only do I have my family (and my pets), but I have an amazing small group of friends that I know I could tell anything to. They understand more so than my family that I can be sad or depressed and have no “reason” for the sadness. They know when I need my space, or when I need a girl’s night or a dinner off campus to lift my spirits.
One thing that really helps me out of my depressive ruts is involving myself with the most incredible group of individuals at my school that I have the privilege of knowing. As the president of Active Minds at Loyola University, I get the opportunity to meet so many stigma fighters and mental health advocates on my campus that work to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health. Specifically, my leadership team for active minds are the kindness, most thoughtful, loving, and understanding people at my school.
They instantly lift my mood with their positive affect and heartwarming commitment to making the world a better place for those with mental illness. When I am in the deepest of ruts because of my depression, these are the people that remind me of why I was put on this earth, what my passion is, and what I was destined to do.
My advice to my fellow stigma fighters who struggle with depression is to talk to others about it. Let them know what you need and when you need it. Tell them how you feel so that when you are feeling that way, they can help you out of your rut.
But most importantly, find your passion. Find what gives you the greatest joy and purpose in the world, and hold on to that in the deepest moments of your depression. Remember why you are here, and all the people you are helping by just living. And remember, fight like hell.
It seems as though as more time passes on, the more often I log in to my Facebook and find yet another post on my news feed written in honor and remembrance of a loved one that has taken their life.
Loved ones lost too soon due to the overlooked, underestimated, all-encompassing power that a mental illness has the potential to hold on our minds. Depression (alone, or in the wake of other mental illnesses) is more and more confused by the uneducated as merely just a feeling or phase, rather than a mental health condition with the need for understanding, attention, and treatment. To my point, it is imperative that society becomes more cognizant of the crisis we are facing, especially among adolescents and young adults, today.
This form of epidemic we are seeing is one that should be completely preventable. Yet more people we know, or have mutual friends with, will continue to suffer from depression, take their lives, and that still may not be enough to bring about the awareness we all need pay careful attention to.
Which leads me to my point about compassion. It is crucial that we understand and practice the importance of being compassionate toward others, whether they happen to be close to us or not. We are all human, we all feel, and we all hurt. Most importantly, we all need to know we are loved. Yes, it may sound a little silly, but this concept is basic and our society’s mental stability depends on it.
To continuously know we are heard, to know we are cared about, and to know we are not alone all have the potential to foster a sense of faith and hope in someone struggling that could quite possibly be a leading reason as to why when we are suffering, we keep holding on. In the past few months I have trained to become certified in Mental Health First Aid in order to work as a volunteer for the New River Valley Community Services Raft Crisis Hotline, located in my college town.
It has been through my time throughout this experience so far that I have been fortunate enough to learn first-hand how one can impact another’s sense of well-being and assurance, while at the same time being a complete stranger. It is through the conversations I have had thus far that have shown me how truly vital a listening ear, a caring heart, and providing a sense of support for another can be to someone in need of just that.
So that the struggling person knows that not only is someone here for them, but here with them. Simply showing unrelenting compassion can dramatically influence the mindset of someone who is drowning mentally, whether you realize it or not.
For those who are contemplating what steps they will take to end their lives or experiencing suicidal ideas, it is as if they suffer from an irrefutable perspective of themselves that they no longer recognize. A perspective built upon the foundation that their life has little value, and is no longer worth fighting for. Although the hardships brought about by having a mental illness hold power in creating such a perspective, some individuals may have never reached the point of attempt and/or completion had they been shown and made aware of the fact that they are being heard, cared about, and accompanied from the beginning.
However, perhaps if we as a society made it more instinctual to act in ways that are more compassionate, more kind, more supportive, more aware, then those we love would have more foreseeable opportunities to find the hope needed in order to take the appropriate steps toward recovery. To be reminded that our lives are valued, cared for, and paid attention to may have the ability to lead one to a sense of worthiness in valuing and caring for oneself that they otherwise would have never found on their own.
Perhaps the strength needed in those struggling to learn to love who they are and to fight for the value of their life can be (even just a little bit) sprouted by simply the way in which we pay attention to and show compassion for them.
I had a relatively “Leave It To Beaver” childhood. I grew up in a small town. My parents are still together, and my family is close. I played 3 varsity sports, was in the theater program, and on the debate team. I got good grades, and I was a dancer until I was about 15 or 16. My family vacationed once a year.
I never went to summer camp because, as my dad put it, “We owned a summer camp.” Which was kind of true. We own a resort that always has kids staying there. We lived outside of town, so I felt a tad isolated. And my parents were semi-strict, but all around, I would never ask for another way to be raised.
I started dealing with depression in my late teens, and anxiety came a few years later in college.
At first it was extremely difficult for me to find a doctor that I liked; one told me bisexuality was a phase, another told me to go on welfare, while another offered only that I should quit drinking (I was 24). I went on and off medications, and I will never know if any of them worked since I was drinking a lot of alcohol with each one.
I spent my 20’s as the quintessential party girl. I had an amazing time! I experienced all sorts of things, and I had some great friends. I also drank and smoked to excess while avoiding anything too serious. I was definitely self medicating, and I convinced myself I was happy – looking back I truly want to believe I was.
At 28 I was hitting the end of my stride; the lifestyle was getting way too crazy. The black outs were a regular occurrence, and my hangovers lasted 2-3 days (most of the time I would get agoraphobia and never leave the house during that time). I would drive to work still drunk from the night before, and those “great friends” had turned into acquaintances I could drink with.
I met a guy. He was totally ready to jump right into the party scene. He moved in to my place, a little apartment on a street that had ALL the bars within walking distance, so naturally, we went out every night. I wouldn’t have called our relationship stable or healthy, but then again, neither were we.
Right before my 30th birthday, we moved about 20 minutes out of town. We hoped it would give us a new chance. Keep us out of the bars and help us grow up. It worked for him. He wouldn’t drink when we would go out, so he could drive home while I got shit-faced.
When I went out alone, I would still get pretty wasted and even drove home a few times. Our relationship was suffering more than ever, my job had grown increasingly frustrating, and I was completely miserable. I hated everything and everyone – most of all myself. It almost sounds too cliche to be true.
On Mother’s Day 2015, I awoke with my typical Sunday hangover except the hollow feeling in my gut was greater than usual. I showed up late to family brunch, likely still drunk. The anxiety was growing. I had a mimosa with the meal hoping a little hair of the dog would help get me through it.
It made things worse (little did I know it would be the last drink I would have for a year). I barely finished eating, immediately went home, and puked it all up. I crawled into bed and shook the rest of the day. I took a Xanax when it got dark enough to fall asleep; I prayed for relief in the morning.
I woke up, but there was no change.
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday passed, and the only change was that night terrors had come. I was having hour long anxiety attacks each morning from 1 or 2 A.M. until 5 A.M. I was exhausted. I decided the next week that I had to see my general practitioner.
She had previously prescribed me Xanax for my occasional anxiety attacks. I assumed she would be able to help me or refer me to someone that could. She didn’t know what to do with me.
She prescribed me an anti-psychotic. I am not psychotic nor have I ever been.
She told me that this pill could be used for anxiety, even though one of the side effects is anxiety attacks. She told me to wait a few weeks and come back to touch base, and see if the medication was working. I trusted her and left her office cautiously optimistic.
I made it two weeks. The anxiety attacks had not subsided. I was barely functioning. She adjusted the dosage and added lithium. I felt like Jennifer North in Valley of the Dolls. I was supposed to wait a few more weeks, and I was seriously struggling.
The medicine made me so exhausted. I would almost fall asleep on my morning commute and had to drink excessive amounts of caffeine to make it through my day (yea, caffeine with an anxiety disorder – genius, right?).
I was in the doctor’s office at least once a week. What I didn’t realize was that she was out of her depth. I was slightly better, but I couldn’t live. I was in bed the second I got home from work. I couldn’t do anything around the house, I was going days without actually eating (because it made me anxious). All I could do was sleep… and cry.
I cried all the time. I never left my house. I lost a lot of friends and missed everything. I was petrified of everything. I felt totally isolated.
At this point I have to give a MAJOR shout out to the boyfriend! He had zero experience with mental illness. He definitely didn’t understand it, but he held me every night while I shook and cried and hit myself during the anxiety attacks. He cleaned the house. He cooked. He gave up his life to take care of me. He was amazing. Without him and my parents I never would have survived!
July was the final straw with my general practitioner. I was paying to see her every week, and I wasn’t getting anywhere. Three days after I saw her to adjust my meds, for the umpteenth time, I was having a difficult time.
I tried to call her and was told she wouldn’t take my call. I explained that I had been in two days prior and just needed a quick verbal consultation. Her receptionist told me she would call me back. She never did. This was the second time it had happened.
After that I called six psychologists’ offices. I couldn’t get a call back. I was astounded. It’s a hot button topic, mental health, but I couldn’t get any help! I was feeling hopeless and ready to commit myself to the local in-patient facility.
I thought about quitting my job and collecting disability, but without my job, I would have no insurance. I was in so much pain! I didn’t want to kill myself, but I didn’t want to exist any longer. My bed was the only place I felt OK.
I finally got into an office. The doctor barely noticed I was there while he asked me the necessary medical background questions and logged them into a lap top. I had to tell him twice that I had, in fact, never been committed. He adjusted my medications, ordered some blood tests, and advised me to come back in a month.
I did feel slightly better with the recent adjustment, but when I went back for my second visit, I told this doctor I wanted OFF the anti-psychotic. I was starting to notice word loss, memory issues, and a general fuzziness. I didn’t feel like a person, and the anxiety attacks were still a daily occurrences. He didn’t acknowledge my request and took me off the lithium instead. I was prescribed an alternative to it.
I did start feeling better but no huge advancements. The anxiety attacks were every other day instead of daily. I was still exhausted, that “fuzziness” was getting worse, and I had developed INTENSE acne! I started seeing a dermatologist, an acupuncturist, and a reiki practitioner.
I had 2-3 appointments every week. I was working really hard to heal.
The acupuncture and reiki were great. They were providing me with the only relief I had felt in months – even if it was only for a day or two, it was worth it! I also started meditating with this great app, “OMG! I Can Meditate,” which was so helpful.
Flash forward to October, and I am back in the doctor’s office for a checkup before I flew to Charlotte to see my brother and sister-in-law for the weekend. He had the results of a recent blood test and told me I could stop taking the anti-psychotic all together. I was psyched!!
That is until I was 30,000 feet in the air having withdrawal symptoms and an epic anxiety attack! My mother looked on helpless and worried as I silently sobbed, shook, and gobbled a couple Xanax to try and calm down. The flight was only an hour and forty-five minutes. I spent an hour and a half freaking out!
I tried everything! After a third Xanax, healing crystals, meditation, and essential oils, I still couldn’t pull it together. By the time we got off the plane and to my brother and sister-in-law’s house, I was heavily sedated and immediately fell asleep.
I stayed pretty sedated that whole weekend, determined to let the drugs flush out of my system. I gave that up the next Saturday night as the impending flight home approached. I got back on the anti-psychotic – the flight home was uneventful.
This was my lowest point in my recovery. I thought I was never going to get better.
I thought this was the only option available, and I had to take what I could get, that THIS was as good as it was going to get. Welcome to your new life Lia!
I quickly realized this doctor was useless. I had to remind him at least 2 times every session I had never been in a mental hospital (still). He didn’t care about me. I was a dollar sign to him. I had also left my therapist who was a nice enough fellow but kept insisting I exercise, as if it was the ONLY way I would feel better. I am sure he was right but the medicine was leaving me so drained that I just couldn’t.
I got sick of hearing it and tried another woman. She began by opening up and rehashing every wound I had ever had in my entire life – I did not want to talk about being beat by a boyfriend in 2007, I did not want to talk about the time I got roofied at a bar, and I did not want to talk about my friends that had died. I had addressed and come to terms with all those things years before.
I wanted to talk about how to heal myself now.
December rolled around. I had done one or two holiday activities but nothing crazy and had been home by 8 to go to bed. People noticed I was acting weird. They could tell I was jittery and shaky. I was completely uncomfortable in my skin and the acne, which wasn’t going away, was making me even more self-conscious.
I just wanted to stay in bed.
The thing was, I couldn’t. I had to continue with my process. On a “good day,” I got ambitious and booked my first vacation with my boyfriend to Florida at the end of February. I thought about canceling it, but I didn’t want to lose the money.
Thankfully, the woman who does my acupuncture recommended a different doctor. I called this doctor, but she wasn’t taking new patients. She recommended a second doctor who was moving in a couple of weeks, so it would’ve been pointless. She recommended a third doctor. The third doctor was taking new patients, and I made an appointment for January 7th 2016.
I had been sick for 242 days when I had that first appointment. I went to my first appointment with low expectations. I stepped into her office and sat in her big leather chair. She asked if she could go over my history to help her grasp who I was. I reluctantly told her everything.
She never pried or prodded, just listened taking active notes. She asked for clarifications on some names and some dates but basically, just took notes. As I talked, I glanced around her office. I was nervous and uncomfortable. I was telling another stranger my life story.
I noticed some things about her office that put me at ease; she had angel statues, healing crystals, and elephants. The more I looked around, the more at ease I became. Towards the end of our session, she told me to start weaning off the anti-psychotic, from twice a day to once. This made me scared, but she comforted me and told me she wanted to help me.
In all this time, no doctor or therapist had said or made me feel like they wanted to help me.
I wept in her office. She took over the role of my doctor AND my therapist that day. It was the best decision I have ever made.
She had me off the anti-psychotic in two weeks. She put me on Lamictal, and I still had Xanax. She listened to everything I was saying. She was interested and attentive. I loved her! After a month or so, she did a divination reading for me, and then we did a meditation for one session.
This was the best therapy I had ever had! When it came time for the vacation, I felt prepared. I was going to kick its ass! I totally did too.
I went to Disney and had a blast!
When I felt more confident in my standings, I started making other healthy choices. I made drastic changes to my diet in hopes of healing my mind and my skin. I cut out gluten, dairy, and cane/ white sugar as best I could.
I started taking all sorts of vitamins. I upgraded my essential oils to Young Living. I started reaching out to friends again. I am still trying to get a stable yoga practice going, but I’m not too hard on myself about it. I had my first drink in one year on May 13th, which felt pretty good; I will only drink on weekends and never more than 3.
I still have an early bedtime, but I’ve moved it from a strict 9 to a more reasonable 10-11. I booked every weekend from May until August with social events. I am determined to shove as much into a summer as possible. I’m documenting it all on Instagram, and I love the support I find there.
Sometimes it gets hard, and sometimes I have to rest. But I feel stronger and healthier than I ever have. I have an incredible team that helps me: a doctor, dermatologist, acupuncturist, reiki practitioner, and massage therapist. Now, I just need a chiropractor and a psychic.
I’m spending my summer focusing on really living and having fun. Not fun like I used to have, not let’s get sloppy at a bar fun… Quality fun with quality people. Once the summer is over, I will change my objective to a new career, something that can utilize my experience.
I want people to know they MUST advocate for themselves, specifically their health care.
Every day is a new day. It takes effort to focus on the positive, but it is necessary and so much better than the alternative. If I have to leave anything, in closing, I just hope that my story encourages someone. I want you, the reader, to know you are the only one who knows your body… whether it is an ingrown hair or something more serious.
If you do not feel confident in your recovery plan, if your concerns are not being validated, or if your feelings are not being recognized, then you must make a change! Get a second opinion, a third, a fourth…
Get as many opinions as you need to feel confident in your process. There are good doctors out there. There are alternative medicines to explore. There are people that want to help. Find them. It takes work. It takes perseverance. Nothing good in life comes easy. You can get through this!
I felt as though I had lost my innocence, like I had sinned. I was wrong and dirty. I could never be loved.
I was five when it started. Too young to fully understand what was happening, and old enough to feel violated. As a little girl, there’s no way I could have known it wasn’t my fault. There was no one there to tell me. Yet, the little girl still inside my soul, hiding back in the corner afraid of another attack, doesn’t know it’s not her fault.
I had fallen deep into this hole and it took me a while to remember why, but when I did, it was like a flood.
“Shh, I’ve got you.”
“No, don’t tell.”
“This is love.”
I fell deeper into my depression, a hole so deep and dark nothing could grow. Not my heart, not my love, and not the reality I would make it out alive. I became so fed up with the little girl I used to be. I pushed my problems back in the corner where she was hiding.
I have my own life to live now. How can I carry around the burden of being a victim when that little girl I used to be felt like an entirely different person? She was weak. She wasn’t even brave enough to open her mouth to make it stop. She has caused me so much pain and agony. She is why I’m here in this place; this place of distress and confusion; of fear that I’ll never make it out.
That little girl I used to be is why I’m still here. Because she kept fighting against the odds. Because, for over 19 years she has never given up no matter how deep the pain, no matter how many tears I shed, no matter how many times he whispered, “Shh, it’s okay.”
No matter how deep and dark it got, we worked together to survive. I grew up convinced no one would help me, so I learned to help myself.
I stand today, not as a victim of circumstance, not as a victim of child abuse, not as a victim of a sad story people cringe to, but as a survivor.
Because I am a survivor.
I grew up in an age of Disney princesses and feminism; an age where Snow White waited for her prince while the Cheetah Girls decided they needed to rescue themselves. I fantasized about being saved, yet I also wanted to be strong enough to save myself.
It was not until I was diagnosed with depression and bulimia that I needed saving. I searched for validation, acceptance, and support in friendships and relationships. More than anything, I craved love and reassurance that I deserved love.
I understand now that in order to be truly happy, I must accept myself rather than wait for others to accept me. With this realization came the understanding that I am the only person who controls my recovery. Although a support system is helpful, I ultimately am the one saving myself.
Last year, I thought I was ready for a relationship. I thought I needed another person to remind me that I was beautiful, intelligent, and that my past mistakes did not define me. This unfortunately, founded my relationship on unhealthy expectations. No matter how much my boyfriend reminded me he loved me, I felt unlovable. After months of fighting, we broke up. That was when I realized that the love I craved could not come from another person—it had to come from me. I am the person I spend the most time with; I am the one who is there when I wake up, go to school, eat, shower, laugh, cry, and sleep.
I started out slow—wearing more makeup and clothing that made me comfortable, but eventually I socialized more, voiced my opinion, laughed out loud, and loved myself even when I made mistakes. For the first time, I let people in and I let myself out.
For the first time, I am ready for another person to see me in my entirety. I am ready to be loved by someone; only my self-worth is not dependent on their love. I will love myself regardless of who loves me or hates me.
I stared blankly at the screen. The silver reflection from the message lit up my face. It took a moment, and then I gave in to panic. My abusive relationship was following me.
No, no, no, no, no, I thought. I began to hyperventilate, and my chest felt like it was being crushed. This time, the panic attack was brought on by Mike. No surprise there.
By the time summer had started, I finally understood what he was doing to me. When he said if I stopped talking to him he wouldn’t love me anymore, I was rattled.
The funny thing about being in an abusive relationship is you begin to accept the dysfunction. Soon you thrive off it. When he’s mad at you, your life ends and the only way to resuscitate it is to get back in his good graces, no matter what that entails.
When he mocks you until you cry, on some level you’re satisfied because you know you deserved it. When he grips your wrists so hard you can trace the shape of his hand days later, it thrills you. When he hits you for not wanting to kiss him, you understand.
I was defined by the toxicity of my relationship with him. He became the nucleus of my life. The moment I put my guard down for him, he became the puppeteer and I begged for him to take the strings.
We didn’t speak for the entire day. I had a panic attack because he didn’t talk to me for the first day in months, but was using social media.
I had to claw at my arms until I calmed down, which was documented by the sharp red lines that graced my forearms the next day. In that moment I was aware I was getting myself into something I wouldn’t be able to handle.
But even before the first kiss, the first violation, or the first tear he had me in the palm of his hands. He was my first kiss and, in that same week he convinced me to go to third base with him, even though I begged for us to take it slow.
He convinced me if he didn’t finish, it wasn’t sex, it was just testing how it felt. After it was over, I sat in his bed shaking so hard I couldn’t re-hook my bra. Three weeks later, he took my virginity. I didn’t want to have sex.
I said ‘no’ multiple times, and he just told me to close my eyes until it was over. I was crying the whole time. I don’t remember the rest of what happened, it was blurry from that point on. After it was over, I went upstairs to throw up.
I knew it was rape. I looked up rape laws and different religious views and various cultural definitions of rape. It met every single definition. I didn’t even consider leaving him.
The next time it happened, I made it stop halfway through, and curled up in a corner across the room, chest heaving with despair. It happened countless occasions after, but after a while they all blended together. It would take too long to document the games and manipulation and psychological wars he waged.
Every problem I had with myself, with life, and with people he promised to rectify. And it seemed he did. I was depressed, so he made me happy beyond belief. I had no self-esteem, so he made me feel like I deserved to be on top of the world. I had trust issues, so he proved he could be dependable.
Then he drained me for all I was worth, and I became an extension of him. He hurt me but it felt like true love. I was an easy target.
I’ve had anxiety as long as I can remember, having panic attacks that would engulf me since I was in kindergarten. I’m not sure when the depression started. I was always a serious, sensitive person. I had a habit of looking at things from a jaded perspective and feeling things too intensely, even if the situation didn’t command such a response.
The world always affected me too much and life was out of my control. I didn’t understand why I was wired the way I was, why my mind didn’t work the same as everyone else’s. Somewhere around sixth grade I went numb emotionally.
I opted for hanging, it seemed the least complicated. The idea flew out of my head quick enough. Seventh grade is also when I started getting harassed by my classmates for two years over my looks. That’s what led to the eating disorder.
I eventually got better, but only because I replaced binging and purging with only binging. And also because I started cutting. There was a certain addictive quality to mutilation of self. Every time I stuck my fingers down my throat, cut myself, and refused to eat for days I felt something.
For someone who was numb and drained and cold, being a masochist was the greatest thing that could ever happen. Every laugh was hollow, every conversation meaningless, every day spent in bed, physically moving was difficult beyond words, my body had a ten-ton weight on it perpetually.
It was dangerous and harmful and I didn’t care because that was the only time I felt something. And that lasted for years.
Every time I thought I might get better, I got worse again. I never asked for help; I was comfortable. My shell of anxiety and depression was my home. I knew how it worked. I was familiar with it. I was scared.
If I tried to get better and I failed, then that meant I couldn’t be better, and the prospect of that revelation was worse than living with my demons. And if I got better, if I knew what it was like to be happy and stable and normal, but got worse again… Well, that would make it all the more devastating. To know what it’s like to be on the other side, but to be stuck in the same place is a unique hell.
Insecure, depressed, jaded, anxious, empty, desperate to feel something, to be something. He had his perfect doll to play with.
He once told me how his mother bought him a collection of amethyst, but, on the way to the car, he dropped them and all that was left were the shattered remains. Our relationship was like that, he said. Once it broke it could never be brought to the original state of beauty again.
I disagree about the beauty, but he was right about it breaking. Some relationships are not like that. Some are living and breathing and mold themselves as time and circumstance change into something strong and beautiful and resilient.
That wasn’t us. When he dropped me, he shattered me and us. It could not be repaired, nor would it ever be. That is because when he met me I wasn’t living.
Mike controlled me with haphazard effort at that point. I was off the deep end. I slept two hours a night, maybe. I stopped eating. I mentally broke myself, using every opportunity to make myself feel as worthless as I knew I was, as he reminded me I was. I took breaks at work in my car, where I would have panic attacks that were building up throughout my shift.
Whenever someone touched me I jumped, so I stopped letting people touch me. My stability rested on a house of cards. My parents watched me crumble. They begged me to tell them what was wrong. I didn’t tell them about Mike, but I finally began to acknowledge to myself that he raped me and was emotionally and physically abusive.
And with that came another wave of trouble. One day was particularly bad, as I hadn’t been able to fall asleep the night before.
I had to drive my sister somewhere, and as I began to back out of the driveway, she yelled for me to stop because a car was coming. I put the car in park and proceeded to sob and feel my throat constrict. I repeated “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over. She told me to go inside, and that she would drive herself.
I went inside and the anxiety began to control me. I was out of my body; my emotions were a tsunami that extended beyond my control. The waves of adrenaline, emotion, and hate hit me relentlessly and I wanted to die, I wanted it to stop.
I sat in my bathroom and took a pair of nail clippers and went to work on my forearm. It hurt more than I expected it to, and took off distinct rectangular patches of skin. My arm was a dizzying mix of scarlet and flushed flesh. I went into my kitchen and picked the sharpest knife I could find.
I saw the blood, I felt the release that would come, and how much better everyone would be without me. I was scared about how it would hurt, and how much pressure I would need to get it done on the first try.
I tested part of my leg, and winced at the dull searing. Lots of pressure would be needed. I spent minutes trying to work up the courage, but it never came, since my sister came home.
Later that day I was driving alone on a winding road, with no traffic around. I was tired, so tired. I wanted to sleep forever. Just sleep and never wake up. So, I closed my eyes and doubled the speed limit. Finally, this was it. But, I got scared and at the last moment opened my eyes, just in time to avoid colliding head on with a bridge.
Matt had feelings for me for over a year, and waited for me through Mike. Matt was respectful, kind, understood me and my depression, and tried to help me.
He valued me for myself, and made me believe that I was really worthy of self-respect, love, and happiness. I’d never known that. Before we began dating I tried to fix myself, because I finally realized someone should not make you feel unworthy of life.
He convinced me to talk to my parents about my problems and to see a therapist. I started eating on a regular pattern, I went for runs, I slept for a healthy seven hours instead of alternating between sleepless nights and not leaving my room for days.
I forced myself to stop talking down to myself. I didn’t cut. I stopped talking to Mike. I stopped doing things I didn’t want to do that were harmful to me, and started doing good things because I deserved it. I stopped drowning in my thoughts and anxieties and worthlessness.
While we dated I was the most stable I’d been in my entire life up to that point, and I really wish that was an exaggeration. For the first time in years I went for months without hurting myself in some way. I saw life as a good thing.
I felt emotions, I finally wasn’t numb. I stopped flinching when people touched me, and began to trust people’s intentions again. I stopped hating myself. My body was no longer heavy, no longer a prison, and I felt free, I felt light. I was lifted.
I started loving myself because of me, not because he loved me. He saw me as this beautiful, exquisite person, who was more precious than anything. He worked so hard, so so hard to make me believe it was true.
It has been said that when a man violates a woman, he cuts off her wings, robs her of the ability to fly. The woman is grounded, trapped from the world she knows and loves by this horrible offense done to her. It begins to define how she lives.
The core of abuse is that the abused has a very free, very real choice of either remaining grounded and wingless, and abusing others, continuing the hate that was injected in her the first time he hurt her, or she can build her own wings and choose to overcome and learn to be open, loving and self-respecting.
I was dead and numb and Mike was dangerous and exciting and I felt adrenaline and fear and excitement. When you’ve been dehumanized, the world has a surreal quality, it’s as though you’re there but you don’t belong. Being scarred, dead, and barren in a thriving, breathing, growing environment is an extraordinarily twisted torture.
There is no coming to consciousness without pain. My chest was a hollow cave of crushed ribs and a numb heart. And my best friend gave me the tools to heal myself.
He was the first person who took the time to unravel the intricate nature of my darkness, understanding me and why I am the way I am, and how my past affected me. He taught me how to illuminate every crevice and corner, dusting the dirtiest parts of me and making them whole again.
I was damaged at best before I met Mike, but after him I was deflated, left hollow and empty and dead. When someone teaches you how to love yourself, there is no way to repay them. The greatest lesson to learn is how to live with yourself.
I always felt dirty in my own skin, like somehow I tarnished my body simply by housing my soul in it. I treated myself like such and Mike only confirmed this belief I held.
I may never be a bright, cheery person. I am serious and dark and lovely, and I am still learning. I’m still learning how to respect myself, and I’ve made mistakes learning. Because of this I’ve hurt Matt. And when you can’t love someone the way he deserves to be loved, you have to let him go.
So, when my third suicidal episode rolled around, I was surprised that he was the one to save me. This time it was cold and dark and the three a.m. sky was dull and lifeless. My hands shook as I unscrewed the screw holding the window screen to the frame.
When I finally got it loose I watched as the screen fell five stories, landing calmly on the frozen ground. That doesn’t look so bad, I thought. I sat on the windowsill, my legs dangling outside. I pictured myself falling, I wondered which way would make it hurt the least.
It wasn’t as scary as my other ideas. It was quick, easy, clean, guaranteed to work. It was probably a forty-foot freefall. I’m scared of heights, but the adrenaline rush of dread that came with being up high wasn’t there that night. Instead, there was only curiosity of what would happen next.
We were talking while this was happening, and Matt realized that something was wrong, so he called me. I was in such a frenzy I don’t remember most of our conversation, but he stayed on the phone with me for hours, and I fell asleep and woke up with him still on the line.
Every day is hard, and some days it still takes time for me to be able to get out of bed. I still am learning to manage my anxiety, fight my depression, and understand how to live with myself. Including all of this, and my past, I love myself, I love the skin I’m in, I’m happy and I really believe life is a good thing.
Matt is one of those rare people, the kind who never loses respect for someone, even after he stops loving them. The kind that cares for everyone, the kind that will do things just because it’s the right thing to do. It’s this gentle, sensitive nature which understands life isn’t always gentle which made him the perfect person to teach me how to be okay.
Letting go of someone you love just for them to be happy is never a light ordeal. We don’t talk anymore, and that’s okay. Because he taught me how to live, and when people you love leave, you have to hold them to all the good they’ve done for you.
I’m delicate, yet strong, I’m dark, but lovely. Sometimes, no matter what has tortured you in the past, or how dark life seems, all you need is a single person to teach you how to see the good in you.
That is was he taught me, because for the time we were together, he was the first that saw a light in me I didn’t know was there.
I hated writing. If you told me growing up that I’d be doing it for fun after college, I absolutely would have rolled my eyes! Writing was a chore.
But…in my third-year-writing class, I completed a 20-page research paper on looping and tracking in education (one of my nerdy passions), and I realized how much fun I had while researching and writing it!
In elementary school, I had a diary that chronicled boys I liked and the dramas of gel pens; but since coming to college, journaling became a huge part of bible study, rants and raves, and personal exploration.
The joy I discovered in finding myself through writing became something difficult to put into words. The deepest, introverted pieces of me can cause me to get way too caught up in my head, so writing became a safe place to reflect and respond to my self discoveries and struggles. Post diary days, I moved more toward quiet and sweet meditations from Rumi and reflections on Maya Angelou’s poetry and stories. (*Highest recommendations for “Home” by M.A. and “The Essential Rumi” by Coleman Marks if you have yet to explore them!)
After being diagnosed with depression in November of 2014, my identity officially crumbled. It felt like it had been falling apart, piece by piece for many months by then, but I was exhausting myself by forcing them to fall gracefully so I could pick them up by myself without anyone noticing.
I had been shoving them into my over-filled backpack of emotions and shame and guilt and sadness for so long that finally. In the small, dimly lit room, I sat with my counselor as she said the word out loud, associating it with me.
The seams ripped, making it impossible to zip it back up, and all my emotions and fears of being unworthy and unlovable were laid out in from of me. Damnit. It hurt. I had to deal with it now. I had to deal with the pain my family caused me. I had to deal with the fact that finding my identity in my job and academics wasn’t available to me anymore. And worst of all, I had to deal with the parts of me that I didn’t like and redirect my attention on the things that were actually wonderful about me, things that made me ‘me.’ And I knew I had to love all of that; but I had to re-learn how to love all of that.
Writing has been a way for me to stay sane in my brain while also getting out all of my thoughts and without having others’ thoughts to worry about. I no longer let others dictate what I think about myself and the decisions I make. I can use the tools I have received from blogs and counseling and mentors and even helping others through their own pain…I use these tools to remind myself that there is hope on the other side. That my struggle right now is the hardest one I will ever face. And the next will be too. Writing is now a companion, allowing me to love myself again. I can read something I wrote and look at it like I’m helping a friend.
I can come to my own conclusions with fresh eyes, a fresh spirit, and a fresh page. P.S. Hope is always singing, “Hello from the other siiiiiiide!”
I am an avid gamer, I love video games, and for a while video games were the only thing I had going for me. Skyrim, Dark Souls, Civilization, all of these games can be set to varying degrees of difficulty. Most games start you out on a “standard” mode. If my life were a video game, I would have been started on Hard Mode.
In April 2013, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. In February 2015, my diagnoses was changed to Bipolar Disorder. No matter the label, I have been living with my mental illness since I was at least twelve years old.
My story really begins at the end of sixth grade. My parents and I decided that it was okay for me to skip seventh grade and go straight into 8th grade so I could go to a prestigious private high school in my hometown. It seemed like a good idea at the time. At this private school, 8th grade is part of high school, so here I was, a twelve year old going into high school. I was pretty excited for this new chapter in life.
Turns out being the youngest, most naïve, and physically weak member of your class isn’t good for your social life. I was awkward as I was just hitting my growth spurt. I was socially awkward because I was always socially awkward. Needless to say I wasn’t in the popular crowd. In fact I wasn’t in a crowd at all. I was alone.
Loneliness sucks, especially when people go out of their way to make your life absolute hell. Every chance they got, insults were hurled at me. Never fists, only insults. I scurried around the school, frightened of the next verbal assault. It got so bad that I refused to change for gym in the boy’s locker room, as I couldn’t stand being in a tightly packed room with my bullies able to hurl their insults at will.
I eventually got fed up and reported my bullies to the school. It worked, the insults stopped, however I was shunned by the majority of my class for getting the ringleader of the bullies suspended.
Fast forward to senior year of high school. I now had friends, I had a few girlfriends in the intervening years, life was supposed to be going well, but it wasn’t. I was always negative, always “in a funk” I was always the one that killed the happy mood.
My negativity made it hard to keep friends around, though thankfully a few stuck with me. After senior year I went to college at Auburn University. It was not my first choice school, but it was the only one I received a scholarship for. It was the Army ROTC scholarship. I hoped Auburn would see me turn over a new leaf, that in the promised land of college, I would finally hit my stride and flourish socially and academically. That new leaf didn’t turn.
Early in the semester my new roommate and I had a physical altercation. The fight centered around him waking me by urinating on me while he was drunk. I may or may not have hit him… I was considered at fault by the University, so they gave me my own room. I would have no roommates. I was alone.
From then on I lead a miserable existence. The depressive part of bipolar disorder consumed me. I felt that my very soul was being tortured by this depression. I quit ROTC because I couldn’t handle it mentally and as a result, I lost my scholarship.
I had no friends within a hundred miles, and my pervasive horribly negative and fatalistic mood was pushing away the ones that were already far away. I hated life, I could barely drag myself out of bed, my grades plummeted, and I thought my family believed I was a failure. They didn’t, but nothing would get through my depression. At this time I didn’t know anything was wrong with me. I just thought that this was part of life. It isn’t.
One Friday in the April of 2013, I decided to end my life. It wasn’t the first time I had this thought, it had been a daily thought since September 2012. I was finally ready. I went home to Birmingham that weekend, my parents and little sister had left the house that night. I was alone.
I got my handgun, which was my 18th birthday present a few months earlier, I loaded it, and placed it against my head. I put my favorite song on full volume. I gave myself the run time of the song to pull the trigger. In hindsight it seems dramatic, but it seemed appropriate at the time. If you’re interested the song is “Explorers” by Muse. Well the song finished, and I couldn’t pull the trigger. The next day I started my road to recovery.
When I told my parents what I had tried seriously to do, they quickly got me psychological help. I was put on medication to control depression. It worked slightly, but was not fully effective as I am Bipolar and not depressed, but I wouldn’t know that for a year or so. Yet, I was slowly getting better.
In the fall of 2013, I rushed Alpha Phi Omega-National Service Fraternity and gained some of my closest friends. In October of 2014, I published my first book, “Hell Has No Stars” which is about my struggle with depression.
My psychologist knew of my desire to help people and set me up to give a speech on my story to Active Minds at Auburn University. Active Minds is a college group dedicated to spreading mental health awareness and ending the stigma around mental health. I was drawn to the group and became a member.
Now, almost two years to the day that I tried to kill myself, I am so glad I did not. They changed my diagnoses to Bipolar Disorder after I had a documented manic episode earlier this year, but I did not let that deter me. Now I am Vice President of my chapter of Alpha Phi Omega. Active Minds just elected me to be the Vice President of the chapter for next year. I will graduate college on time with a degree in History. I have friends. Life has improved so much since my darker days.
I can say now that I love life. I am not alone. I may still be playing life on hard mode, but the game has gotten a little easier.
It seems from the moment I was born, I was thinking about my future calling. I remember back in high school when my idea of a perfect, successful life entailed both my husband and I being renowned doctors and our children going to prestigious schools. But, you know what they say… if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans for tomorrow.
Most people spend a lifetime figuring out who they are, but who I was hit me like a truck my junior year of high school.
My best friend had had a rough weekend that was exacerbated by attending school. It was a rough Monday for me, as well, because I knew she was upset, but I had to sneak my phone and try to talk to her when I could throughout the day. After school, I received a message that read “Promise me, no matter what, you’ll remember you’re a good person.”
That moment started what was to be the worst night of my life. I lived over an hour away with no license, and I couldn’t reach her for 4 hours.
But we got through that night, and the next day, and the next until she was okay. Today, she’s a successful Division I athlete who loves life and lives hers to the fullest. That night made me think, “I wonder how many people in the world want to kill themselves.”
I went on Twitter and searched the word suicidal, and I was not expecting the dark world into which I was suddenly thrown. I found Twitter accounts with names such as @CarveAndStarve, @BladesandRegret, and @JustKillMe.
I saw tweet after tweet after tweet of people degrading themselves and stating how much they wanted to die. That’s when I thought to myself, “What could I do to make these people’s lives better?”
I started a twitter account in which I talk to people who are suicidal. My best friend told me she didn’t know what she would have done without me that night, which made me think about how many people just need one person in their corner if for nothing more than to be there for them and tell them it’s going to be okay.
I talk to people who struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm, gender dysphoria, eating disorders, and other obstacles that have consumed their being. The more and more people I helped, the more I started to feel better myself and more steadfast in who I am. Of all the types of people God could’ve made me to be, He made me a helper.
When I came to this realization about my life, I knew what my earthly purpose was and who He wanted me to be. I used to always ask myself if Heaven was the end goal, what’s the point of life on earth? When I found out what that was, I woke up every day excited to find someone else who needed help.
Sometimes, it got hard to talk to these people, and I wondered if this is what my calling really was. But Galatians 5:13 says, “For you, brothers, were called to freedom. Only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity to gratify your flesh, but through love make it your habit to serve one another.”
Make the world a better place by making one person smile at a time. I know it sounds cliché, but that’s what I was doing. I reached out to one person, and one person turned into two, and two turned into five, five turned into 15 and so on, but I still didn’t feel like I was reaching enough people. I wanted to reach out to more people with a message that says they’re loved and they’re not alone.
I asked my followers to email me their stories if they wanted to use them to help others. I received over 100 stories and used the majority of them in the book I published entitled Hidden in the Shadows.
My book is a compilation of my followers’ stories separated into different hardships such as eating disorders, depression, friends and family who have been affected, etc. and ends with success stories and words of encouragement for people who are going through some of the same things the people in my book are.
The responses I’ve gotten from my book are amazing, and it’s so satisfying to know that the little things I do are helping people become happier.
If you’re going through a lot right now and just can’t see your destiny, know that God took the worst night of my life and made it shaped it for the better. If you aren’t religious, you have a purpose too. Everything happens for a reason, including your existence.
While I couldn’t see any good in that situation at the time, now I’m grateful that it happened. Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I say all that to say, my calling found me. I wasn’t even looking for it. When I graduate college, I have plans to go to medical school and become a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Everyone deserves happiness, and it starts within.
I don’t expect sharing my story to inspire you to suddenly overcome your struggles, but if nothing else, I pray you received some hope that your darkest nights can turn into your brightest days.
The calling God had for me turned me into a selfless person who would do anything for anyone and is nice simply because you never know the battle someone else is fighting. When you realize the calling for your life, it will change you for the better. Just be patient, for your purpose is greater than your challenges.