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March 12th: More Than Just an Ordinary Day

March 12th is bittersweet for me. I look back at myself on this day, what is now four years ago, and I feel like bursting into tears. I was a shell of a person––absolutely wrecked, but trying so hard to make it look like I had it all together. I had dragged my parents and sister down with me into the dark hole I found myself in, but I felt totally alone there, like I was wading around in murky water just waiting for my feet to find the drop into the deep end.

I was in pain literally all of the time… The skull-splitting migraines made it impossible to sit through classes during my final semester of high school so I had to leave school for over a month. Back pain that I can only imagine being comparable to having your spine whacked every minute with a metal hammer. Stomach pain that I cannot even come up with a metaphor for now that I look back at it because thinking of how much it hurt then makes it hurt now. I was helpless. My poor parents and poor sister would sit by my side in bed or on the couch (the only places I could feel semi-comfortable other than the hospital beds I frequented for the months of January and February) and just hold me while I wailed and got angry and got sad and got tired of being angry and sad and tired. I know now that all of this pain was caused by the stress I put myself through, that there was nothing technically “wrong” with me, but man, that pain was real.

Eventually, I waded too far. My “deep end” was being hospitalized for a week in a psychiatric facility with women who were torn apart like I was, but I was completely unprepared to be the youngest one in the group (by a long shot) and to be separated from my family, even though the facility was only 4 miles from my house. They visited every day they could that week, but when they left, I got locked up again on the floor with women who all seemed so much older and their problems seemed so much scarier and real-er to me. I had only turned 18 the week before, making my presence there barely legal, so I felt just as alone that week in the hospital as I did at home on my couch.

Thankfully, the end of the week came quickly. I thought I would get to go home and go back to school, but I was told of other plans that had been made for me by my school’s administrators and my parents: I wouldn’t be allowed back on campus unless I completed a month of in-patient treatment at a facility two hours away. I was absolutely furious. I was naïve and thought I had paid my dues during my week in the hospital. I was done! I was healed! I could handle going back to school! I didn’t need more help!

I was dead wrong, and I mean that in the literal sense.

If I hadn’t listened, I would not be here. If I hadn’t listened, I would be another statistic. I truly believe that.

I didn’t have a choice, so I was taken to my new digs down in Tucson. My parents dropped me off and I don’t remember much except hating them for leaving me again, for making me feel like I had no choice, for siding with the school I went to and believing what they said about my health over what I said about myself and how I felt. Looking back on it, I thank God they didn’t listen to me as we sped down the highway towards the treatment facility and I screamed that I was going to jump out of the car. I thank God they didn’t listen to me when I said that I was okay. I thank God that someone knew better than I did, even though I hate to admit it, and that I had to give up and give in.

I honestly don’t know if I would be writing this, four years after what was, that day, the worst day of my life, if they hadn’t left me there that night with doctors who knew how to help me. If they hadn’t left me with a community of peers who felt the pain that I felt––in my head and in my heart––and would help me in their own way.

If they hadn’t left me there to deal with myself, to understand myself, and to give myself the time I needed to dig deep and discover the pain I had buried so far down that I had forgotten what caused it in the first place, I would not be the different woman I see every time I look into the mirror today, four years later.

I look at the damaged version of myself from that period of my life and I promise myself I won’t let it happen again. School stress? So not worth it. One-sided relationships where your needs aren’t met? Don’t freaking bother. This isn’t to say I’m perfect… sometimes I slip up. I cry over failed tests. I get upset when friends forget my birthday. I get angry with myself when I eat too much chocolate and usually that anger turns into me eating more chocolate. But these minor slip-ups are miniscule in comparison to where I was on this day four years ago. I’m not hollow anymore. I won’t be broken so easily. I know when to ask for help, when to call it quits, when the toll something takes on me isn’t worth the outcome in the end.

These lessons were so hard to learn, and I only wish I had been able to be more graceful to those who love(d) me while I was learning them. I feel guilty for putting those I care about so deeply through an experience that was, at times, extremely scary. Not just for me, but for them as well. But I am so incredibly thankful for those that stuck by me through my trials and errors, and continue to hold me up when I slip a little. I’m grateful for and immensely proud of the friends I made in treatment who continue to remind me of how far we have come since that month we spent together. I wonder what I did to be so lucky to deserve the friends I have made since that chapter of my life––friends who try their best to understand my story, respect my past, and learn from it as well.

So yes, March 12th is bittersweet for me. I still hurt when I think about what a horrible place I was in, largely because I didn’t feel strong enough to crawl out and seek help on my own. I hate to admit it, but I feel sad when I think about how some treated me when they learned about my story.

But I also feel incredibly hopeful. I feel hopeful that being honest about my journey with my mental health might inspire someone to do the same. Maybe they’ll share their story. Maybe they will ask for the help they need. Maybe, just maybe, someone will see it and we will keep those statistics from growing. I have hope that some day, it won’t be seen as shocking to admit that we struggle this way. We can de-stigmatize depression and anxiety and other mental illnesses and keep one more kid from feeling the way I felt.

They are my rocks.

World's okay-est snuggler.
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