Recovery Is Real: No Silence, No Shame
I Had The Ideal Life:
Growing up, I was the model scholar-athlete child. I was captain of the track team, Cheerleader of the year, and Homecoming queen in High school, all while maintaining a 3.9 GPA in AP classes. By my senior year I knew that I wanted to go to a major University and continue making my family proud. I got accepted into the University of Maryland, where I joined the Cheerleading squad and prepared for the typical, exciting college experience. And it was just that. I moved to Maryland from Georgia the summer before school started to begin practicing with the cheerleading team, and everything was going well. Then it happened. Right before school began, I tore my ACL in my knee and had to have corrective surgery. I mention this because it was a huge turning point in my life, and the moment my mental health symptoms began to surface in a frightening way. I went from a busy, energetic teen who felt a purpose, to a lethargic, frustrated and depressed teen who had lost her identity. I was questioning everything and crying all the time. Before then, I didn’t know what depression was. Well I was definitely about to find out.
Me? Bipolar? NO:
The remainder of my freshman year I spent crying constantly and with growing anxiety.
By the end of the school year it was clear that I had to move home to Georgia. I enrolled in Georgia State University and moved to Atlanta where the real trouble began. By this time I was extremely depressed and anxious and looking for any type of solace. I begin engaging with different types of spiritual groups, which seemed to intensify my then growing fascination with spirituality. By my 19th birthday, I had my first psychotic episode. Having not slept for days prior, I exhibited all the signs of mania including racing thoughts and grand delusions. I was also chanting in an incomprehensible language and at times not speaking at all (which at the time I was doing for what I felt was spiritual purposes). My mother, no doubt terrified, finally brought me into the local psychiatric hospital to get evaluated. I was admitted involuntarily in a dramatic fashion. I was scared, confused, and overwhelmed. Most of all, I was resistant against this label I had just received: Bipolar.
At My Worst:
That would be the first of 6 hospitalizations within the next 5 years. Many traumatic episodes happened after that, two of which included suicide attempts in a manic and psychotic state. I believed wholeheartedly that I was an angel that had to rid of her physical body to do God’s work. So once in the summer of 2004 I crashed my car into a utility pole trying to kill myself. Another summer in 2006 I stood in the middle of a busy highway, waiting to get hit and killed. In the fall of 2005, I was so depressed and unable to function that I had dropped out of college, and moved back home to try and regroup. My psychiatrist at the time suggested Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) because nothing else was working. I was on multiple medications, seeing a therapist, and yet I could not smile, laugh or barely keep my eyes open at times from the weight of my depression. At those times I longed for the mania just to feel alive again. The cycle at this point was clear: I would not accept my diagnosis, and therefore would keep quitting medications and therapy and de-compensate again. My family was growing weary, and on some level, so was I.
Wake Up Call:
The summer after I graduated college (by a miracle I did graduate) I had what would be my biggest wake up call. I was in the midst of yet another manic episode. This time I had covered my apartment walls with doodles and phrases that I was hearing in my head. I cut all of my hair off and burned it, thinking it was full of bad energy. I was eventually found unconscious (still a mystery) in my apartment by a worried friend and security person who let her in. This lead me to what would be my longest hospitalization yet. When I arrived at the hospital, I was still adamant against treatment. “I don’t want to be a slave to a pill”. That was my favorite phrase at that time. I laughed in the faces of psychiatrists, and ignored therapists. My mother then informed me that this time, I would not be returning home. I would have to find somewhere else to live if I was going to neglect my health and harm my future this way. Tough love that I will always be thankful for. One night while I was lying on the freezing cold hospital cot, I realized that I couldn’t sleep and hadn’t in quite some time. I felt that my mind was controlling every bump in the night I was hearing, and it was frightening. The thought occurred to me that, I don’t want to be a “slave to a pill”, but I definitely don’t want to be a “slave” to whatever is keeping me up every night.
Ray of Light:
At that point, it became clear that I needed help. I started to think about all that different counselors, social workers, psychiatrists, family members, and mental health techs were trying to teach me about my illness. It started to make sense that if I didn’t do something different, I would continue to spend my life struggling with myself instead of living my life. So that fateful evening, I left my room and asked a nurse if she could help me. I’ll never forget her accepting and understanding tone and words. She told me that sometimes when we don’t get sleep, our brains don’t operate as best they could, and that some people need extra help with regulating that. She then asked how she could help, and I asked her for my medication. That was the turning point for me, as I made a promise to myself to try medications for the next three months. If I felt a difference I would believe what people have been trying to tell me. If I felt no change, then I’d go back to believing what I always did about not having a problem and medications not being for me. Three months later, I was starting my new life in New Jersey and grateful that I chose to listen to the many people that tried to help me.
I am a graduate of a Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program and a Licensed Professional Counselor. I work with adults with serious and persistent mental illness, and hope to give back to them with acceptance, non-judgment, patience, and clear, simplified information about how they can better their circumstances and not fall victim to mental illness. I am also the owner of She Will Counseling LLC. Please visit shewillcounseling.com or @shewillcounseling on IG to contact me. My relationship with my family, and my mother in particular has improved dramatically. I have healthy friendships and do things I never saw myself doing when I was in the grips of my illness. I still struggle at times, but I have learned so much and am moving forward. I hope that I have inspired you to keep inspiring others. Never give up hope, because our futures can indeed be bright!
We must overcome the stigma associated with mental illness. If you’re reading this and you’ve ever dealt with, or are currently dealing with a mental health issue, you are not alone. By staying silent we perpetuate the shame that is already so prevalent in our community towards people with mental illnesses and within the hearts and minds of those who struggle. I am sharing my story in hopes that people will not feel so alone in their struggles, know that mental illness is not a death sentence, and give hope that recovery from serious mental illness is real!