May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I am going to share my story. There is no need to be nor am I ashamed. It’s time to end the stigma of having a mental health disorder.
My mental health issues began when I was 16 years old. I was a naïve teenager going through a lot of tough situations. I had grown up in a family that I was biologically related to on the paternal side, but the father and mother that raised me were not my natural parents. That alone made me feel isolated at times and I often would act out because I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling.
I loved my family though. For the most part I was treated well but there were dark moments that led up to my first bout with depression. My father was a loving and doting father. He made me feel like I was his little princess and I’ll even admit that I was spoiled. My mom was very uptight and she tried to mold me into the young woman that she thought that I should become, which was more or less like her. We bumped heads and argued much like most moms and daughters do at times. Never did they ever make me feel unloved though. Both parents were diabetics and never had any biological children of their own, so sometimes I felt a bit smothered being their only child. They divorced when I was very young and I ended up living with my dad for whatever reasons.
My father began to fall ill from complications of diabetes and we ended up moving in with his parents before I began my teen years. The house was small and I had to share a room with an older cousin. Since I was still quite young, my aunt, who pretty much became like my substitute mother, took over taking care of me. She had a big hand in raising me and I loved her as if she were my mother. I was expected to do my chores and homework and she oversaw that I did as I was supposed to since my father was no longer able to do so and I would visit my mom on weekends. I was a rough and tumble tomboy. I was a daredevil and I would run and play with my male cousins as if I were just one of the boys.
As I grew older and hit puberty my body began to change and I no longer resembled a tomboyish little girl but a well-developed young woman. My body began to attract the unwanted attention of adult males. I didn’t know how to handle all this new attention and would try to hide it as best I could. It was at this tender age that a family member began molesting me. I tried to alert the adults who were suppose to protect me to what was going on. I could never bring myself to tell my dad what was going on though because I held on to so much guilt. But I thought that by telling other adults and even my pastor and his wife that they would help me and save me. Instead of being protected I was reprimanded, shut down and punished. I began to learn how to isolate myself because my mind couldn’t handle what was happening to me. I would lose myself in my writings or keep my head in a book or immerse myself in music.
My dad passed away when I was sixteen. I took it very hard. My dad was my world and I felt that he was the only one who I could turn to when I had no one else. I just couldn’t get over my grief. I felt lost and alone. I felt like if I was no longer a part of this world I could finally get away from the abuse and the pain. I didn’t think anyone cared whether I was alive or dead anymore. One night I took a bunch of pills hoping that I would just die peacefully in my sleep. I called up the pastor’s wife and made my funeral arrangements and then laid down to die. The next thing I knew I was in an ambulance with the paramedics working on me. At the hospital they pumped my stomach out and sent a social worker to talk to me about my suicide attempt. After recovering in ICU I was discharged and released to a mental health hospital for further treatment. I ended up spending my 17th birthday while I was there. That was my first experience with depression and the beginning of my journey with mental health disorders.
From that day forward I have been in and out of various treatments for my depression, leading up to 2015 when I was diagnosed as Major Depressive Disorder with Psychosis. For years I would have ups and downs, bouncing from one psychologist and psychiatrist to another year after year. It was trial and error and experiments with different medications to finally get me to a point where I could function as a normal adult. I had children, failed marriages, and questions about my identity and who and what I was. I held down jobs and lost jobs. Sometimes life would be great and then I would crash and burn and I would spiral right back down to the bottom of a deep depression.
It was 2013 when I began to get sick. My body would ache and I would hardly be able to get out of bed. I felt like a I had a constant flu that I just couldn’t get over. I would go to the doctor and the ER multiple times a month complaining of various problems. I gained weight and felt worse and worse with each passing day. Eventually I ended up having to leave my job, drop out of college, losing my marriage and my home. My doctor finally diagnosed me with fibromyalgia which was a relief to finally know what was wrong with me. Having fibromyalgia exasperated my depression and I finally had to acknowledge that my life was never going to be the same again.
I ended up homeless and bouncing from relative to relative just to have a place to live while I dealt with my both my physical and mental health. It wasn’t easy and I was hospitalized in another mental health facility in 2015 where a team of doctors were finally able to stabilize my mental health. I seem to have finally found a medication that is working to my favor and I feel better these days.
This isn’t a Hollywood movie with a perfect ending. I still have days where I can barely get out of bed but those day are far fewer than in the past. I have a wonderful support system: God, my children, my bestie, and Kim (and my writing) and they keep me uplifted and encouraged. I’ve learned that it’s ok to have off days but not to get stuck in them. If I can’t pull it together on a Monday, Tuesday is a new day and I can start all over again and get back up.
We need to end the stigma of mental health and the problems that go along with mental health issues. If you’re feeling suicidal, down, or depressed it’s ok to ask for help. Call someone you can confide in such as a preacher, teacher, family member or best friend or call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. For more information on suicide and for help please go to The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. For more information about mental health please go to The National Alliance on Mental Issues.