My Journey to Recovery
I can't remember a time without mental illness. For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with anxiety. I didn’t know it for years, and never appreciated what a barrier it was until I was 13.
I moved cities in 2010, at nine years old. I had never properly been out of my country and didn’t realize the world outside my small town existed. It was so unfamiliar that I was thrown into a state of shock and lost all sense of identity. At the same time, I found a friend. She was pretty, and smart, and talented, all the things I wasn’t. I knew it, and so did she. She constantly put me down at a time where I couldn’t be kicked any further, and any sense of self or esteem I ever had held on to was lost. A year later, she dropped me by telling her mom I was a "stalker." She was the only thing I had at a time where I couldn’t feel more alone, and she dropped me as soon as she was friends with the people she wanted to be. I realized I was a mere stepping stone.
I learned later it was an emotionally abusive friendship, at a time I was struggling with shock and no sense of self. It felt like I had nothing. But this set me off on a desperate quest to find new friends, which I did and found people who remain my friends to this day, and have helped me through everything. I didn’t realize at the time, but the events had thrown me into a reactive depression which lingered for years, with the anxiety always persistent.
Living in this state for a long time, of course, led it to progressively worsen, to the point where at 13 years old I knew something was wrong. It was a few months after this realization I hit my lowest point. I can’t go into the details because I struggle to face them, but any value of life I had was gone. I hated myself, intensely. It was at this same point something in my conscience broke through. Sitting in the car on a long journey, earphones in, I felt happy. And the happiness made me realize how much pain I was holding, and I resolved to fix it. And I did.
It took me weeks of subconscious planning, but I found it in myself to actively seek out time with a teacher in my school. He was a maths teacher of the coolest kind, with similar taste in music to me, and he played guitar and, most importantly, was always willing to help me. And so I sat with him, and the words came tumbling out of me before I could stop them. “I think I have depression,” I admitted. I didn’t know it at the time, but he turned out to be one of my most important elements of my support system. He helped me for the next year, always refusing my apologies and being patient with me. He tried to convince me to see the school counselor but I wouldn’t due to the stigma. I thought it would make me broken, make me weird.
But he never gave up, and a year later I gave in. He set up the appointment and supported me before and after the first one (and everyone after), shaking like I’d never shaken before. I did a 6-month, weekly course of CBT tackling social and general anxiety, and learned about my reactive depression, and in May 2015, I was finished. I’ll never forget the pride in my maths teachers faced when I told him I was done, and from then he reminded me how proud he was and how much happier and confident I was, and he was right. I felt the best I ever have, and I am the best version of myself I’ve ever been.
It’s September 2016, and I am beginning my levels. I got nine As in my GCSEs, and I am taking my favorite subjects. I forgave my friend from 2010 to get rid of any bitterness, and my maths teacher has moved away, but we’re still in touch (and I have thanked him for a million times for what he's done). I still have anxiety on one shoulder and depression on the other, but I acknowledge them, and they do not own me. My life is mine, not theirs. I’m helping my friends with their mental health and trying to learn to talk about my own. I’m learning to be proud of my journey, from my lowest point to here. It wasn’t easy, but it happened, and I’ve grown immensely. I’m in regular contact with my counselor, and I'm looking after myself, finally. My friends love the same things I do, and I’m often blown away by how lucky I am to have them.
I love who I am, and I am happy. So I guess what I’m trying to say is, although I can’t remember a time without mental illness, although it once felt like the world was against me, although I once struggled with the notion of even staying alive, things get better. It is never too late; you are never too far gone. People say it all the time, and it's so hard to believe if you can’t see it, but I can promise you that things do get better.