I don’t remember a time where I felt safe, I was not safe from the world, my home, my life, and I was definitely never safe from myself. For most of my adolescent life, I had this understanding with myself that adulthood would not be a part of my story, I could never survive past 20. I was as sure of it as I was sure the sky was blue.
I was the definition of hopeless. I sat in hospital beds with doctors coming in and out, telling me all the things I could do to try to get better, but instead of listening I would just stare at the monitor attached to my empty shell of a body and watch my heart beat. According to the machine, my heart was still beating, I was still living, but everything about me felt like I had died. So I sat and stared and prayed that it would just stop, that my physical heart would match up with how my heart felt. I wasn’t a human being, I wasn’t really alive, I was only depression, anxiety, and cutting.
Then this crazy thing started happening to me, and I can now confidently and proudly say that I am a human being again. I have a full human being life with hopes, and dreams, and ambitions, and goals, and love, and fears, and heartache, and anxiety, and hurt, and joy.
I am about to be twenty-one, putting me a year past my anticipated expiry date and it has been without a doubt the absolute best year of my life. I was asked recently how I got here to this place that seemed so impossible to reach, and I had to stop and ask myself because I didn’t even know the answer.
After my reflection though, this is what I think has helped and maybe it can help you too…
Simple, easy, obvious, duh, is probably what you’re thinking right? It should be. For me though, my breathing is often the first thing to go when I am anxious/nervous/upset/sad/angry/overwhelmed–you get the idea. Sometimes I won’t have a full proper breath for weeks. When I feel the big scary feelings coming–and we hear this all the time I know–if I take a moment to just be still and breathe even for a second it can change the course of my panic.
We all need something to be excited about, to get us up in the morning. Depression took that away from me, it felt like I had nothing left to live for. In the midst of my pit of despair, I took a chance on this brand new placement that hadn’t existed before and ended up falling head over heels in love with prison ministry. My writing, something I had been doing my whole entire life without even thinking about it, became intentional to me around the same time I started this job and it has since rescued me from so much darkness. My ministry and my writing get me out of bed, keeps me excited for the days ahead, for the FUTURE! An actual future. I can see a future for myself for the first time in a long time and I have my passions in large part to thank for that.
This one’s kind of scary right? I’ve been on and off various kinds of antidepressants since high school. I’ve tried different brands, different drugs, different dosages–you name it I have probably tried it. My first year at university my doctor told me I should consider going back on them, and I was wrestling with the decision with somebody who was quite close to me at the time, and their response was: “I don’t want you to go on medication because I think it’s weird and it will freak me out.” I learned two lessons from this: a) don’t make medical decisions based on other peoples’ opinions, and b) there is a larger stigma attached to medication than I sometimes think. This year I started a new medication that affects a different chemical in my brain than we had been treating before, and what a difference it has made, I noticed a positive change almost immediately, after years of medications doing nothing but making me worse. Me taking my pill every morning is no different than my mom taking her iron medication every night at dinner. The same idea applies to therapy, just this year I finally found a therapist that actually genuinely cared and actually really helped. The stigma applies here too, whenever I have an appointment and somebody asks me where I’m going my initial reaction is to make something up. Finding a good, helpful, therapist is SO GOOD! Having an objective, professional, and respectful third party to listen and work things through with me has changed the game. The combination of the right meds and the right therapist has been huge in helping me recover.
4. THE GOOD AND BAD
I remember when walking into my very first therapy appointment at 16, it was the very first time I had ever gone to somebody professionally for my mental health. She asked a simple question: “Why are you here?” My response: “I don’t remember the last time I was happy. I just want to be happy.” One of my biggest problems was right there in the answer. Happiness is an emotion, it is fleeting, it comes and goes, it is NOT the final destination. I have learned in this year that those negative and scary feelings like sadness, anger or hurt, are not to be rejected, but embraced. A whole full human being has good times and good feelings, with bad times and bad feelings, a life has both. Anytime I had a bad or negative feeling before, I would crumble because I thought I was broken and my world was ending. Now I take a step back, and breathe like we talked about, maybe book an extra therapy session, take care of myself, with the understanding that I’ve made it through before and I WILL make it through again.
Fighting this is exhausting, whether it’s depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, bipolar–whatever you find yourself dealing with, fighting mental health is exhausting.
Yes, fighting is the appropriate word because recovery is a freaking battle.
It is hard, and painful, and gross, and messy, and discouraging.
BUT it is SO WORTH IT!
This is your life we are talking about. Your beautiful precious life.
Your life has a purpose, you have a purpose, I truly believe that you were created on purpose.
It is ok to choose yourself, love yourself, take care of yourself.
I have been so sick for so long, and I am so truly grateful for it because without my sickness I wouldn’t have the job I so love or be in the line of work that I am, I wouldn’t be connecting with people the way I am, I wouldn’t have the relationships that I do, and I definitely wouldn’t be writing this post.
There can be good in this battle, light can come again to even the darkest places.
I am grateful for the sickness, but I am also grateful that I fought the sickness, that I stopped, took a time out and chose myself, because without that I wouldn’t be alive. I am grateful for both the attack and the battle.
I am in no way saying that I have found the cure, or that I am a free happy woman now with no problems. That is just not true, this will be a part of me forever, and I will be fighting it forever. The point of this story was to say please don’t give up. Please don’t stop fighting. You know how they say: “pick your battles,” well you and your life are worth this battle I promise you.
There is a lot of weight that comes with this post as this is the last of my four-month stay with Healthy Minds. Writing for you has been an absolute privilege and an honor, I have learned so much on this journey. Thank you for taking the time and reading my words.
I hope to be writing for you again soon.
What’s next for me? As I turn 21 and start a brand new year of life and adulthood, instead of watching my broken lifeless heart beat on the hospital monitor beside me, I will be watching the beautiful light filled hearts of all those I love the most beating around me, and be grateful for the life that has been put back into mine. I will be thinking and be praying for all of your hearts, and I hope you remember they are still beating.
You are so loved.
You are so valued.
You are so cared for.
You are so worthy.
You are so wanted.
Until next time,
My name is Chelsea! I am in my third year of university studying Anthropology and Sociology. I started self harming when I was 15, had my first suicide attempt when I was 16, and that is when I was diagnosed with Depression. Since then my life has been about recovery, and throughout this journey writing has been my safe place. Throughout my journey I've learned that everyone has a story, and hurting together feels a lot better than hurting behind closed doors.I am passionate about bringing awareness to mental illness, and couldn't be more excited about this opportunity to write for Healthy Minds Canada!