My story is an unremarkable one. I neither had a troubled childhood, nor a particularly disturbed adolescence. No, my story is one that is, perhaps, painfully, enviously if you will, normal and successful. I am the youngest child in what you might call an “all American family.” I have two older sisters, an older brother, and two happily married parents. We spent the weekdays shuffling from school to soccer, to volleyball, to baseball and softball, to piano lessons, to ballet, and our weekends were spent playing in the backyard and going to church.
I experienced large amounts of success throughout my life. From winning the youth championship at 6 to starting varsity center-fielder in softball, and from having the highest reading level in my class in grade school to being one of the top two of my class in high school, I was unaccustomed to failure. I was no brat; I didn’t get everything I wanted, but I did get most things I worked for.
My senior year things changed. I dealt with adversity from things outside of my control- physical illness- and a loss of dreams, goals, and identity. Perhaps most importantly, I began my battle with mental illness. This is where my story begins to be worth telling, and tell I shall.
My senior year I became sick with something that seemingly no doctor could name or treat. In hindsight, most doctors seem to think I had a bout of encephalitis which left me debilitated by chronic migraines. I saw nine different doctors, had more than one ER visit, took over 20 different medications, and missed nearly six months of school.
While a six month vacation during senior year sounds nice in theory, this was detrimental to my plan. I was taking six AP classes out of seven total classes with no break period. I was losing valuable time and the work was piling up. As a result, my grades began to drop. Previously a straight A student, I now was failing ALL of my classes. This alone was enough to send me into a panic. By the time I returned to school, I had six weeks to complete all of my stock piled make up work and take my finals. This is where my journey with anxiety began. Not only did I have an overwhelming amount of work, but I HAD to do it in an overwhelmingly high quality. I couldn’t cheat it and just get a grade. Not only was that not in my vocabulary, but I had a $72,000 scholarship to a top business school on the line. My panic attacks were frequent and severe.
Much to my surprise, I finished all the work… but there’s a catch. I had to drop calculus- something I’d never done- and wave the white flag on physics in order to be able to finish the rest of the work. This meant I got A’s in five of my classes but dropped one and had an F in another. This shot my class rank right in the chest. I went from battling for first in the class to fourteenth. Everyone congratulated me and said it was “absolutely incredible all things considered.” They told me that no one else could have done what I had just accomplished.
I didn’t care.
All my life I had unknowingly found a large portion of my identity in school. I was the “smart girl.” I didn’t drop classes, and I certainly didn’t fail them. I was not fourteenth. One of my major goals for high school was taken away from me. I was robbed of my senior year and what I thought I deserved; but life doesn’t owe you anything. It’s not fair and rarely goes according to plan. This was a lesson I thought I had learned after the year I had.
Summer came and so did what should have been relief. Except, there was no relief. My anxiety persisted. Partially from embarrassment of my past year and partially for no reason at all. I struggled with extreme social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder. I would refuse to go to certain places for fear of running into someone I knew, refusing to leave the house at all at times. But there was something else. For months the dark hands of depression had gradually been wrapping its fingers around my neck. It was gradual but persistent. Before I even knew what was happening, I could no longer get out of bed. I was engulfed in the fog of an inescapably hazy life and mind that comes with major depression.
My mother soon became worried, and sought help. Three weeks before I was supposed to leave for school, I was officially diagnosed with the previously mentioned anxiety disorders and major depressive disorder (MDD). My doctor put me on Lexapro, an antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication-my first of many- and sent me off to school.
I was off to attend my dream school: Miami University. A new start in picturesque Oxford, Ohio. I told myself this was when things would start going right for me. Except it wasn’t.
Miami was a horrible fit for me for reasons that were impossible to know or foresee until I was thrown into life there. On top of that, Lexapro was a horrible fit for me as well. My depression began to worsen instead of improve, and six hours away from home and even farther from familiar faces, I felt alone. I was a misfit: a piece from a different puzzle forced into a place where it didn’t belong.
I was able to hide my struggle for a while. I made friends- friends I still talk to today- and blended in with the other kids. I went to class, I went out at night, did what I was “supposed” to do. For a while.
Eventually my class attendance and work began to decrease and my going out increased. I got drunk nearly every night. Alcohol was the only way I could find to escape what I was feeling, but it was a temporary escape and a wolf in sheep’s clothing. While it gave me temporary ease, it just made everything I was feeling worse. Soon I was unable to even attempt school work without anxiety attacks. This would send me to my bed where depression made it impossible to leave. However, I still knew I needed to go to class and do assignments; I couldn’t do the work without panic, and I couldn’t avoid it without the same result.
There was only a few weeks of this before I started planning to kill myself.
I want to be perfectly clear: not all suicide is the same. The typical image painted in society is the lonely student, rejected by their peers, who, feeling unloved and alone, takes their own life feeling worthless. While this does happen, this is not what was going through my mind. I did feel alone, and I did feel worthless in a way, but I knew I was loved; I had friends and family who showed me as much every day. I didn’t feel worthless myself so to speak. I just felt like my life was no longer worth living. I knew I would be missed, but depression had such strong hold on me that I no longer cared. I couldn’t care enough to continue living for other people. I no longer saw a future for myself. Someone who could always picture what their life would look like ten years down the road could no longer picture tomorrow. It was not from lack of effort, but where my goals and future were once held, depression had placed endless nothing- a black hole.
I did my research and decided to kill myself. I was ready to do it when, in a blur of emotions, pain, and vodka called someone and told them everything. They talked me out of it until I fell asleep, but had no means deterred me permanently. However, they did something I didn’t anticipate: they told. My parents found out my state and immediately flew to my school to talk to me. It was then that I decided I needed to come home. On top of everything else, mental illness had now taken my dream for my future away from me.
But what I failed to see was that leaving school was not a failure. It was me taking time out to get healthy and figure out who I was again, and THAT IS OK. Everyone takes different paths in life. No one’s journey is the same. It was difficult for me to see at the time, because it came at a time when a lot of people my age were still on similar paths, but no one’s ending place is the same and neither is their road to it. No one is dealt the same deck of cards. I broke from the pack a little earlier than most, but everyone goes their own way at some point.
Coming home was not an immediate fix. I was put on another medication, and that worked for a while, but I soon relapsed. I was hospitalized for a week in a psychiatric ward. During that time, I had a much needed break from life and my medication was adjusted. This got me mostly stabilized, but I still struggled. I saw two different therapists before finding the one that was the right fit for me. I had to change from my general practitioner to a psychiatrist. I have been on nine different medications for depression and anxiety, and so far nothing has gotten me quite where I need to be, but I’m not done yet. My story is not over.
My own words could never eloquently summarize my journey. Instead, I turn to T.S. Elliot, “You will go on, and when you have prevailed you can say: at this point many a one has failed.”
My story is unremarkable. I am not the first to go through what I have experienced, nor will I be the last. I am one of millions to go through this battle every day. But it is the ordinary nature of my story that makes it worth telling. Grandiose stories, entertaining and inspiring as they might be, aren’t relatable, and to me it is in the everyday struggle with issues that many people deal with that inspires people to wake up and fight that battle again every single day.
This is my story: I will go on.
I challenge you to do the same.