Overworking is NOT the Same as Healing

I stood in the entrance with my hand still holding the doorknob, trying to make sense of the exhausted look on my fathers face. When he saw me in the doorway he called me over and said, in as steady a voice as he could manage, “your Grandfather killed himself.”

I remember sitting on my swing set for a long time that night, crying, confused, angry… but I wiped my tears and went back inside. It wasn’t something we talked about much beyond that day.

About a decade passed like this, where I bottled up my feelings and put on a strong face, but by the time I got to high school the bottle was starting to crack. I felt like I was floating above myself most days, as if I was watching myself go through life and not actually living it. School made me extremely nervous and being there or even thinking about assignments made me feel light headed, my hands would get clammy and tingle, and some days I couldn’t get myself to get out of my car when I arrived. I began having either bursts of energy that made it impossible to sit still in class or I would be so exhausted I couldn’t keep my eyes open. 

Days passed, each one feeling like the one before. I decided that I needed something to change; I knew this wasn’t normal, but I didn’t know what it was or how to fix it. So, I went to see a therapist. When I got to the appointment I spewed my whole life story, then continued on telling her about how nervous school was making me and how I could barely function. When I finally paused long enough for her to speak, she consulted the notes she had been scribbling then looked up and said “I think you just need a planner, once you get organized this should all go away.”

I sat in my car for a long time after that appointment. I felt completely invalidated and I felt lost. Not knowing what else to do, I drove to Staples and got a planner. When I went home I placed it open on my bed. Then pulled out other agendas, planners, sticky notes and scraps of paper with dates and times written on them. I was ready to try, but as I stared at everything in front of me it all felt hopeless. That night I made my first suicide attempt.

 

The next morning I woke up… and no one had noticed.

 

I told myself that if I just got organized, tried harder, did better, that everything would be fine. I convinced myself that I was being dramatic and none of this would have happened if I was just a better student, athlete, worker or even person… So, I started pushing myself, I got another job, I managed to get organized and get my grades back on track, I rejoined the hockey team and I didn’t leave myself a moment alone with my thoughts. By the time I graduated I had won 3 academic awards, was a captain of the varsity hockey team and was working a job that was making a difference in my community. 

I spent so much time working on all these things that applying to college hadn’t even crossed my mind, but as graduation approached everyone kept telling me that going to college was the only way to be successful. The application process looked daunting and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go. I told my friends and family I would apply to one college and If I got in I would go… 

The next fall I was packing my things and moving into my dorm in Boston. I went to a tiny college where I made friends right away, got placed in mostly honors classes and was president or vice president of 3 of the 6 clubs I had joined by my second semester. From the outside it looked like I was completely put together, but that wasn’t the case. I was pushing myself too hard and began self medicating in an effort either to keep pushing myself or to finally relax in what little time I allowed myself to take off. 

It all caught up to me one day when I received a failing grade in one of my classes. I had put so much pressure on myself and worked so hard, I didn’t understand how that could happen… I walked out of that class, went back to my dorm room and made my second suicide attempt.

The next day I woke up in the Emergency room of a nearby hospital. A few days later I was transferred to an inpatient program where I met daily with mental health specialists. Here I was told that I have ADHD, Anxiety, Depression and PTSD. It was overwhelming to hear that I have four mental illnesses all in one sitting, but I was grateful. 

Grateful because I finally felt like I had the power to make a change in my life. With the help of a few different providers, medication and a lot of hard work (in the form of self-care) I was able to get my life back. I learned to balance my life more, recognize when I need help and advocate for myself. I was by no means an expert at this right away, in fact I still work daily to maintain my mental wellness. Like most folks who struggle with mental illness, I go through ups and downs. Recovery isn’t linear and I recognize that these ups and downs are something I will likely have to live with my whole life, but, my support system of friends and family helps me daily. Also, knowing that there is a community of individuals like me who have had similar experiences and gone on to live healthy, full and successful lives gives me hope.

I am someone with mental illness.

I am a fighter, a survivor.

I am here because I got help.

I believe you.

I believe IN you.

I hope you stay.

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