My Mental Health Story
WARNING: This story is about my struggle with self harm, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression. I talk about these things as they happened and from my perspective, some of which may be upsetting.
I have been neglecting my blog recently, because of an inner conflict in what I want to achieve with it, and questioning whether it is worth it. September is Suicide Prevention month, and I have seen several campaigns and social media posts discussiong the topic. With all the attention that mental health is now getting because of the growing suicide crisis, people are more and more comfortable speaking about it. This is positive for removing the stigma around discussing and sharing about our thoughts and feelings, but I can not help but notice a trendy aspect around mental health or people using it as an excuse to avoid personal responsibility. I wanted to make sure that I was not doing that. I wanted to make sure my story was told only to shine a light on darkness, and now, I think that it was my own narcism that was holding me back. I did not want to be viewed as a “poser” of mental health struggles, because I think of my struggle as being realer or more difficult than others which was kind of messed up. I could be stuck in a spiral of conflicting motivations and reasons for sharing my story. So, I am just going to hope for the best and write… Every single person alive has a struggle with the health of their mind at one point or another. Whether everyone recognizes it in the same way as their physical health or not, there is a lot that can be done when you find yourself in a mentally unhealthy place. All this to say, I would like to share with you all my mental health story up to this point in time. I hope it is helpful or enlightening in some way.
As a child I was very boisterous and loud. Whether that was because I was the second youngest of seven children, or just because of my “born personality”, I do not know. I do know that I was an annoyance to many people because of my constant need to be the center of attention. I would get in fights with my siblings, because I would not leave them alone or take no for an answer. This would lead to my hurt feelings and punishments from my parents for not being able to get along. My response to these hurt feelings and punishments was almost always to fight them. I think any objective look at my twenty four years of life would show you that I have been a fighter since birth. I have fought any and everything I have been told to do just because “it is what you do.” I hate the idea of mindlessly going through life letting others dictate your actions, thoughts, or motives. This can be positive in unveiling flaws in people’s ways of life, but it can also so easily turn into thoughtless rebellion. Around age thirteen, I began getting some negative attention for my mannerisms, appearance, and interests. I was, and still am to this day, an easy target for ridicule because I enjoy going against the norm and being the center of attention. Being a weirdo and the center of attention felt natural for me, but I did not realize how lonely it could be until around sixteen years old.
My dad and I blew up in another fight about how I chose to present myself and the attention and people that I seemed to attract. I felt completely broken. I did not want to be a disappointment to my family, but I also did not want to completely change my personality and interests just to make my family and friends more comfortable. It seemed like a fight I would be fighting, alone, my whole life. And, that was unbearable. I cried out to God to show me a light at the end of the tunnel. I told Him that I needed a physical sign that I would not be going through my life like this, alone. I did not get an answer. That night was the first instance of self harm in my life. It was the realest battle with suicidal thoughts that I had experienced to that point. I did not go through with ending my life (clearly), simply bandaged the damage I had done to my body, and cried myself to sleep. I woke up the next morning feeling embarrassed for letting a disagreement with my dad cut me so deeply. I tore up the note I had written to explain the reason for ending my life into the tiniest pieces I could and then I burned them. I was a fighter. I did not want anyone to know that I had this weakness. No, I did not end my life which is what the enemy would have loved; I am sure. However, a seed was planted in that deep wound of loneliness that cut all the way to the core of my being. That seed was the thought that I was the only one who understood this feeling, that I was the only one who could keep this feeling at bay. The belief that once I ran out of strength it would take my life from me. I remember watching as the little scraps of paper that made up my “would be” suicide note burnt up and making the promise to myself that I would fight until I could not fight anymore. Then, it would all be over. This was the first lie that I believed that would lead me down a path of personal destruction. I believed that this burden was mine to bear alone. The moment I could not do that would be the end of this battle and my life.
Being the fighter that I am, I clenched my jaw and moved on. People’s opinions about me continued to play a part in my outlook on the world, and my heart began to harden as I further solidified that it was me against everyone else. I kept my issue with suicidal thoughts to myself for a while. I know I told my best friend about my struggle at some point, and eventually shared with my parents when I moved to St Louis my senior year of highschool. As I opened up more and more about my struggle with this issue, I began “working on it”. I put that in quotes, because it was pretty superficial work on my part. I started going to therapy in my first two years in college and was open and honest about what happened. My therapist at the time helped educate me on coping mechanisms for anxiety and depression, and those things did help me continue on with life. I also had very supportive friends and family that were always there when I called, which really does mean the world. However, I believed that at some point it was still all on me to handle, because they would never understand the depth of my issue in its entirety. I had a growing sense of loneliness. I would distract myself with my social life, fashion education, and my volleyball career. I would often turn to drinking to numb the overwhelming feeling of shame in what I was becoming and the pain of isolation in who I was.
I had another issue with self harm my sophomore year of college which I can hardly remember now, as I was high intoxicated. I do remember it spurred me on in my next “fight.” That “fight” was against my alcohol dependency in trying to avoid the suicidal thoughts. (Again, I put quotations because it was more of a distraction, as it was a symptom of the deeper struggle and was not the real issue) I remember thinking, “Adam, you are losing the battle. Young you would never give in and give up so easily.” I truly looked at this battle as me against everything else. The growing shame of what I had done while drinking kept me in a spiral despite my attempt to white knuckle and just make it through the struggles I was facing. I viewed my mistakes and the bad things others had done to me as failures by me to be strong against evil. This stemmed from the lie that I was the only one in this fight and if there was a way to win, it would be by my own strength. So, I went through periods of complete sobriety just to fall into fits of depression and anxiety that led me to the abuse of alcohol and other harmful actions.
My senior year things began to come to a head. It honestly is somewhat of a blur. I had some amazingly positive things happen, but also my lowest points. The details of these low points are vast and go off on their own tangents, so they can be stories for another time. The important point of these low points was that I had completely lost control. I was spending time in things that were directly destroying my mind, body, and spirit. The lie I had allowed to fester in my mind at the age of sixteen had sprouted new lies which had given birth to new lies. By the time I reached the second semester of my senior year, I did not know which way was up. It is truly bizarre to think about. I “knew” the truth, but I did not believe it anymore. It had been replaced with the lie that I was on my own, that my life did not mean anything beyond my accomplishments, that I could not be loved and understood fully, etc. I could go on with the thoughts that were springing up from these beliefs, but it is time for some good news. THEY WERE ALL LIES.
In February of my senior year, I was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts. I had a third incident of self harm and came clean to my therapist about it a couple weeks after the incident. My therapist asked me to sign something that was later explained to me as an affidavit, which she did not explain to me. This gave up all rights I had to my own care. I was taken by police from her office to the emergency room where they took all of my belongings, put me in scrubs, and stuck me in an ER room for 8 hours. They allowed me to write down three numbers from my phone on a scrap of paper. I was allowed to use the hospital phone under super vision to call and let people know what was happening. None of which I had control over anymore. It was all in the doctors hands. While in the ER, a man who had been arrested for trying to jump off a bridge, and seemed to be disassociating, got in my room somehow and began to yell at me. I was already in tears and could not find the voice to call out to the nurses for help. The nurses finally heard him screaming at me and removed him. I had never been in such a situation in my life. ( I am truly spoiled.) It rattled me, and I have never been so afraid. The reason I was in the ER so long was because there were no open beds at the nearby behavioral health centers. Around 10 pm at night, a spot opened up. Little did I know it was in the highest acuity unit (I did not know what this meant when first told to me, but apparently that just means the people that are considered the most mentally unstable are housed there). I was in this awful, awful place for 2 and a half days (seemed like an eternity). My roommate sat on his bed and drooled, dead behind the eyes, and just stared at me. The nurses would come and escort him to meals and then escort him back to his bed, where he laid or sat there lifeless. Either the medication or his mental illness or both had left him completely incapacitated. I cannot remember his name, but I will never forget the sadness deep, deep inside his eyes. It was barely there, because he truly had no presence or personality outwardly, in his state. I know nothing of his story, but wow, I still send up a prayer every now and then that he found healing from his torment. I had many experiences with the other lost souls in that place that stick with me to this day. Another patient really did not like me. He was high energy and nervous all the time. He would yell about starting a bible study, but everyone would ignore him which tended to agitate him even more. One time, I was staring at him too long I suppose, and he screamed at me, threatening me and lunged at me. The nurses were so used to the chaos of this unit that they were unphased by everything going on. I was terrified and sunk further and further into the darkness and the thought that this was the end. Having no choice in what I could do, where I could go, what I could wear, or what I could eat sent me into a panic. I had never wanted so badly to not exist and just be done with it. It was too hard. I clearly could not handle life like others could.
My family, being the amazing supportive and loving people that they are, immediately got in their cars in Kansas City and drove to St Louis as fast as they could. They were unable to get me out, because of the affidavit, and could only visit me there for a couple hours in the afternoon. I was so embarrassed that they saw me in this place, that they now might know the depth of my inadequacies. I remember even on their visits, me trying to make it seem like it was a misunderstanding or not as bad as it seemed. I was unravelling though. I was talking to my dad on the phone before bed time the second night and burst into tears. I told him I could not spend one more night in here, and that I was not going to make it. My father and I have had a really complex relationship. My feeling that he did not love me as I was, was often the thing that sent me down the path of suicidal thoughts. (I want to be clear I am not blaming my Dad for my struggle with suicide. I simply wanted him to express things to me a certain way. When he did not, I allowed it to mean things to me that were not necessarily what he meant.) That night he said very calmly and logically that it did not matter if I could not or did not want to be in that place another night. I had to. I had gotten myself in this mess, and I had to deal with the consequences. (This may sound cold to some but it was the truth, and I am thankful to this day that my father so staunchly seeks out and clings to the truth.) This sent me into a spiral of panic, however. I could feel the weight on me like one million pounds. I went straight to my room from the phone and laid in my bed sobbing. I worked myself into such a fit I began dripping in sweat and shaking profusely to the point I seemed to be bouncing off the bed. I remember trying to cry quietly, because if the nurses heard me and saw me in such a state I was afraid I would be forced to be sedated like so many of my fellow patients. That might be the most terrified I have ever been in my life. It felt like the final moments of a struggle that had been going on for ages. It felt like I had finally reached that point I had previously spoken of to myself. I will fight until I can not fight anymore; I would say. Well, I had nothing left in the tank. I had no justification or twist I could put on my story anymore to convince myself that I could make it through. I could no longer convince myself that I could fight and that there was a chance I could win. To be honest, I had not believed that for a long time, but now, I could not even tell myself that in an attempt to convince myself. I was completely broken. My body felt like it was literally trying to expel my awareness from its physical state. I cried to the Lord (in my head, as to not alarm the nurses) to finally show me that I did not have to fight on my own. That I was not alone, and that He was real. As tears welled up in my eyes, sweat poured from every part of my body soaking my paper scrubs and the sheets, and my body violently tossed and shook in my tiny hospital bed. I felt a finger rest on my forehead square between my eyebrows. My eyes snapped open, as it must have been another patient who had snuck into my now empty room; I thought. (My roommate had been discharged or moved that morning.) In that split second of me opening my eyes and seeing nothing in front of me (I still felt a strong warm finger pressing gently between my eyebrows, unmoving), I felt an orgasmic feeling spread from the point of contact through my face, head, and the rest of my body. I fell into a deep sleep. A sleep so deep I did not realize I was asleep until I woke up again in a full blown panic attack of sweating and shaking and labored breath. I called out again and the same thing happened. That happened over and over again until I saw the sun peak through my tiny hospital window up at the top of the wall by the ceiling. I woke up feeling rested somehow. I have no idea how long I slept or how many times I reawakened and experienced the touch of a hand that sent me back to sleep. I did know that I had gotten my answer though. I was not alone. I felt reinvigorated. It was time to leave that place. My nurse walked in that morning for my daily dose of medication and I blurted out, “I will do whatever you guys want for treatment and medication but, I need to get out of here!” To my surprise, (I had been pleading since the moment I arrived in that awful place to let me go) she tilted her head while looking at me square in the eyes and said, ” Ya you do not belong here.” I was shocked. They had said they wanted to keep me for at least four to seven days to better understand what dose of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication I should be on. The doctor came in soon after and asked how I was feeling and how the medications were affecting me. I explained to him that I needed to get out of here, and I would take whatever recommendations he had for me, besides staying in this place. He told me he thought it would be unwise to not stay and really figure out how to fix the issue no matter how long it took. (He was really not having it and thought I was out of my mind) I started to doubt what had happened to me the night before and whether I would be stuck in places like this forever. Even with God revealing Himself to me so clearly, I did not want to let go of the lies that I had decided to believe for seven years instead of Him and His promises. The nurses began advocating for me to be released and by that afternoon, I was greeted by four of my siblings and my parents in the lobby of the health center.
This is only a partial story of my walk through life, but it is one that has most profoundly impacted me. Please understand that in between all of these events I had good times and happy memories. People are not all bad or all good. Good things can be happening alongside the bad, and God is good all the time. My story is not a self help formula on how to free yourself of mental illness, and definitely not a good example of how to best deal with mental health issues. It is a story of how my Heavenly Father made sure that I knew He was there from the beginning. It is a story of a boy (just like you or someone you know) who lost his way by believing a lie, and how a miracle plucked him out of that lie and firmly replanted him in the Truth. My story is miraculous when I look back, because I have truly never been alone. So all the struggles I have faced and will face are not my own. I have a Father who sent His son to carry those burdens for me and saved me from their consequences. If you have not met Jesus, and your burden is heavy; I urge you to confess your mistakes and lay them at His feet. He is faithful to forgive all sins and rid us of our burden and its death sentence.
If you have already accepted Jesus as your Savior, but still find yourself in a struggle with suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, etc. then I would simply ask yourself first who bares that burden. If the answer is you, then hand it over to Jesus. That is literally the purpose of him dying on the cross for you. And, I mean you in the literal sense. YOU sitting on your phone, laptop, or ipad reading this. This is not a broad strokes gospel that is about the general human race although it is available to every single person. YOU still have to accept it YOURSELF. YOU have to decide if you are gonna white knuckle your struggle until it overtakes you, or give it over to God and reject the lie that you are alone. Please do not wait until it almost destroys you to do so… like I did.
Last but not least, I want to make it clear that salvation in Jesus Christ is the only true and lasting solution to any struggle we face in this life. Therapy, medication, community, books, friends, family, hobbies, etc. can (not guaranteed) positively impact your life. Everyone’s situation with mental health may call for a different treatment plan and will look a little different. The only thing that I know, without a doubt, that gave me a chance at freedom from my mental health issues, (because I tried all of the above to rid myself of my struggle with mental health) is the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life due to me making Jesus Christ the Lord of my life. He reached down and answered my prayer when He did not have to. This did not rid me of sin or struggle, but freed me from my sin and mental health struggle defining or having any sort of control over my life. It is up to me to lay my struggles and sin at the foot of the cross daily, and I have that choice because of the free gift of salvation that Jesus gives. I hope something in this story positively affected you. Hold on to hope. Breath. You are so loved.