This is the first time I’ve been completely open with my mental illness journey. In which I have to be honest, is very terrifying for me. It scares me because every time i’ve tried to be open about my struggles with people throughout my life, I have almost always been negatively judged and treated differently because of it. But I have to do this.
I have to because I deserve to have my voice heard. The negative stigma around mental illness that makes people afraid of talking about it needs to end. I hope that I can use my pain and the wisdom it has brought me to help other people that are suffering with mental illness as well, because you are not alone.
I was born October 7th, 1996. In New Brunswick Canada. Where I spent the first few years of my life a carefree and happy little girl. Blissfully unaware of the struggles I had waiting for me. The symptoms started when I was just six years old. I had many compulsions and rituals that I would have to perform everyday with no logical reason behind them. It would be things such as never walking into certain rooms in my house, taking at least three baths a day and literally hundreds of other “little” things that I would have to do. My family didn’t know why I did these things, my friends and siblings couldn’t understand. But my mind had come up with the conclusion that if I performed these rituals and compulsions that somehow it would keep me from being sick and dying. And that if I didn’t do these things, than I was surely in grave danger.
Months went by and the compulsions, rituals, thoughts and anxiety only got worse. It got to the point where I was performing rituals almost the entire day. They ranged from subtle things such as washing my hands to even having to constantly cross my eyes because somehow my mind had convinced me that doing these things would save me, and I believed it. I believed it because every time I did not do these things my body would make me physically sick, which would lead me to think I was dying. I realise now that this was probably from the anxiety it caused me but at the time I could not have understood. I was just a terrified little girl that thought her world was ending. My parents became very worried as well as I would often complain of having stomach aches and getting sick so often that school was almost impossible for me to attend. Even when I did go to school I couldn’t learn, I couldn’t focus. My mind was not my own.
A few years past and after countless trips to the hospital, Cat-scans,ECGs, blood tests and many other things I cant even remember. I was finally diagnosed with severe OCD, Tourettes, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and anxiety attacks.
Now to me, the most difficult illness for me to talk about is my OCD because so many people judge it as not being a severe illness, and their wrong. OCD took my childhood away from me. It stopped me from developing socially because every waking thought I had was my OCD's. Not my own. I spent the rest of my elementary school years in constant fear of getting sick and dying. Crying myself to sleep at night because I didn’t understand why this was happening. I had even started self harming because of it, at the age of only eight. You see OCD isn’t about having to have things a certain way or being a “clean freak”. OCD is having your mind taken away from you, and filling it with unimaginable horrors that I still struggle with to this day. The compulsions and rituals are just something thats stops these thoughts and feelings for a short amount of time. Its something I would not wish on my worst enemy, and if I had one wish. I would go back and take all of that pain I had to go through as a little girl, so that maybe I would actually have a chance at a normal childhood.
After I started taking medication for my OCD it improved dramatically so that by the time I started junior high, I had barely any compulsions or obsessive thoughts, and the ones that I did have were manageable. I was free. Or so I thought. I started getting depressed and began starving myself at the age of 11. I starved myself because when I looked in the mirror all I saw was this fat disgusting monster, and I did everything I could to fix the monster in the mirror. It went to the point where I was 5″5 and at my lowest I weighed only 85lbs.
I was failing in school, and I hated myself. I had such a deep hatred for myself because I never felt like I was good enough, pretty enough, or smart enough no matter how hard i tried. I was eventually diagnosed with Dysthymic Disorder with Major Depressive episodes and social anxiety. I believe the social anxiety stemmed from not being able to develop any social skills as a child therefore I was extremely quiet, sad and scared all of the time while in public. Especially in school. Which led me to being outcasted and stereotyped as the sad, quiet girl.
To this day I still don’t know how I got over starving myself. I was never given any treatment for it. All I know is that by the time I had made it to high school I had stopped starving myself. I moved up to the healthly weight of 110lbs, and I began one of the hardest journeys of my life thus far. A journey where I had to fight for my life.
The suicidal thoughts began when I was 14. I do not want to get into to much detail about them. I’ll spare you the horrendous image in your head of the thing I couldn’t get out of mine. High school was extremely difficult for me. Along with the typical hardships of being a teenager, (Pressure to get good grades, fitting in, having friends, etc.) I also had to deal with my severe anxiety, severe depression, suicidal thoughts, self harm, OCD, Tourettes, and this deep self hatred that I carried with me from junior high into high school. And I had been on so many different medications at this point that I couldn’t even remember half of them.
Every year the depression and anxiety only got worse. It was as if there was this lens put over my eyes that made the entire world grey and desolate. I couldn’t feel happiness, I couldn’t feel excitement, and I certainly couldn’t feel peace. I began cutting myself almost everyday in order to get some relief. But even when I would cut I would feel almost nothing. There was no pain. It was as if I was already in so much mental pain that the physical pain for me seemed like nothing. I was worthless, disgusting, dumb, awkward and no one could ever love someone like me. At least thats what I thought at the time. I was so deeply depressed that I didn’t want to live anymore. The pain was so severe that I would fantasise about killing myself, thinking that at least then I would finally be at peace.
I was 17 when I tried to kill myself. Nobody ever knew. I was alone. Completely and utterly alone in my pain. Being an extremely empathetic person I couldn’t stand to see the look of pain on my families faces if they found out. So I kept silent about it for years, all because I didn’t want my pain to hurt anyone else that I loved. I continued with school for the rest of the year, still taking medication and occasionally seeing a counsellor. But it never got any better. During my senior year I had to take a month off due to stress and It was difficult, but somehow I managed to graduate. Thankfully leaving the school that I cant even go into now without having my anxiety and severe depression triggered. Once I graduated I thought things would finally start to get better. I was wrong.
The summer of my graduation was good, I had job. My illnesses weren’t too severe. I was actually kind of happy. It wasn’t until the next following winter when I had to get a knee surgery. Taking over 7 months to completely heal, and adding to my already plethora of scars that I disposed. I became depressed again. More depressed than I had ever been.
At this point I had been recently diagnosed with Body Dysmorphia Disorder as well. Which explained all the years of severe body image issues that I had faced. All knew at this point that I was a danger to myself, and that I desperately needed help. So after talking with my counsellor and my family, I admitted myself into the psych ward.
I had been told many things about this place. A lot of it not very positive, but it was my last hope. When I got there I was given a room, all of my electronics were taken away, and I was stripped of my privacy. I was completely terrified.
The psych ward kind of reminds me of the prison from the show Orange is the New Black. Not in the sense that you felt like you were trapped in a prison but in the sense that even though none of us really knew one another, at the end of the day it was like we were all in it together. Some of the kindest, wisest, and smartest people I’ve ever met were the people I met in the psych ward. Everyone was unbelievably kind and positive and it was a completely stress free environment. Which was something I needed desperately. The day I was admitted, before I had met any of the other patients. I sat alone on the floor in my room, and at that moment I was so low, that I remember thinking that this is what death must feel like. I couldn’t come up with any better description as to how bad I was feeling. I was dead, I thought this was the end for me.
I cant remember how long i sat there, drowning in my own despair. But i can remember talking to god. I don’t recall exactly what I said to him, but I have a feeling he might have been listening back. Because a few minutes after I got myself up a nurse came in to check on me and told me something that had a basically changed my life.
I had told her how I felt as though my life was over. How I thought I was always going to just be this depressed person who would never find happiness. She didn’t say a lot. To be honest I don’t even remember what she looked like, but I do remember those few words she had said to me. Something I had never been told before. She said to me, “I don’t know who you are, or what you’ve been through. But know that no matter your circumstances, it does not define you.” That was it, and just like that it was like a lightbulb turned on in my head and I realised that the only thing that can define me and my life, was me. I had the control.
I had often been asked why I never gave up, why I didn’t actually kill myself. I can honestly say thats it’s been a hard thing for me to answer, because for a long time I couldn’t find a reason as to why I shouldn’t have killed myself. Most of my life had been a struggle and it didn’t look like it was going to get any better for me. Even after I got out of the hospital I still struggled with my illnesses. My anxiety actually had gotten so severe that I would lose my ability to breath, parts of my body would go numb, and I would get so dizzy that I couldn’t stand. I was in a dark place for a very long time. It was so dark that all I wanted to do was go to sleep and never wake up, I wanted the pain to go away. I just wanted peace.
Mental illness had taken almost everything from me. It took my hobbies, my passions, my “friends”, the things I used to love no longer had any meaning to me. Every part of me was gone, every part except one. My ability to dream. No matter how bad it got for me, I could always turn inward into my rich inner worlds. A place where my active imagination took me other places. Places where I found hope, hope that I would make it. Hope that I would live.
I’ve always been a dreamer. I remember getting bullied in elementary school because I would constantly be daydreaming. Always lost in my own world. Many people saw it as a weakness, but in reality it was my biggest strength. If I can dream, I can hope. If I can hope, I can fight. I suppose thats why I’ve never truly given up, because I’ve always been a fighter (either that or I’m just extremely stubborn.)
Its almost as if theres something inside of me that doesn’t know how to give up. And because of that I am still here today. Still fighting, still hoping, and forever dreaming. I know now that I am not my illness. I am not my pain. I am the strength that picks myself up every time I fall down. I am the soul that refuses to be destroyed by the fire of my mind then engulfs me. I am the fighter the never gave in. I am the light that chooses to see the positive side of life despite my mind constantly making me feel darkness. I am the little girl that refused to stop dreaming, the little girl that grew up a little to fast, the girl who never fit in. And i am finally proud of who I am.
I am not my pain..and neither are you.
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