MHAM Post #10: Alyssa

I’ve always felt really fortunate to have friends that live all over the country (and world). But over the past couple years, as I’ve struggled/coped/moved/grown/changed, I’ve been guilty of letting some longer-distance friendships slip. 

This month’s project has taught me that regardless of distance, time, or space, most people still care about you, and most friendships, thankfully, are for the long haul. 

I met Alyssa freshman year of college. I have watched her grow, change, cope, and learn so much over the period of time since then. I am so happy to see the person she has become, and I’m even happier to share her story about a portion of her journey. 

In this piece, Alyssa talks about one of her biggest triggers related to her mental health. She also shares some really important insights on medication. It’s important to remember that different things help different people. I loved Alyssa’s blunt honesty in this. If you know her at all, you can see her personality shine through her writing. 

These words are her to the T, and I’m happy to share them here:

I really don’t know how to start this out, so I am going to start with a quote that helps with my frustrations… “Telling someone with mental health issues that all they need to do is be more positive and they can make themselves happy, is like telling someone who has asthma that all they need to do is breath harder because there is plenty of air.”

I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, wrongly diagnosed with bi-polar, and I am currently being evaluated for PMDD. I hate being labeled. But these labels have allowed me to learn about myself on a deeper level than I think any unlabeled person has. Every day, I learn something new about myself. Whether it is a new trigger, an effective coping strategy, or that I did a great job self-managing. Even though sighing is considered rude, I’ll sigh all fucking day if it helps me not physically shake or burst into tears. And sometimes I reflect and learn I did a terrible job self-managing today and need to make some phones calls to apologize.

Every reaction has a consequence, and every person has a memory. You may feel like there is a person inside of your chest, breaking every rib, trying to get out, but reacting poorly to that sensation normally results in burnt bridges, slipping deeper into a self-loathing cycle, and becoming more recluse. Mental health issues are difficult, because self-management is pretty much an ongoing conversation with yourself. You build yourself up or you break yourself down. I’ve learned that, even with practice and self-love, the volume of that voice can either break your ears drums (cue the panic attack), or be muffed, sometimes only by an extremely annoying number of sighs and gratitude lists.

Where I am today is why I can admit that I hated myself for a very long time. I am my own worst critic, and sometimes I rip myself apart over something as stupid as an Instagram comment because, “what if they don’t realize I’m being sarcastic and I just lost a friend?” This anxious concern has always been something I’ve struggled with. When I was younger it was more along the lines of, “did I remember every single friend’s initials in my AIM profile?!” Seemingly stupid shit, but it climaxed when I was in college.

Like I said, anxiety and depression has been a part of me my whole life, but there are definitely triggers that have made it worse. For the sake of length, I am only going to touch on the biggest trigger, and how refusing to process traumatic events can be detrimental.

Before I went into my freshman year of college, I woke up to a friend physically taking advantage of me. No one believed me when I told them, and said I was being dramatic. I didn’t report anything, I didn’t stand up for myself, and I allowed that dirty, used feeling to control my decision as I kept quiet. Two more girls were hurt by him and I’m still working on not blaming myself for that. I developed so much self-hate, that sometimes I acted on that hate, and it perpetuated the vicious cycle of stress, reaction, and guilt. *If anyone out there has experienced this and does not know who to talk to, please reach out, I am here and can help you link up with a professional to meet your needs.*

From there, my mental health struggles continued to get worse because I was not loving myself. I wasn’t even attempting to. I put on dirty band-aids, like blacking out, having sex with people I didn’t care about, and staying quiet about what was going on inside of my head, instead of choosing to love myself. I had opportunities to talk, and would share sometimes with friends, but never too much because, “what if they think I’m too dramatic?”

I took what, to me, felt like the easy way out, and went to a general medicine doctor and talked about my symptoms. He diagnosed me with depression and bi-polar disorder. He put me on Lexapro and Zyprexa and HOLY FUCK did shit get even worse and worse fast. I wanted a quick fix, but that speed lane took me straight to suicide city, and those thoughts were loud and always present.

I went back two weeks later to say “I don’t think this is right, everything is worse”. All he did was increase my medication. I don’t remember much of September and October of 2015. The first week of November my friends and I had all been at a pregame at the house next door. I remember exactly what I was wearing and I remember standing there, feeling like I was just over it. I was looking at everyone’s smiling faces, listening to my friends sing, loudly shouting about which party to go to, and I didn’t feel like I was even there. I slipped out and went back to my house, smoked about 5 cigs in a row, and grabbed the two pills bottles with about 20 10mg of Lexapro and 20 5mg of Zyprexa, and just held them in my hand, eerily calm. I sat there and cried on and off until I fell asleep.

I may have suicidal thoughts, but death within itself is too final, and I am thankful I am afraid of that. When I’m in that moment though, it feels like there are two voices in my head. One saying, “fuck it, life is not really even real, I can’t even think straight with how many feelings I have right now, I just want it all to fucking stop”. And a contrasting little voice saying, “life is still here, death is so final and unknown”. These continuous reel of thoughts, paired with a waterfall of loud tears, equals an indecisive and exhausted human standing in the middle of the room stunned and unable to move until she’s exhausted herself to the point of falling asleep.

Disclaimer* I called my parents the next day, I took myself off the medication, went through withdrawal symptoms, and as a result, was kicked out of my Athletic Training major because of my lack of performance in clinic and two failed classes. Thankfully, I was able to show documentation that my doctor did not refer me to a talk therapist and had upped my medication. My major advisors informed me I would be suspended from the Athletic Training program and could come back the next Fall. Meaning, I wasn’t graduating with my friends, and had to add another year of tuition to expenses. But more importantly than that, it meant I got a second chance to manage this correctly. This was terrible news, but I could either continue hating myself, or I could choose to love myself, be fearless, and vocalize how I feel and what my thoughts are. I chose to vocalize, and graduated a year later with a double major, acceptance to graduate school, and a one-way ticket to California.  

It’s fucking annoying going to doctor after doctor, having some kook push medication down your throat like its sweet-tarts, and feel like you’re losing your personality from the medication. It hurts looking at your parents as they try to hide their fear from you, and watching your siblings be confused by your differences. It just about kills you when you make the, “it’s getting bad again” call. But at the same time, I have been lucky enough to be able to have that open conversation with my family. I had to look at my Dad within the last month and say the thoughts came back, they aren’t loud but they’re back. Seeing how that horrified and broke my Dad is why I will never let this control me completely, even if the voices are like banshees screaming in my head. I’m working on not seeing myself as selfish or sickly, but in turn, realizing that I am so fortunate to have a family that allows for open communication and has embodied a safe and loving environment full of support. Not everyone is that lucky.

If there is one thing I have learned in my journey with mental health, it is that everyone’s experience and perspective is different. Everyone’s management is going to be different. Medication didn’t work for me, but it could save someone else’s life and that’s beautiful. I struggle daily with anxiety and depression and I combat that by loving myself and setting appropriate goals for myself depending on how I feel that day. 

The biggest message I want anyone who is suffering from mental health issues to understand, is that there is nothing wrong with you and you aren’t dramatic. TALK about how you feel. What’s “wrong” with you is something that provides you with an opportunity to learn more about yourself, develop your identity, create personal coping strategies, and have an increased level of empathy. The brain is crazy my friends, it’s the only thing that has named itself in this world. Learn about your brain, your thoughts, and talk about it. I am far from having control over my labels, but I can now say I am proud of where I am and I love myself.