Monday, June 20, 2011

~Mental Health Monday Guestblog~ Hallie's story

Today's guestblogger is Hallie who normally blogs over at 'A Year of Thanksgiving'. Follow her along as she shares her story.


I have struggled long and hard with posting this. I did not know if I truly wanted people to know the depth of my depression and the desperate measures to which I turned. I feared that people would judge me and that they would think I was merely trying to seek attention. I feared that people would see my story as something to be ashamed of, rather than something to be shared. But after a lot of thought and a lot of deliberation I have decided that it is worth it to me to post this. It is worth it to me to make my story known. It may not be a happy story and I know there are many who would judge me harshly for having done the things I've done and experienced the things I've experienced…but it is my story, like it or not, and it is something I feel compelled to share. If even one person reads my story and realizes that they are not alone and that they are not the only ones who face the kind of depression, pain, and unhappiness that I faced…then it will have been worth it. If I can help to save even one person from the agony I went through, I will be satisfied that my story was not told in vain.

So I will do this in the style of most of my blogs. I have been working on a blogging series I call, “A Year of Thanksgiving.” It is basically a way for me to give thanks to God for the good things in my life and the things that I have been blessed with. Today, I will follow that mold. As I write my story, I will do it with a thankful heart.

For my entry today, I am simply thankful to be alive.

For those of you who don't know it, the things that I face in my life are not always as simple as the normal ups and downs. Don't get me wrong, They ARE normal ups and downs. But I do not see the world that most people do. Everything I do, everything I say, and everything I see is through a filter of depression. Not to say that I am a pessimistic person. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I am simply saying that I see the world through a filter that is not always sunshine and puppies and, as a result, I often do not deal with life’s normal ups and especially downs in a healthy way.

I am a self-injurer. To be more specific, I am a cutter, a head banger, and a biter.

I had always scoffed at people who self-injured and I had always looked at their scars with disgust. Why couldn't they just deal with their problems like everyone else? Did they think it was cool to carve up their arms and legs? Were they just seeking attention? Didn’t they realize how embarrassing it was to those of us who had to see their scars? You see I, like many people, was laboring under the delusion that self-injury was a choice. I was laboring under the delusion that people who self-injure always know exactly what they are doing and make conscious decisions to do it.

Self-injury isn't something I've done for a very long time, or at least cutting isn’t. I’ve been biting and head banging for as long as I can remember, even when I was just a little kid. There were times that there was just so much anger and hurt locked up inside, that I had to do something to get rid of it. I knew it wasn't right, I knew it wasn't good...but I never knew what to call it before the cutting started. But I digress, cutting is not something that I do to be "emo" or "cool." In fact, I'd like to say that cutting is one of the most shameful things that I have ever experienced or done in my entire life. The guilt attached to it and the self-loathing that comes after it is staggering. I would equate it to knowingly taking a child’s favorite toy away from them and then ripping it to pieces while they watched, simply because you want to hurt the child. It is vile, disgusting, and repugnant. Why then, you ask, do I do it?

Remember what I was saying about delusions before? About how I was laboring under the delusion that people CHOOSE to self injure and that they have a choice in the matter? For some, that might be true. For some, self-injury may be an attempt to look cool or to fit in or maybe to stand out. But having gone through it and experienced what it is like to cause yourself harm, I can tell you that I never chose to pick up the scissors. I never chose to draw my own blood. I never chose to bite myself until I bled or bang my head against a wall until I bruised. Because self-injury, to me, is not a choice. Self-inury, to me, represents a total loss of rational thought, a total loss of control. When I self-injure, it is my brain’s way of taking the pain, and the unhappiness, and the stress, and the hurt that I feel on the inside and giving me something tangible I can see, feel, and touch to match, express, and release those feelings on the outside. It is my brain’s way of coping. I can almost describe the sensation as something inside of me snapping. I am aware of what I am doing and some part of me even knows I shouldn’t do it, but at that point, there is no thought, there is no control. There is only pain and the need to release it.

But how did I go from scoffing at self-injurers to becoming one?

It all started way back in September 2009. I had just started my junior year of college and I was engaged to be married to the man I thought I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I was happy, happier than I had ever been in my life, and I couldn’t wait to be finished with school and to start my life with the man I loved. I was blinded by love, so much so that I never saw the heartbreak coming.

September 21, 2009 is a day I will never forget, so long as I live. I hadn’t heard from my fiancĂ© in nearly three days and I was freaking out. He was at home on leave from the Air Force at the time and I couldn’t see any reason why he hadn’t called me. I was worried, sick with fear that something had happened to him, and after those three days I couldn’t take it anymore. I made the two-hour drive home from college and tracked him down. When I finally found him, he told me that he no longer wished to marry me and that he had never loved me and never wanted to really be with me. I was devastated. Twice more, after that initial time, did he break my heart. The final time, in February of 2010, he emailed me to tell me that he was breaking up with me. I was devastated.

I spent the next six months in mourning and in pain. I still couldn't move past it. I longed for him every single day and had to exercise rigid self-discipline to keep myself from contacting him. I missed him and my heart ached for him. I worried myself sick about him being in the middle east (he was deployed) and I cried the day I found out he had made it home safely.

In August of 2010, I moved back to college to start my fourth and final year and, for the first time, I was living off-campus and completely on my own without a roommate. That was great...for about the first 2 days. And then I started to get lonely. Desperately lonely. I sank into a deep seated depression and I spent the vast majority of my time sitting alone in my recliner, crying my eyes out, and facebook stalking my ex, wishing I had the courage to contact him. I think that was also the first time I seriously considered suicide…and that was when I knew something had to change. So a week after I moved into my apartment, I walked into the Student Counseling Center.

That was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life. If I had been even slightly less depressed than I was, I don't think would have gone through with it, but I was in a dark place and I knew I needed help and soon. I walked into the counseling center, filled out some paperwork, and walked out with an intake appointment scheduled for the following week. When the day came for that appointment, I had to get a trusted friend to make me go. I was terrified. But I went and I have yet to regret that decision.

I was soon assigned to a graduate clinical psychology student and there started my weekly therapy sessions. Therapy was odd for me because I wasn't used to just opening up to someone, at least not about things that actually mattered, but it was strangely comforting to know I could be completely honest and candid with my therapist and not have to worry that he was going to judge me. The next several months passed quickly. There were lots of ups and downs and I went through some hellacious drama with an impromptu live-in boyfriend, but overall I was getting better. And, most importantly to me, I finally had a diagnosis for my inability to “get over” my relationship with my ex-fiancĂ©: Adjustment Disorder. I read everything I could about AD and learned that it was, in fact, a mental illness. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM), Adjustment Disorder is a psychological response to an identifiable stressor or group of stressors that cause(s) significant emotional or behavioral symptoms that occur within three months of the stressor. It was such a relief to me to have a name for what was wrong. It was such a relief to know that it wasn’t my fault and that I couldn’t control it.

When Christmas break rolled around, I was no longer pining after my ex. I felt good about my place in life and there was talk of ending therapy once we got back from break. During break, I met a guy online whom I had an instant connection with and he became…not exactly my boyfriend, but he was more than a friend and I felt happy again, happier than I had in more than a year. I thought my life was back on track. I thought everything was going to be okay.

I had no idea just how wrong I was.

When the new semester started, I went through some really huge changes again. I was student teaching at a local high school at the time and I was completely overwhelmed with everything I was being expected to do and everything going on in my personal life. I was dealing with sorta-boyfriend issues, ex-boyfriend issues, I had just found out that my ex-fiance was expecting a baby with a girl he had only known for a couple of months, I was not getting along with my parents very well, I felt ostracized from most of my friends, and I was just overall not okay. I was spiraling downward into a new depression that I wasn't sure I could crawl my way out of. Everything just kept building and building inside of me. I wasn’t eating, I was barely sleeping, I couldn’t concentrate, and I was completely overwhelmed. I knew I was getting dangerously close to a very, very dark place, but I didn't know how to get help. I didn't know how to tell anybody what it was that was bothering me so badly. I tried. I tried to tell my counselor, I tried to tell my real life friends, I tried to tell my message board friends…but I simply had no words for the desperation and the pain I was feeling inside. I put on a very happy face. My students had no idea that I was suffering. My friends, family, and professors had no idea how bad off I really was. But deep down, I knew something was terribly wrong.

The week of February 14th is the week that everything spiraled out of control. On that Monday night, I had had a fight with my sorta-boyfriend and was also fighting with my ex-boyfriend. As a result, I was less focused and prepared in my classroom on Tuesday. My host teacher did not handle that situation with grace. She ripped me apart and humiliated me in front of a class of 15 students and left me standing in front of the class, sobbing. It was absolutely devastating to me and I spiraled even lower than I already was. On Wednesday, I went to see my counselor. The changes with student teaching and all the drama in my life had prompted my counselor to continue seeing me, despite the thought around Christmas break that I might be close to graduating therapy. During that session, where I told him how down I was and how little hope I had, he asked me, "Do you want to hurt yourself?" Without even thinking, I replied, "Not really...not today anyway." I was shocked by my own response. Surely I didn't mean that. Surely I wasn't seriously considering hurting myself to get away from the pain. That was something emo teenagers did...not people like me. Not 22-year-old college students. Not people in their very last semester of college. It wasn't something a professional teacher would ever consider. I shook it off as a weak moment and told myself that I could not, would not, sink that low. If only I had known then and gotten the help I needed.

On Thursday, I had a wonderful day. I was observed by my supervisor for the first time and he had NOTHING but good things to say about me. I also went shopping with a friend and had a fabulous time. I was feeling better about myself and my life and I had a little hope for the first time in days. And then...I snapped.

When I got home that evening, I sat down to do my lessons for the next day and I was so overwhelmed. My heart was racing, my hands were shaking, I couldn't breathe, and I felt like I was suffocating. During that, I just happened to look over at my bedside table and found a pair of scissors lying there. Without even thinking, without even considering the implications of what I was doing, I picked them up, bent over my wrist, and started to cut.

The relief was unimaginable. For the first time in almost two months, I could truly feel. For the first time in two months, I could take a deep breath. I could feel the sting on my wrist and the blood on my fingers. It was glorious. It was wonderful. I felt so…alive. I’m pretty sure I actually smiled. But then, as the high wore off and the endorphins started to fade…I realized what I had done. Then the guilt started.

The next day was one of the longest days of my life. I made the arrangements for myself to take a day off and I went to the counseling center at 8 AM right when they opened the next morning. I had an appointment with my therapist at 10. When I went to my therapist the morning after I cut myself, I was...not in a good place. I was scared. I was vulnerable. I was hurting, both inside and out. I was terrified of what it all meant and I had no idea how I was going to deal with it. The guilt was threatening to engulf me and if there was ever a moment I wanted to die, it was then, because I didn’t want to face the rest of my life, knowing what I was now capable of. I didn’t want to face what I had done.

My therapist’s efforts that morning were life saving. He stabilized my mood and my thoughts enough that I was able to go to the people who later got me the help I needed. I have to commend him for that. It was the first time he had ever dealt with a client in crisis and even though I had to end up going over his head to get more help, he was instrumental in saving me that day. Without him, I would not have had the strength to go see the person who truly saved me.

After I left the counseling center, I went to see my student teaching supervisor. I had tried to call him the night before, but I couldn’t get ahold of him and I knew he needed to know what was going on. My therapist had helped me enough that I felt I could walk across campus without throwing myself in front of a car, but I knew I still needed help and I sought the only other person in the world I felt I could trust, Dr. K.

Dr. K. saved my life that day. If it hadn't been for his efforts and his refusal to back down until he was absolutely certain that I was going to be okay, I do not know what would have happened to me. When I came to him that day and told him the story of what had happened, he took care of me. He listened to me, he let me cry, he fed me, he watched over me, and he put all of his energy into finding the solution that would make me safe and would get me the help that I so desperately needed. I owe him a debt of gratitude that I will NEVER be able to repay.

After I left Dr. K., I went in to see Dr. G in the counseling center, the licensed psychologist who did my intake appointment in August. We put an action plan in place to keep me safe over the weekend and I was scheduled for two therapy appointments a week for a while. I eventually told my parents what happened and some time later I told the sorta-boyfriend.

I went a week and a half and I was feeling better. Things weren’t great, but they were getting there And then the sorta-boyfriend struck. He made me feel like crap for what I had done. He made me feel like scum, like a total selfish idiot. And I cut myself again because I felt I deserved it. Because the pain I was feeling on the inside needed to match something on the outside. If he was going to accuse me of all these things and make me feel this way, then I felt I needed to deserve it. This time was different though. I didn't tell anyone, save my therapist. I was too ashamed.

After that second instance of cutting and after I had gotten rid of sorta-boyfriend, I asked my therapist if my diagnosis had changed. And I learned that, again, my depression had a name: Major Depressive Disorder. I learned everything I could about it and it fascinated me. I learned that MDD was, again, a very real mental illness and I learned that it was not something I could control. I learned that people with MDD were very prone to self-injury and suicidal ideation. I learned that I was not alone and that MDD and the other classes of mood disorders were some of the most common mental illnesses in the world. But most importantly of all….I learned how to deal with it.

That was in March 2011 and it is now June. Sometimes I find myself falling back into depression without even knowing why it’s happening. It seems sometimes like the silliest things will send me spiraling back down. I fight against when it happens and I usually win. Three times I haven’t. Three times I have ended up with self-inflicted wounds on my skin, which eventually fade into scars. They are scars that I will carry for the rest of my life and, when asked about them, I may or may not tell the story. I’m not sure. But there are a few things I am sure about and here they are.

I will never give up and I will continue to fight my personal battles. I am not perfect. I slip up from time to time and even though I fight against it, sometimes the depression wins. But I will never give up hope that my brightest days are ahead. I will never forget that I have friends and family who love me and who are only a message or a phone call away. I will always remember that I am never alone and even when the world seems to be against me I don’t have to face the darkness by myself. And, most important of all, I will remember my faith and remember the God who loves me and the Savior who died for me and I will be thankful that I am alive.

There have been days that I have wondered why God burdened me with this illness and why it is mine to bear. But I know he would never give me a cross without the strength to hold it up. And even when my strength falters I know he will send me someone to help me as he has done throughout this whole ordeal and throughout my life. When I couldn’t bear the pain of my heartbreak, he sent me my therapist. When I couldn’t stand the feeling of being overwhelmed, he sent me my supervisor, Dr. K. When I couldn’t see a way out of the darkness, he showed me the way through the kindness of a friend. So I am thankful, so very, very thankful, to God the father for all he has blessed me with and for giving me a new chance at life and a new chance at happiness. I know life will be never be perfect and that the depression will always be a factor, but I also know that I am not alone and that is worth everything to me.

Thank you, friends, for reading my story. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to let me share it with you. I hope that it has touched you in some way and that you now have a better understanding of me and also MDD and AD. And please, dear friends, if you ever feel the pain of hopelessness and if you ever feel like your life is no longer worth living…please, reach out to your friends and your family. Seek help. You are not alone, my friends, and this is not the end of your story, just as it is not the end of mine.

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." - Romans 6:23

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