There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask ”What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling, what if you fly?
– Erin Hanson
The way I view life now, at 31, vastly differs from the way I viewed life at 10, 16, 21… and I think that’s the beauty in this crazy world. As children, we don’t know what life is about. We aren’t born with an innate understanding of our existence. We don’t hold all the answers about our future. Most of us don’t even have the answers as adults. We learn as we go. With life lessons at every turn, we can stumble along the way. Some of us are pushed harder than we think we can handle. We all have our personal threshold. It’s getting past that threshold and finding the power to persevere that allows us to see the strength within ourselves. This isn’t a story of depression or loss. It is my story of struggle and celebration. I am one of many girls who has conquered her demons and views life as something to be cherished. HOPE IS ALIVE.
I grew up in the Midwest, in a nice community, with minimal crime and plenty of opportunity. I had decent clothes. I participated in sports and music clubs. My dad read to my classrooms and my mom was a room parent. My little sister is a naturally gifted student. We had a seemingly great life. Like all households, we also had our fair share of secrets. To the outside world we probably seemed like a happy little family. Sometimes this was true. Often times, not.
Life was extremely hard in our house. It was a constant roller coaster. My once funny, energetic dad grew tired and drained over the years. My mother teetered between a supportive, soccer mom and a pill-popping zombie. From one day to the next, I never knew if my parents were going to be amazing, fun-loving parents or drunk, drugged, resentful, and angry. It became easier to assume the worse and in an effort to avoid the chaos, my sister frequently locked herself in her room and I took the opportunity to be out of the house as much as possible.
Outside the house, I tried hard to fit in and be accepted. I wanted to be happy but the pressure I put on myself to be anything than who I was, put me in a constant battle with myself. As a little kid I let myself get pushed around in an effort to go along with the in-group. Going through those awkward preteen years, I was mousy, brace-faced, and had the WORST haircuts. I put on a happy little face and jumped into conversations and hung out with everyone I could but I never really “fit”… or at least I never felt like I did. As an adult, I am learning that so many kids feel this way. Often times, the most talented, creative, special kids are the ones who don’t fit the mold.
The first time I remember thinking about hurting myself, I wasn’t much older than my own children. I was so dramatic at that age. The scary thing is that while I was young, what seemed like childish tantrums, turned into something darker. I became someone who used self-harming as an escape. As I got older, I beat myself up more and more about how worthless I was. The problems at home grew worse, and as high school went on and teenagers develop as they do, trying to find their place among friends within social circles, I felt even more alone. I hung out with more people than ever, but I never had one group. And while I wasn’t a “loner”, I was a floater. What I am coming to realize is there are SO MANY of us out there. For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, next time you are out, take a look at a group of kids. See that girl or boy that seems happy but is standing just a few feet back, out of the circle, and looking around or uncomfortably smiling…. you found her/him. We’re EVERYWHERE blending in like happy little teenagers, when in reality our head is screaming. I don’t know why. I still don’t have that answer.
So what changed? One of my attempts, became bolder than usual and there was no turning back. For a buildup of reasons and problems throughout the years that I never really faced or got help with, combined with an isolated incident of teenage heartbreak, my beautiful disaster of a brain became so overwhelmed. I was DONE. First, I sat on a railroad track, I felt guilty for the train engineer that would have to live with the repercussions of my choice, so I bought a couple bottles of OTC drugs and started swallowing. When I started to feel sick, I would wait a few minutes, swallow back down the sickness, and keep at it. It took me over an hour to take that many pills. Of course, I didn’t research any of this or know what would happen, so when all I felt was a little nauseous, I assumed my attempt had failed. I drove around aimlessly, upset, crying, and feeling even guiltier. I felt worse about myself. The rest is a jumbled mess of confusion. I told a friend what had happened, and that it hadn’t worked. What I didn’t realize was that during those past hours, my liver was getting pushed to the limit. I started sweating, my heart was pounding, I was dizzy, and it all kind of became a whirl-wind. I drove around, to a friend’s house (where my dad tried to get me help and I kept refusing), and then home, dangerously confused and dizzy. This is when I realized that I probably was dying. I didn’t want help. I just wanted to be left alone. My friend had followed me to my house, pulled me out of my car as I was passing out and sick, put me in her back seat, and brought me to the ER. They did everything they could to prevent liver damage and told us that we’d have to wait it out. A week later, after psych evals and blood tests galore, it was determined that my liver had started to regenerate and I was lucky. I didn’t feel lucky. I felt even worse because now I was a freak show. My closet-kept depression became fully public. I felt judged and miserable. Something needed to change.
The years between that horrible week in 2002 and now have brought so many changes. I joined the Army that year and I became a suicide prevention advocate. I started a little self-help group in Basic Training and AIT to help people talk through depression. The more I let others share their stories with me, the less guilty I felt about my own. Helping others started to help me feel like it could be possible to find happiness. I still battled feelings of worthlessness and emptiness here and there which I filled with bad choices and parties but in 2004, I was met with the challenge of becoming a mother. A single mother was not a title I ever saw myself claiming, but I knew God had put this together for me and when I saw my son’ face, I knew my purpose. Now it is 2015, and I am a wife to an amazing man and a mother to three beautiful children. I find happiness in helping others and helping teenagers find their place in the world. I decided to go back to school to base a career around this outlook. I am choosing to love life. I am learning to use the pain and turn it into something beautiful.
Do I still struggle? Absolutely. Is it worth it? No question. I wish someone would have told me when I was younger that even though life would be a series of struggles, the darkness would eventually lead to a better understanding of the light within myself. Don’t feel guilty about your struggle. Embrace it. Own it. Let it make you stronger. Know that hope is alive and you are so worth the fight.
Photo Credits: Brett Brooner