a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
[content warning: self-harm, sucide]
I tell myself to breathe in and out. My fingers tap the desk - steady and fast like the sound of my beating heart. My left leg shakes like it always does when I am anxious as if there is a rumbling earthquake happening right below me. My parents stared at me with glassy eyes, looking at me without recognition. It was like they forgot I was their daughter, and I was instead replaced with some foreign alien from a different planet. This broken, red-eyed monster sitting in front of them could not possibly be the daughter they raised. I wait for the doctor to tell me their plan of action like a defendant on trial, waiting for sentencing. The air is thick and heavy with unspoken words, unshed tears, and a million questions.
In retrospect, the most important questions were being asked inside my head: Why am I here and how did I get here? How did I, the star student, a varsity cheerleader, a headstrong young woman with big goals and a bright future, end up in a mental facility? How did my life entirely fall apart? There are about a dozen answers to those questions and countless amounts of factors.
The simplest, most unadulterated answer to that question was that I was suffering from mental illness - specifically Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), but what most people do not realize is that there is a story behind my illnesses, a person who has gone through life hurt and struck downtime and time again. This person still feels this way. This is not an encouraging story about how I fought off depression and became a better person. This story is not about how I came out of the mental hospital feeling better than ever and ready to conquer anything. It is simply my story.
Time does not heal a cut or wound - disinfecting alcohol, medicine, and band-aids are actually responsible. The same can be said about life with mental illness. Today, probably the most considerable component keeping me from kicking the bucket is the medicine I am taking. The band-aids are just me continuously attempting to smother my feelings down so that I forget about them. As for the alcohol, well, that one really does not apply to me. A lot of people, however, turn to substance abuse to cope with their emotions.
If one relies on time to get better - they will be sorely disappointed. “Give it time, Ariel!” is a load of crap. I’ve given it four years. Four years is a lot of time facing such daunting issues that no kid should have to deal with - death, betrayal, and uncontrollable emotions. Four years of that makes a person extremely tired of living…
That is probably the biggest reason I ended up in the hospital - tiredness. I was tired of getting up every day and going to school, wearing a fake smile tainted on my face like a clown in the circus, and doing all the things an ordinary 15-year-old girl is expected to do. I just could not physically do it. I no longer wanted to eat food, get out of bed, or drink water. I really just wanted to jump off a roof and die. That was my plan. Dying.
When people attempt suicide, their friends and family view it as a selfish act, and if the person survives their attempt, their loved ones often ask, “How could you do this to me?”. This was the case with me, and of course, it made me feel bad. I never intended to hurt anybody (except myself). I did not want to add to their own sufferings and grievances, which shows my own amount of suffering. Looking back, I was in a lot of pain that had accumulated over four years, and to understand why I did what I did, we must go back to the beginning.
For a long time, I believed that there was a specific pinpointed day in my life where everything went wrong. Before that, I must have been a happy young girl with a good life and no problems. It took a long time for me to realize that this was far from the truth. In sixth grade, I put a blade to my right wrist and sliced my skin into bloody ribbons. I thought that I hated myself at the time. Little did I know, I would not feel the full effects of pure internal hatred until I grew older. Yet, I was still ok. I had bad days like everyone, but I did not have a bad life. I had an excellent middle-class family with enough money to keep me happy, two loving parents, and I did decently in school. I still do not have a bad life. Instead, it is a hard, complex one.
I remained afloat in sixth grade because I still had passion and talent - I was an actress and a gymnast. Although stressful at times, these things served as a distraction from the ever-growing darkness in my stomach that sometimes loomed over me like a haunting ghost. Over the years, I lost sight of my passions, and these talents slowly drifted away from me. I still remember how it felt to be up on the stage singing and dancing with my friends or how it felt to be soaring through the air while performing a back tuck. I can smell the chalk put on before using the bars and feel the warmth of the stage lights on my skin. It hurts to remember - and my biggest regret is giving up these passions. To this day, I yearn so badly to reignite the fire that once burned so bright in me and recommence my path to greatness, but every time I reach my hands out to grasp a goal, I yank it back in fear of failure. Although I did not give up gymnastics until a later date, there was a specific reason I stopped acting - my grandmother’s death.
The summer before I entered seventh grade, I had landed my first professional acting job. I enjoyed my time during play rehearsals and getting to practice with new people. During that period, I felt like I was on top of the world. Yet, right below my feet, unbeknownst to me, a reckoning was waiting for me.
All the time that I spent happy, my grandmother was dying due to breast cancer. I still feel guilty for my happiness and joy and wish I could’ve spent all that time rehearsing with her. I know that I should not feel guilty, as it is what she wanted for me - to be happy. I have forgiven myself for it, but there are moments - short-lasting moments leaving me feeling hollow and sore - where I find myself angry at her. The last time we spoke before her death was a couple weeks prior.
I asked her how she was doing, and she said to me, “Don’t worry about me Ariel! Remember what I told you?”.
I answered no, and she replied, “Grandma is going to be here for a very long time.” I did not know that was a poorly thought-out lie. I contemplate her statement a lot and think...maybe she thought she would be there for me spiritually and would watch over me. It was a load of crap.
I was at a play rehearsal. The sun was shining so brightly that day, and it lightly burned my skin. I felt eccentric and joyous, and when my father came to pick me up, I told him how well I did during the complicated dance sequence that we learned. I remember how stoic his face was, and he let me rant on to him, despite knowing that he knew what he would share with me would instantly destroy me. He said, “Ariel, your grandmother is in the hospital, and I am sorry but she isn’t going to make it.”
Boom - there it was - the words that upended my entire life. I collapsed in the middle of the road, screaming as though the world was ending. For me, it felt like it. One of the people who I loved most in the world was gone. My father dragged me into the car, and I sat in there crying my eyes out, unable to stop. From there, we picked up my mother and went to the hospital.
Because of her death, I hate hospitals, and I find it ironic that I still spent eight days living in one despite my hatred. I hate the strong smell of disinfectant, the waiting rooms filled with anxious family members, and most importantly, the sick, dying people contained there. As I filed into the elevator with my uncles and parents, I found myself almost suffocating.
I looked at the elevator doors and knew that once I reached the floor of the IC unit, my life would change forever. No more going over to her house on Saturdays for rice and beans and watching Law and Order episodes. No more going to church with her and my grandfather or walking around the Bronx on hot summer days, eager for an Italian Icee. As I predicted, my life did drastically change. Everything after that short ride in the elevator on August 20, 2017, felt surreal. I still remember seeing her lying in the hospital bed, and I thought to myself, “How could she have gotten so tiny...even tinier than she was before?” It was not until later that my father told me that she only weighed about 90 pounds due to cancer. I was in complete shock, and I remember feeling so lightheaded. She was on a ventilator and could not breathe on her own. Her hair was matted to her face, and her eyes bulged - a horrific sight. For a long time, I thought it must’ve been a prank - my real grandmother was hiding under the bed or outside the door. This person lying in front of me could not be the same woman who raised me.
She did not die until the following day. My family was waiting for my uncle to arrive from Florida, so they kept her on the ventilator. I remember coming back to the hospital that day, arriving only half an hour after her death. My grandfather sat at her bedside, and despite his own grief, he greeted me with a cheerful smile and a happy demeanor, proof of his strength and resilience. He asked me to give my grandmother a farewell kiss, and as I slowly leaned down to her face, I again felt this sense of unrecognition, so I pulled my face back in disgust at the last second. My eyes, red with tears, looked like a deer caught in headlights. I fled the room with my sister, and we sat outside the hospital. She tried to console me, and eventually, it worked. I never went back inside that hospital, and I don’t think I could if someone paid me a million bucks. Even when passing it, I look away in fear.
After her funeral, my life slowly crumbled right before my eyes. I started failing school. English, once my greatest strength, became my downfall. History, once an exciting escape, became a burden. Math and science, always a challenge, became impossible. I no longer wanted to act, as being on the stage reminded me of that sullen day, and once the play finished, I lost interest in theatre. I also quit gymnastics, but only to start cheering. Cheerleading soon became a distraction from my grief, which grew to an unmanageable extent.
They say that there are five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I know all of them too well. I prayed to God almost every day, wishing He could bring her back or help me not feel the neverending pain. I avoided every place and everything that reminded me of her, especially going to church. I slowly lost my faith in God, and soon, it ceased to exist.
This pattern continued for two years - pushing everyone away, cutting myself, and obsessing over someone who was no longer there - a tortuous cycle. My cutting quickly landed me in therapy, as my parents became the most supportive people you could find. They only wanted to help me, and they did everything to make it work, even though I could sense that they too were suffering and going through a hard time.
Then, high school began. I needed the transition from high school to middle school. I also became a successful student, somehow pulling my grades from the bottom of hell to the top of Everest. I even finished off my freshman year with a 98.7 average. Yet, this success in school brought on a new challenge - severe anxiety. I could not write my essays without tearing up the page or take a test without biting my nails to the point where I would bleed. Everything made me anxious, especially loud noises.
Then, COVID-19 hit. If I thought things were worse before, I had no idea what was ahead. I was in complete isolation, and my brain started to create realities that were not real. I found myself intolerable, and my self-confidence plundered. I no longer wanted to look in the mirror or eat food, fearful that I would gain weight. I ended up losing ten pounds. I truly hated the person I was and thought that other people hated me as well. I spent my days lying in bed, hiding from the crazy world outside, hoping that my heavy comforter would protect me from everything. Instead, the comforter suffocated me and left me surrounded by depression. I did not even realize how depressed I indeed became. I do not think anyone does. You do not learn until it is too late.
In my case, I did not realize until I was being admitted to a mental hospital. I could not get out of bed. I no longer wanted to do my school work, something I took pride in and pleasure in. I did not want to read my books or watch tv. I felt hopeless and catatonic. I felt out of options. My only option was to die or go to a hospital, so I decided that it was what I would do. I would give the hospital a try and get the help I so desperately needed.
Unfortunately, being there did not significantly improve my well-being. If anything, I got worse afterward. I entered there with a heavy heart and came out with a heavy mind. The mental hospital is basically a summer camp for depressed people. I spent my time doing arts and crafts, writing letters, and filling out word searches. I also finished way too many movies and played way too much soccer. It effectively tricked my brain into thinking that I got better. The thing about the hospital, though, is that it is a perfect, ideal utopia with no stressors. Anyone would get better if they were being cared for 24 hours a day, and their only expectation was not to die.
After I came out of the hospital, I realized that the real world is full of stressors and triggers, and I felt vulnerable to it all. I no longer knew how to cope with the constant stress I was under. Again, I felt out of options. I knew that the hospital wouldn’t help...so I turned to my last choice - overdosing on pills.
It was 12:00 at night. My parents were asleep. Everything was silent. I crept downstairs to the medicine cabinet. My friends knew something was wrong already, and I texted them all a brief goodbye, much less than they deserved. I poured my dad’s heart pills into my hand, and they felt cold to the touch. I held a glass of water in my other hand, and I sat in my living room facing a mirror, so the last thing I would view would be my convulsing body. Tears flowed down my face as I silently wept. I did not want to die. I just felt like there was nothing else to live for. I felt like I was living for other people, and sometimes, I still think that way. Then, a miracle happened. My father got up to use the bathroom. An action so minuscule and insignificant led him to save me. He heard my crying, and when he made his way down the stairs, I dropped the pills in my hand, the moment going by as if in slow motion. I was saved. I survived. I will keep on living, all because I was given a second chance.
Life has taught me to not waste my second chances or blessings. For example, if I had the chance to see my grandmother again, I would take it in an instant. There is no set solution or plan to improve my life or get better. No amount of time can heal the wounds that life has created in my heart and my mind. They will always be there, but that does not mean the wounds will always bleed. They will soon fade into scars, simple reminders of the past. My mental illness will never go away. I will always have to live with it, but that does not mean I can not survive it. Time can not wholly heal my mind, but I can. I still have amazing parents and amazing friends who brighten the darkness that looms over my life. There is always good to outweigh the bad. Going to a hospital will not always heal a person, nor will medication or therapy. The person is responsible for healing themselves. You are the one who must choose to heal your wounds, not relying on everyone else to bandage them. You can heal, and one day, just maybe, I can too.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.