This year I turn 26, although I feel ageless. I have struggled with mental illness as long as I can remember, but things didn’t get bad until I was about 13-years-old. That’s when I started to slowly lose control. As the years went on, the depression and insomnia worsened, so did my coping strategies. I caused myself a lot of pain and I caused others a lot of pain as well.
Looking back, I’m not exactly certain how I made it through the past thirteen years. It’s a miracle. Looking back, I know it’s time to find healing and allow that girl some forgiveness and grace.
If I could go back in time and somehow ease the pain, I would tell myself these things:
1. “It’s not your fault.”
I thought my pain was directly related to the sins I had committed. My lack of church attendance. My lack of faith. I felt that I was being punished for my behaviors. I really felt that God had not only forgotten me, but had knowingly rejected me. If God loved me, how could He allow me to go through such pain?
I would apologize and repent and get “straight” with my church and my family, but it didn’t make me happy. It didn’t give me purpose. It didn’t make the nightmares go away or help me sleep at night. I didn’t feel loved. I didn’t feel connected to anything on this earth and I really believed it was my fault.
Whether mental illness is my own divinely appointed burden to carry or just a freak genetic misfortune, it happened, and I certainly didn’t ask for it. If I could go back and take away the soul-crushing guilt and pain, I would. If I could take it away for you, I would.
2. “You are not alone.”
I felt like a freak. Walking down the halls my freshman year of high school, covering the scars on my arms and doing my best to hold myself together. I couldn’t concentrate during classes and if I didn’t have a boyfriend, I would have hidden myself in the bathroom all day.
I felt even worse after returning from a semester-long hiatus from school. Rumor had it that I had had a baby, gone on vacation, went to a spa retreat, and even died. In reality, I had spent 6 weeks at a wilderness therapy program, trying to get a grip of myself. After returning to school, I was more alone than ever before. I always felt alone in a crowded room. Nobody understood the insanity in my brain.
My parents knew I was struggling and suffering and they honestly did all that they could for me, but they didn’t understand what I was feeling. They didn’t understand that I was suffering from an illness, not a poor attitude or rebellious behavior.
Honestly, I felt alone until a few months ago when I started reading blogs written by persons who suffer from mental illnesses and/or chronic illnesses. The more articles I read, the more I realized the importance of community and having a support system. I realized the importance of being honest with ourselves and with others.
When I stopped hiding and started being honest and open, I realized that I am not alone. I wish I had known that ten years ago. I will never forget that haunting loneliness.
3. “You did the best that you could.”
I have spent too many years hating myself for the mistakes that I have made and for the pain that I have caused others as I have navigated through my mental illness(es). I have to remind myself often that “you only know what you know” and that as long as I am doing the best that I can and being the best that I can be, then there is nothing more I can do. I was young, ignorant, and completely submerged in pain. I could have never imagined the agony and the loss that I would eventually encounter. There is no way to prepare yourself for that.
Are you doing the best that you can with what you have? Are you learning from your mistakes?
4. “You are enough.”
I spent ten years of my life loving, missing, and grieving over a guy who was honestly not right for me. There was a place that I created with him, in the reality that I so badly wanted to escape from. A place where I could be comfortable in my own skin, where I felt loved, where I felt accepted, where I wasn’t ashamed, where I was strong. The problem is, I’m human. We all make mistakes. I put everything I had into this person and when he was gone, there was nothing left of me.
I spent years scraping up bits and pieces of myself. Trying to get to know myself without him. Trying to remember who I was before him. It took ten bloody years, but I eventually made a special place in reality, just for myself. Where I am comfortable in my own skin, where I am loved, where I am accepted, where I am not ashamed, and where I am strong. On my own, without the acceptance from others.
If I could go back, I would tell myself that I am enough. Just me. Mariah. On my own.
I am enough.
5. “You are more than a stigma.”
A part of me felt that my mental illness was just a phase. That the insanity and depression would go away after high school. I was told that “this is just what teen-agers go through” and that “if you start acting like an adult, things would be easier for you.” No and… no! That made me feel that I had no control at all over my situation or behavior and that things would magically be better after I graduated. Well, I did graduate, and here I am 7 years later, still battling my mind.
I so desperately want the stigma surrounding mental illness to change. Especially regarding adolescents. It’s not just a teen-age phase. Mental illness can strike any individual at any time in their life. Unfortunately, a lot of people didn’t understand this back then. If I could go back, I would tell myself to be strong and not hide behind the stigma and the labels that I permitted to so falsely represent me.
6. “Some things are permanent. Some are not.”
When we are young, time goes by very slowly. High school was the longest four years of my life. It honestly felt like three eternities to me. Adolescents feel that pain is permanent, that friendships and relationships last forever, and that their minds will never change. That they could never love someone more than they can love someone now. That their tastes and personalities will never waver. As an adult, I know this is simply not true. In some ways, I feel that I am the same person I was ten years ago. However, when I look in the mirror, I am glad to see that I am not completely the same.
If I could go back, I would tell myself to laugh more and to love more, instead of being so afraid. I would tell myself that the pain of losing loved-ones would eventually ease. That the scars on my body would eventually fade. That I would grow up to be a beautiful and strong woman, although some of my trials would still haunt me.
7. “Thank you.”
If I could go back, I would say thank you. Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for not giving in. Thank you for pressing forward through the pain in every moment and the weight of each passing day. Thank you for not killing yourself, because there is still beauty in this world. There are still days that I feel alive. There are people I love that I can live for. Thank you for having faith in the light that you couldn’t see back then.
I encourage you, no matter where you are at in your journey, to forgive yourself and move forward. Love yourself. Take care of yourself. Help others do the same.