I am not alone because someone spoke up.
It wasn’t a friend who brought my disorder to the attention of someone who could take action to help. It wasn’t a family member, and it wasn’t an acquaintance of any sort. In the end, the person who first said “something is wrong” was, and still is, a complete stranger.
MTV had, once upon a time, done a public service campaign that bore mental illness, and the stigma against it, as a topic. A group of people working for the network and the campaign came to my High School in late 2000 to speak to the student body via assembly about understanding, assisting and advocating for those with different types of mental illness and showed a series of short documentary videos on the subject as well as had several speakers talk about their own experiences with mental illness.
It was less than a month later that my school guidance counselor called me into her office and confronted me about my practicing self injury.
Apparently someone had seen my scars and wounds while I changed in the girl’s locker room before (or after) a gym class and had, after seeing the presentation made at the assembly, decided to come forward anonymously and say something about what she had seen.
I was ashamed to say the least. I literally could not make eye contact with my guidance counselor for a good hour. I just sat there on her couch and looked at the floor as she called my mother at work and told her what was going on. I spoke to my mother briefly on the phone as well and listened as she promised me that all would be made alright in a tearful, shaky voice. My guidance counselor gave me some college selection guides to read, as college was something I was excited for at the time, so that I could take my focus off of my fear and, slowly, I became able to speak to her. By the end of the school day I was able to look at her once more.
She hadn’t told me, though, anything about how she had found out. I asked the only two friends I had that knew what was going on at that time, and both claimed to have said nothing. The terror I felt earlier in that office started to creep back in - who knew about what I had been doing? I thought I had been so careful, when had I slipped? I felt out of control and frightened, not only that I would now have to go home and face speaking to my parents about what I felt was my greatest shame, but I’d have to deal with someone knowing my secret whom I did not know back.
I started treatment not long afterwards, and it was a scant few months later that I found myself in the hospital by my own doing. I can remember the day I went into the hospital, lying there in my bed and thinking, tomorrow is Monday and I will have to go to school, and then being unable to fathom surviving another school day, much less another day at all. I did, however, feel comfortable asking to be taken to the hospital for admission because my parents, doctors, and others already knew of my illness and the accompanying disorders and symptoms, and so I was mentally able to reach out and ask for the help that I needed.
Over the years I would experience an additional 4 hospitalizations for issues ranging from self injury to depression to anxiety to an eating disorder. I’d find myself speaking to many therapists, trying many medications, and ever fighting towards a future that I finally started to feel, after years of hard work, was something that I could attain.
The pain I felt at that time feels so remote now in comparison to how things are for me now. I’m almost completely “normally” functioning. I hold a full time job as a video game tester, which I love and with which I can support myself. I live in an apartment on my own and, while subject to strong pangs of loneliness from time to time, I am able to handle keeping my own residence. I have good friends and places to go and things to do most evenings and weekends. I keep my therapy appointments and I take my medications every day. I am taking care of myself.
It was not until sometime later that my High School guidance counselor told me that the girl who came forward about my troubles had not been the only one to come forward with concerns about other students at that time. Apparently the presentation made in school that day had prompted a whole group of students to speak up about people they were worried about.
Knowing what power that informative presentation had to help people, whether it be getting someone to say something about someone they were concerned for or getting someone to say something about his or her own difficulties, I can’t help but feel the incredible need to do what I can to empower others to do the same as well. That presentation at school may have very well triggered a series of events that saved my life, in more ways than one, and I’ve become impassioned to do the same for even more people via presentations that I can make myself. I now am a speaker for the In Our Own Voice (IOOV) program run by NAMI, and I am so happy to be doing this work and potentially helping others, even if all I do is give someone the feeling that they, too, are not alone. If I could use my skills to advocate for and help others with (or who know someone with) mental illness full time I would do it in a heartbeat. In the end, it is because of others using their voices about mental illness that I know I am not alone, and that I am still here to fight another day.