I was in a horrific car accident with my boyfriend at the age of seventeen. We had all been drinking. I ended up with broken pelvic bones and a closed head injury. It took 15 weeks before I was healed and out of the hospital. It was months before I could ride with other people driving and I have never been completely comfortable with others driving since. I started having panic attacks. Even the thought of having to ride in a car made me nervous. I ended up dropping out of high school and wasn’t able to graduate with my class – one of the many bad choices I would live to regret. Post-traumatic stress was something I had to educate myself about because, before, I believed that only soldiers suffered from this disorder. My father died a few years prior to this and when I was 24 my mother died a horrible death of hepatic shock after complications from back surgery. At the time I was dating a guy who got too drunk and tried to drive his truck through a building. His gas tank exploded and he suffered third degree burns over 85% of his body and died two days later. There was a funeral but I was never able to say good-bye. As I was with my dying mother, my friends decided not to tell me about the situation. They thought they were sparing me from another emotional breakdown. Really, it just made me mad that they would hide things from me; trying to protect me only made it worse. I was then in an abusive relationship with my son’s father for fifteen years. I had already been labeled an emotional, unbalanced woman. According to him and my family doctor, all the symptoms and pain I endured for years was all in my head and I should seek counseling. I found out that the father of my son, whom I spent the last fifteen years dedicating myself to, had been lying to me about our relationship. He had another family with someone he had introduced me to as his “friend,” when my son was about two. This family soon became a part of my family and I lived in complete denial for the last years we were together. Choosing to end this relationship was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I became a single mom of a ten-year-old overnight. I had no money, no job, and the only skill I believed I had was being a good babysitter. The chance that my son will suffer from mental illness is doubled by just living with me. I had to heal myself and somehow make a life for myself and him.
After being diagnosed with major depression, I was prescribed medication and told I would have to take it the rest of my life. My whole life finally made sense to me. Until this point I spent most of my life feeling hopelessly unloved by everyone. It was a relief when I found out I wasn’t just stupid and unmotivated. I had a disorder that, with years of therapy, groups, coping skills and pretending I could handle my own life, would become my reality. I was able to quit drinking within months but it took years before I could quit smoking. I tried to hide my depression most of my adult life, drowning myself in a world filled with alcohol and drugs. I had been self-medicating to try to rid my mind of what I believed to be the demons that kept me from really loving myself unconditionally and others, as everyone deserves to be loved.
When I was offered the chance to become a Peer Support Specialist, I was scared, but I forced myself to apply. I was hired, took the training for Peer Supports and became Certified. I had achieved many of my goals by focusing on peers that were a whole lot worse off than I was. I believe I found my purpose.
I am sharing my story for two reasons. The first is because putting my story out there in public is one of my biggest fears, and I know from experience that the only way to get over your fears is to face them head on. After living through telling my story, I will have more confidence in myself and my journey toward recovery. The second is because I want to instill HOPE in other’s lives, for people who continue to suffer and struggle for years to get the help and support that will allow them to have a better quality of life. Stigma in having a mental illness is a hard obstacle to overcome but it can be done.