Interview Sixteen: There’s Beauty in the Breakdown
“I got so, so good at pretending. I remember my psychiatrist saying to me, ‘You say this Prozac isn’t working, but I can’t see how you can still be depressed when you’re just sitting there smiling at me.’ I couldn’t believe she said that to me. It’s like, ‘Yes, because that’s what I chose to let you see. What you think about me, is what I’m allowing you to think about me. You don’t know me at all.'”
[Content Warning: Suicide and Suicidal Thoughts, Self-Harming Behavior, Extremely Disturbing Visual and Auditory Hallucinations, Binging and Purging, Self-Medication with Illegal Drugs, Strong Language]
Reading Time – 16 minutes
Insecure Attachments and Routine
As a child, for as long as I can remember, I had crippling anxiety. My mom had me when she was still in college, so my grandparents raised me. They were very traditional… very religious, so right from the start I grew up in a very strict Catholic household. I am no longer Catholic, but I think that was actually a big part of my OCD, because I feared God and the Devil so much. It was such an inherent fear. I was really terrified of religion… everything about it.
My life changed when my mom met a guy who lived in Florida and moved us there. I was around six or seven, and at that point I had already developed a secure attachment to my grandma. She was everything to me. Every night when we lived in Florida – we lived there for a year – I would call my grandma on the phone sobbing, begging her to come and pick me up. My mom hadn’t really been in my life, and she was dating someone that I didn’t know. He had a kid, so all of a sudden I had a brother, dad, and mom… instead of two grandparents. It was a huge change for me, and I was not handling it well.
I would just cry all the time, every day. My mom took me to a psychiatrist, who said, “Oh, well, you need to establish a routine. Make sure she does everything at the same time, in the same order, every day. That way she will start to adjust to this.” My mom made sure I followed this routine, and I actually really liked it. I continued doing it for a very long time as a kind of comfort tool. I’m not sure exactly when it became something more than that.
I was so young I didn’t really know how to explain it… the compulsive thoughts I would hear… I would describe them as “The Voices.” They terrified me, because I also had that extreme base in religion. Are these demons? Am I being haunted? Am I so close to death that I’m crossing the threshold here? I just don’t know. The compulsions would infiltrate my life every second of every day. There is no break when you have OCD. Every single step I’d take… it would be like, “Take another step. Take an even step. Go back to that table and touch it five times, then come back here and step again.” All these dumb things.
Even as a child, I was like, “Why? Why do I have to do this?” And the only reason I did… adhere to the compulsions… was because The Voices would tell me that they would kill my grandma if I didn’t do it. I couldn’t have them kill my grandma… She was the only person that mattered to me. I was like, “I will walk back there and touch that table five times, if it means my grandma will be okay.”
I kind of just let it grow into something that was really severe, just by not telling anyone about it. The Voices would always say I couldn’t tell anyone about it. I struggled silently with that for years. It was such a terrible time, and I’m not sure how I got through it. Like I said, every single thought you have, there’s an intrusive thought bumping into it… trying to get you to do things you don’t want to do. And you end up doing them, because why not?
Rejecting The Voices
I had this reoccurring dream when I was younger… and this is a little weird… I had this dream that I was pregnant. I was nine years old, clearly I was not pregnant. But in this dream, I was pregnant, and someone had told me in the dream that because I was pregnant, The Voices couldn’t harm me. The Voices had no power, because I had another person inside of me. I kept having this dream, so I thought that maybe this dream was trying to tell me something. I decided to stop listening to The Voices… that everything would be fine. I stopped listening, and it was fine… for a while.
But, then one night, my cousin killed himself. I was laying in bed after I found out, and I heard The Voices again. I told myself I needed to just push them out of my head again, like I had been doing, and everything would be fine. The Voices got angry and became so loud. They said in a sing-songy taunt, “We know why your cousin killed himself. We know why… and you’re next. Your cousin didn’t listen to The Voices, so we killed him. You’re going to kill yourself, and no one is going to know it was because of us!” I didn’t know what to do, and they were just screaming at me… I ran into my mom’s room, jumped on the bed, hid under the covers, and started sobbing. I screamed, “Please don’t let The Voices kill me!”
Mom Doesn’t Believe in Mental Illness
The next day we got a psychiatrist appointment. In the appointment, it really took a long time for me to overcome The Voices, because they really didn’t want me to tell him anything. But I wanted someone to help me. I told the psychiatrist about it, and The Voices said, “You fool!” He diagnosed me as schizophrenic and said that I needed to be on antipsychotic medication, possibly on lockdown. My mom is very anti-medication. She also doesn’t really believe in mental illness, which played a very interesting role in my development. She said there was no way I was getting an antipsychotic medication. We came home, and she was like, “I don’t want to hear about this anymore. You’re fine. Ignore The Voices, and they’ll go away.”
I can’t remember how many years it was, but I just dealt with The Voices silently and did the compulsions. Most of the compulsions were minor, but I had a severe problem with hand washing. I would scrub my hands until they bled, so I had to wear these special gloves everywhere that had a medicated ointment. My hands were destroyed. There was no skin on them. My mom just said it was my fault. That it wasn’t a mental illness or anything… that I just wanted attention. I really tried to stop doing that, because I didn’t want attention. I was a shy kid. I just wanted to be left alone. I loved to hide places and just read. I didn’t want anyone to bother me, ever.
On The Verge of Giving Up
I was bullied a lot in school, because people would see me doing these compulsions. I remember I had those Trix yogurt cups with the two flavors. I would stir the two colors together, but I wasn’t allowed to stop stirring until The Voices told me I could. So I would sit there and keep stirring it at lunch. This one girl who always picked on me would say, “Why are you still stirring that?” One time, she flipped the yogurt on me, and I said, “You’re going to make The Voices so mad!” The Voices told me I had to keep the compulsions a secret, which added a whole new layer of anxiety to it. I ended up switching schools because the bullying was so bad, but I couldn’t explain to my mom why I was being bullied. I wasn’t allowed to talk about it.
Before I started high school, I started getting really sick of these compulsions. I was depressed, and I started to recognize how depressed I was. It got to a point where I was like, “You know what? I don’t care! You want to kill my grandma? Kill her! You say you’re going to kill me? Please do! Please kill me! I don’t care.” After that, they had no power over me. They never followed through on the threats, so I kept responding in that same manner.
I was being tough, but at the same time, it was a complete sense of giving up. I didn’t care. I couldn’t deal with it anymore. I started embracing my mental illness. I welcomed it. It comforted me. It made me different from other people. I was compelled to understand why. I was morbid. I liked disturbing things… I appreciated them, and they comforted me. It felt like there was nothing else I could connect to. I liked thinking about death, pain, and fear… all of these complex emotions that were considered to be taboo. Things that people “don’t feel,” because we aren’t allowed to acknowledge them.
Beauty, Perfection, and Control
I went to an all-girls Catholic high school, and I hated it. I felt so different, so depressed. Instead of going to lunch and trying to make friends, I would hide by my locker. No one ever walked by there, so I would just eat lunch by myself at my locker. I didn’t want to be around anyone, because I didn’t feel like anyone understood me. I started self-harming… cutting myself. My mom finally got me into therapy, reluctantly, and I started taking off-brand Prozac.
The medication wasn’t really helping, so by sophomore year, I was still cutting… plus I started adding on diet pills and bulimia. I was really obsessed with pretending and control. The whole idea of it. I redefined myself. Because I had been bullied for so long, I just wanted to be accepted. And the only way I could see myself being accepted was if I could hide everything that was wrong with me… and create a new person.
I got so, so good at pretending. I remember my psychiatrist saying to me, “You say this Prozac isn’t working, but I can’t see how you can still be depressed when you’re just sitting there smiling at me.” I couldn’t believe she said that to me. It’s like, “Yes, because that’s what I chose to let you see. What you think about me, is what I’m allowing you to think about me. You don’t know me at all.” I started really resonating with that feeling of “you don’t know me.” I liked that about myself, that all of my friends… no one knew the real me.
During this time, I really wasn’t eating, like, at all. I would not eat for two days maybe… and then I would binge. I would eat tons of junk food… then I would throw it all up. I don’t know how I survived. I got obsessed with the societal expectation of beauty and perfection, and I wanted to obtain that. I remember one day, I was sitting on the couch, and my mom said to me, “You look like you gained some weight. You’re going to have to do whatever it takes to lose that.” I know she didn’t say it out of cruelty… She held herself to that same standard
Experiencing Physical and Mental Illnesses
During my junior year when my depression was at its worst… I was in a dance class, and I accidentally did a flip onto my head and gave myself a very severe concussion. It’s funny how anything that I said relating to the concussion, my mom was so sympathetic towards… She’d be like, “I’m so sorry! Let’s get you some treatment!” So much empathy and understanding from everyone in my life.
And I’m angry! Before the concussion, none of my therapists even asked about my weight… how I was starving myself. I wasn’t getting proper nutrients… I wasn’t sleeping. I was really depressed. I was having the hallucinations. I wasn’t allowed to see my boyfriend. And no one thought to say, “How much sleep are you getting? Are you getting the right nutrients? How much coffee are you drinking?”
People look at physical illness and mental illness in a completely different way. They tell you to get over it, but sometimes you can’t! I thought that finally, now that I had the concussion, people would understand that I’m not doing well. Maybe I could finally get some relief… take a break. You can’t take a mental health break, but taking a physical health break is fine. I really did milk that concussion for a long time… because I needed that.
The Black Things
During junior year, things got so bad that I had to do an after-school partial program at Western Psych. I actually liked it. I thought it was helping. I had never really been around people with problems like me. It was awesome, but at the time, I also had terrible mania. You can go to so many different therapist offices and get so many different diagnoses. Every time you can get a different medication prescribed for you… when, in reality, they’re ignoring the basic things… like, that the medication might be making you manic. But no one thought that.
I was basically bouncing off the walls. They figured it was because I was on such a high dose of Prozac, so they lowered that, but then upped the Abilify. I started feeling really confused about everything. I started experiencing this thing I called “The Black Things.” It was visual and auditory, and it was always when I was alone. I would be sitting in my room at night, and I would see black shadows or a black figure in the corner of my room. They would move along everywhere, like creepy and powerful. They would say things in that same singing, mocking tone, which I hated! I couldn’t stand it, like, don’t mock me! They would sing, “We know that you’re going to kill yourself.”
To this day, I don’t know if the reason I was experiencing the terrible visual hallucinations was because of the cocktail of medications they had me on… if it was because the concussion shook some things up in my head. It started to get so bad that I couldn’t be in school anymore because of my hallucinations. I was sent to an outpatient treatment program instead of school, and I absolutely loved it there.
Suicide and a Sense of Control
My first suicide attempt… I had really gotten into cutting, because it gave me this sense of control. I was grounded, under lock and key, because I had been sneaking out to see this boy. My mom hated him, because he was really into marijuana. I wasn’t interested in marijuana at the time, but she didn’t like that influence. I really wanted to be with him, because he was the only one I felt like I could talk to. When I would tell him how scared I was of The Black Things, he would listen.
My mom nailed my window shut. I wasn’t allowed to do anything, and it made my depression so much worse. It felt like no one understood me, and the only person who did… I wasn’t allowed to see or talk to. I wasn’t allowed to be alone at all, even in the bathroom. I even had to sleep in my mom’s bed.
[Content Warning: Suicide and Suicidal Thoughts, Self-Harming Behavior]
One day I ran into the bathroom, and I cut both of my legs as many times as I could, as quick as I could, with a razor. There were at least 20 cuts. I wanted that to kill me. I liked the blood, because it was something my mom couldn’t control about me. I barely had any time to do it, then pull up my sweatpants, before she followed me into the bathroom. My mom said I had to go to bed, so I went and laid in bed, and I remember thinking, “This is it. I’m not going to wake up. Great.” But I did wake up… to my mom screaming… because I had bled through my sweatpants. She took me to Western Psych, where they diagnosed me as bipolar.
My sense of time was really distorted at this point, but sometime after my diagnosis as bipolar I tried to kill myself a second time. I liked abusing NyQuil. I starved myself for a few days, took a handful of random pills, and then chugged the rest of my bottle of NyQuil and cut my legs a few times. I crawled into my room and passed out as soon as I reached my bed, positive that this time I would not be waking up. I woke up the next day groggy and so confused that I was alive… because I shouldn’t have been.
I made a friend around this time who also had a mental illness, and she would defend me whenever someone would say, “Oh look… that girl’s crazy. Look at the cuts on her legs.” She would defend me fiercely. But, we fell out of touch, because she said I was bringing her down. We were both in treatment for our mental illnesses, but mine was getting so bad, while hers was getting better. It felt like everyone had abandoned me.
Everyone around me at school knew I was very mentally ill. I was so confused… I wrote in my journal: “I have terrible paranoia every day. I can’t wake myself up from this drowsy dream state.” I started abusing alcohol and pills… anything that was remotely bad for me. I was like, “Let’s do it!” Because nothing was real anymore. I was extremely confused. I would get up in the middle of class, because I thought the bed rang.
One time, I was alone in the bathroom at school… I looked into the mirror, and I saw my reflection, but it wasn’t me. My reflection was in the mirror with a knife, and it cut my throat while smiling. I watched the blood drip out, and the reflection started laughing. I fell onto the floor, sobbing. I wasn’t sure if it had happened or not. I threw up and just hugged myself on the floor.
I started giving myself chemical burns. It would leave a terrible mark, and I liked trying to see the limits of what I could handle… how far I could push myself. I started to cut myself and then burn the cut. But it wasn’t enough for me. My third suicide attempt… I was driving a car in the rain, and I just swerved into the oncoming traffic. I just wanted a head-on collision. My mom was in the car with me, which was a terrible thing for me to do. I just wanted my life to be over. At the last second, she grabbed the wheel, and we ended up in a ditch. I felt so trapped, for a large part of my life.
The Beginning of Recovery
I started seeing this therapist at my outpatient program through Western Psych. He would show disappointment and hold me accountable whenever I’d cut myself, saying, “I just care about you. I don’t want you to do this.” He would let me sit in his office and cry to him for hours. I had never experienced that in a therapist. It caused me to try and be better. I also connected with a lot of other patients at the program… people I’m still friends with today. I know you aren’t supposed to do that, but these were people who understood me.
When I turned 18, I moved out on my own. I stopped contact with my mom and moved in with my boyfriend, the same one I have been dating since age 15. I stopped taking my medications, because I thought I didn’t have health insurance. I put myself through college by waitressing, and now I’m about to graduate with my Bachelor’s. I’m doing my senior year now online, since I tended to isolate myself on campus.
I’m not sure when the hallucinations stopped being such a problem in my life… maybe around 19 or 20. They just stopped naturally after I stopped my medications and started taking care of myself… plus I finally had some loving support in my life from my boyfriend. Whenever I would sob from terrifying hallucinations, he would hold me and make me feel better. Knowing that someone could see the real me and not be frightened made me feel like I was no longer alone.
Experiences with Self-Medication
Today, I still struggle with depression and anxiety. One night I came home from work and I was just so upset with life, and I didn’t know why. Thinking, “Why do we have to live? It’s exhausting! I’m not interested in it.” I wanted to kill myself, and I was home alone. My boyfriend and I were fighting, and he was at work anyway. I went into the bathroom, and saw that I had a bunch of old Prozac. I always thought it would be so ironic to kill myself with Prozac, because it’s supposed to help you.
While I was getting the Prozac and some alcohol ready, I noticed that my boyfriend left some weed out. I wasn’t a regular smoker, but I knew how to do it, so I was like, “Fuck it. Why not?” I smoked the weed, listened to music, and laid in the dark… and I instantly felt better. I know that the weed saved my life that night. It’s a tool that shouldn’t be used often, but can be very, very helpful for me. It really helped me to get over my issues and confront things I didn’t like about myself. To this day I’ll still use it sometimes, but not every day or anything.
Today, In Recovery
I started watching a lot of documentaries on Netflix about veganism/healthy eating and different ways of viewing things… viewing the world. Everything in my life started to change at that point. I started to realize that my thoughts created my reality. If I didn’t want to be depressed, I didn’t need to be. I could really try my hardest to change the way that I looked at things… to try and always see the joy, the happiness, and the light… instead of focusing on the dark. And trust me, I loved the dark. After struggling with depression and mental illness for so many years, it was difficult to redefine myself without those things. Now I try to focus on the good in the world and in my life. I am just taking it one day at a time, hoping to keep my head above water.
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