I was not granted an “easy” life growing up. I dealt with many circumstances from domestic violence in the home, being raised in low income housing, witnessing drug overdoses, witnessing a murder/suicide right outside my home, rape, etc. Despite all of that, the most difficult part of everything I had gone through was the inability to talk about it. Due to this, I kept a lot of things bottled up inside that resulted in me being angry and seeking escape in destructive ways. In middle school, I began therapy for anger management. From middle school to high school I went through three to four different therapists. It was extremely difficult for me to talk about the issues I was dealing with because I raised with the idea that “what goes on at home stays at home.” Talking about your issues was a no-no anyway, but talking about them with a stranger was a definite no. I was so angry, yet unable to pinpoint where the anger was coming from. I was fearful to let it out. I was unable to trust. More importantly, I was self-destructing. By the time I reached 16 years old I began having these attacks that I would soon find out were panic attacks. The panic attacks would get so bad to where I literally would think I was dying. After so many visits to the hospital and doctors, I was eventually diagnosed with anxiety disorder. It was at this moment I realized it was more to the story than just anger. However, I still refused to talk about it.
Seventeen and Suffering
Flash forward to the summer before college I was hanging with individuals, I thought were friends, that resulted in me being raped. So, here I am 17 preparing for what should be the best experience of my life and now holding the weight of being sexually assaulted. Still, I said nothing and decided to suffer in silence. My first semester in college I began drinking heavily and indulging in other activities to numb the pain I was feeling. I was going downhill and no one around me knew because I managed to keep smiling while suffering on the inside. May 2009, I found out I was pregnant with my son, Z. It was at this moment I felt that God answered my prayers. I know this may seem weird to say because I was young and unmarried, but I felt that God knew the only way I would get on track would be if I was caring for someone else. This was so true! Somehow, I managed to get my life back on track and began working for the City of Asheville. I began utilizing tools I had learned in therapy to manage my anxiety, such as the paper bag method. Most importantly, I was able to suppress my pain. I was able to find support and trust in my friend Mauri. She became my breath of fresh air when I felt I was suffocating. Little did I know she, too, was suffering. She would go on to commit suicide and I would return to suffering in silence. From the outside I looked like I had it altogether. I was thriving as a single parent, back in college, had my own place, and working full time but on the inside, I was hurting. I felt dead. Very few checked on me to see how I was dealing with the loss of my closest and dearest friend. I was literally back to a place of having no one to talk to.
Fast-forward to 2015, I found out that I was pregnant with my second child. When I say that pregnancy was the absolute worst! I mean it was the hardest thing I have ever gone through. At about two months pregnant I was diagnosed with hyperemesis. For those that may not know this is a condition that creates constant vomiting. My condition was so severe that I had to receive IV vitamins and fluids 3 times a week (when I was outpatient) and spent the majority of my pregnancy inpatient in the hospital. Due to my illness, I was unable to work resulting in me not being able to maintain my bills and eventually losing my apartment. I was now pregnant, sick, a single mom, and homeless. Now I was fortunate enough to be able to stay at my mother’s home where my son and I shared the space of her one-bedroom apartment. It was at this time that I vowed to have my kids and I our own place before I delivered my daughter. At seven months pregnant I was hit in the head by a metal pole due to a freak accident at the state fair. I developed a concussion that caused me to become even more irritable, emotional, and suffer migraines. Due to being pregnant, there was very little that the doctors and I were willing to do because I was already high risk.
In mid-December my son and I move into our new place. December 26th, 2015, I go into the hospital in labor; my daughter is born on the 27th. Now, what should have been a happy time quickly turned south. The day after delivery the doctors rushed in and took my daughter to NICU. No immediate explanation beyond that it was life or death for her. I was unable to see her for hours and when I finally did, she was hooked up to so many different machines and cords. I was told she had one of the highest bilirubin levels they had seen, and the doctors were shocked at how well she was doing. She was diagnosed with ABO Intolerance; I was heartbroken and felt useless as a mother because I could not save her. I was so stressed that on the second day, post-delivery, I earned myself a stay on the stroke floor. Things were absolute hell. Eventually, we were both able to go home, to our own apartment, I must add. I thought to myself that I was finally regaining my life back and things were going back to normal. However, after a few weeks I realized I was becoming very emotional and sadder than usual. Those around me kept telling me it was due to the head trauma and the fact I just had a baby. I was told to give it time, pray about it, and that it would go away. This caused me to shut down, again. I was crying every single night, and no one knew. I was dealing with stressors at work, single parenting, influx of bills, etc., and I felt like I was drowning. In late 2016 I reached my absolute lowest point. I put my kids to sleep, sent a text to my mom to check on them in the morning, and with tears streaming down my face, I proceeded to pour pain pills (left from my cesarean) into my mouth. As I was preparing to swallow the pills, I remember thinking this is it: Lord please cover my kids. And before I could swallow any pills my daughter wakes up, crawls to the end of my bed, looks at me, and says “mama.” I immediately burst into tears and spit the pills in the floor. It was at this time that I finally realized I could no longer do this alone. I knew in order to be the best parent possible for my kids I needed help. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and began receiving intensive outpatient therapy paired with mood stabilizers and anti-depressants. I was only given a few pills at a time due to the suicide attempt and my mother stayed in my home with me for the first week or two.
Taking My Life Back
While some may not agree with the medication approach, I believe it was absolutely necessary for me. Despite the fact I had reached a place where I thought suicide was my only option, I was still told not to talk about it. My family wanted to sweep it under the rug because they were fearful of others would think which resulted in me being ashamed of my truth. However, after being diagnosed with anxiety and depression, I soon realized that staying silent was more harmful than speaking out. I wanted to ensure that my voice and only my voice was used to tell my story. I decided to co-author my first book, It’s Not That Easy; Stop Telling Me to Get Over It, discussing my battle with mental illness. This book allowed me to spread awareness about mental illness, work to end the stigma surrounding it, and normalize the conversation.
Although, there are still days that I struggle to get out of bed or struggle with crying or overthinking, I recognize that I am in a far better place than I was just a year ago. I am learning how to be intentional in my life. I am learning how to put my mental health first. I am learning to use my story as a way to give a voice to the voiceless. I am learning me in hopes of truly understanding and loving the person I am. This journey has not been easy, but it is definitely one worth traveling. My goal is to create a space in which individuals who are suffering in silence feel safe and able to have support. I believe it is better to heal with those that have traveled similar paths than to heal from those that haven’t. I hope others decide to regain who they are and leave in their truth! Remember, he who conceals his disease cannot expect to be cured.