I’ve been putting this off for a while, but I think it’s time to share. In the past, I’ve given a sneak peek into my battles with mental illness in my poetry and my anxiety article. But I really haven’t just talked about how my journey began that would lead me to where I am today. I think it is so important that we share our stories, not for attention, but for connection to not feel so alone. Dealing with mental health is hard for everyone even if it isn’t an illness for you. That’s why I want to finally speak out no matter what that may look like or how I might be perceived. I want to be able to help or encourage someone with what I’ve gone through so that they know they aren’t alone and there is someone out there that is similar to them. It’s going to take a lot, but I’m going to be as honest as I can and be vulnerable with you. So here we go with part one.
Where It Began
My first episode started in college back in 2014, but let’s back up. When I first entered college as a freshman in 2013 there were two important things. One I was a virgin and two I grew up as an only child because my brother and I lived in two separate homes. With that being said, I was never good at sharing or not being able to do what I want when I want. As far as the virginity goes, I was SUPER innocent. I had just gotten my first kiss at the beginning of the year at 17! So where am I going with this?
To give it to you straight, no chaser my first semester of college was a disaster. I lost my virginity to a guy that I later found out had a girlfriend. I retaliated by telling the girl after I found her on facebook the same way I found out about her. He in return decided to embarrass me in front of the whole lobby screaming explicative words and what sexual actions took place. I was devastated. In the moment though I kept my head up high and walked through that lobby like I didn’t hear a thing.
I’m still convinced till this day that this would have never happened if I would have just learned to get along with my first two roommates. That’s right TWO. The first girl, we’ll call her J, was nice and we hung out the first few days at the school events. I thought we would end up being friends even though she was a little different than me. She was the anime, polytheistic, bisexual White girl. I was the complete opposite of that. For one I’m a straight, African-American woman, who is interested in being active outdoors, writing, music, and shopping. I have little interest in TV and I am a Christian. That didn’t matter to me as long as she was nice and respected my space, which she did.
So one day we are talking and getting to know each other when she starts climbing up the bunk bed and pauses to turn to me and say “By the way, I’m a racist.” Then keeps chatting saying how she is trying to be different and she is a racist because mixed race girls in the state that she was from bullied her. That made me so uncomfortable. In my head, I’m thinking you don’t become racist just because someone doesn’t treat you right. If that’s the case I would be racist against everyone! I tried to probe a little more, but I still couldn’t get over the fact that I would be living with someone who could bring her white racist friends in the room that are capable of who knows what. My biggest concern is that they would mess with me or my things. To say the least, I was scared.
I knew one of the girls next door was Black too so naturally I told her about it. All four of us decided it was best if we switch rooms so the two white girls who were proclaimed racist could live together and the two Black girls who would later find out are complete opposites could live together. Everything was fine until the actual start of the semester. J and her new roommate weren’t the problem anymore, but my new roommate D was. We couldn’t get a long at all. If one was sleep the other would turn the light on or make too much noise for the other person. What one person thought was rude the other didn’t. The straw that broke the camels back was one cool fall day during the family orientation.
That afternoon I swept the room because honestly I felt like D lived in a pigsty. I was waiting for her to finish up in the mirror so I could through the dust and trash away. Her problem was that I was standing behind her off to the side. She said it was rude and I needed to say excuse me sooner. I said excuse me again and went to dump the dust pan when she pushes her leg over and starts going off on me. I eventually get to throw the trash out while she threatens to fight me. I get my backpack to head to class, but first I knock on my RA’s room to let him know what’s going on and because I was scared (again). He wasn’t there so I headed toward the elevators and called my mom. As soon as I got into the elevator and started talking to her I burst out in tears. This is normal for me, I cry when I’m mad, sad, scared you name it.
After my class I head back to my dorms and my mom, my cousin A, and my aunt B are there. Great! Everything is good at this point. D isn’t there, I show them around, but then trouble happens when we go downstairs. D and her large group of friends spot me and are talking, pointing, and laughing. My mom decides to be out of control and flip them off. I know right, as if things couldn’t have gotten worse! They follow us outside and one of her friends tries to fight my 60 something year old mother who is also my grandma, but that’s another story. We get into the car without anyone being touched so all is good.
It was a long day and they take me back to my dorm. The Hall Director decided it would be a good idea to have me switch rooms since D was so aggressive. In my new dorm I’m by myself. My new roommate didn’t even live there. She actually lived with her boyfriend while her parents paid for the dorm. It was the ideal situation for me or so I thought.
That night I had to do laundry like any normal human being does. I walked into the common area and of course there is D and her friends. These people were 3x my size and all now hated me. They asked me if I wanted a crumpled up piece of paper I had left in the old trashcan in D’s and my old room. I said I don’t want it. Then they literally chased me to my new room and started banging on the door trying to break in.
My Dad called me at this time and I’m frantic and tell him I have to go. I call the Hall Director and she comes up there and yells at them to leave me alone. My family had to pick me up for the night because obviously it wasn’t safe. I had to walk by one of her guy friend’s dorm to get to mine and then she was living by the elevator. It was a mouse trap!
I quickly get myself signed up for the private room list so I only would have to deal with one suite mate and no roommate. Ahhh the perfect situation. So that’s where the virginity guy came into play. So what did this have to do with my mental health? Well both of them were popular especially D. It seemed as if everywhere I went people already knew me or thought they knew me based on what bad things were being said. It started to mess with me because I was literally alone in a room full of people. I did have a few people I called friends, but we would eventually split due to new schedules and interest as we evolved in college.
Before I go into when my depression hit I want to say something else about the virginity guy. So I had a purity ring (a vow to wait until marriage to have sex) and my mom’s side is super against sex before marriage even though they are being hypocrites. So I had to hide what I did and felt condemnation for wearing a ring I didn’t deserve anymore. In reality all I really needed was someone to be understanding who I could to talk to about the way he treated me and getting myself into the situation. But I didn’t have or get that.
My First Depressive Episode
Now that you know the back story, it’s time to share the symptoms and how it showed up in my everyday life. Paranoia hit first. I would think that I heard people talking about me whether they were there or not. I remember peeking out of my dorm room to make sure no one was in the hallway before heading out. That’s how ashamed and along I felt.
During this time my mom’s side found out I was no longer pure and disowned me. We had words and that was the end of that. Later we would stop speaking for two years reconnect then in the present stop talking again. I learned from my experiences that even family can be toxic for you. The reason they found out is because A told them. I found out that my older cousin A was telling my business behind my back to our family for years! So paranoia was intensified.
Another reason why I was paranoid was because I thought everyone knew my thoughts and my past. As I discussed before a lot of people did know some of my past because of D and virginity guy. However, what I failed to realize was that they can only have as much power as I let them have. I did play a part, a huge part, but I didn’t have to let it define me. The voices I would hear would keep coming even in the Summer. From December up to the Summer I would be paranoid then start hearing the voices around the Spring and so on. That’s where the schizoaffective diagnosis would come from in latter years.
My symptoms started to show in my diet. First all I would do was snack but then I pretty much stopped eating. If I did eat it was only a little bit. Not even the new birth control I was on could make me gain the weight back. I got so thin that I looked like a skeleton and people started to think I was anorexic. My movement slowed down a ton. I was sluggish all of the time and it got to the point to where I couldn’t get out of bed. I would literally have to crawl out. Every day task were considerably harder so my hygiene started to lapse. Mostly because my memory was trash since I wasn’t getting the nutrients I needed.
Beside the physical symptoms I would cry all day and night. Unlike how I used to cry for a reason, I was no longer doing that. I would think about nothing and burst into tears. There was clearly something wrong. I couldn’t focus on anything even more than I used to be able to and still I managed to go to class every day and pass! I don’t give myself enough credit for that, but I really should.
My mom would come into my room concerned more and more everyday about what was wrong with me. I couldn’t even answer or put my finger on it. It wasn’t an STD, not pregnant, I went to the doctor and no abnormalities so what was it? She decided to send me to a psychiatrist because she could tell I was having emotional problems from dealing with all the rejection I had experienced in the last 9 months. That’s a pretty short time to have your life turn upside down all at once.
When I went to the psychiatrist they asked me a lot of questions and my diagnosis was major depressive disorder with psychotic features, GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) and ADHD. The ADHD and GAD diagnosis would stay consistent out of the three psychiatrist I have had over the years, but the major depressive disorder with psychotic features or schizoaffective depressed type would change after my first manic episode. Due to time I’ll talk about how I found out I was Bipolar in a separate post. So look out for My Mental Health Story Part 2!
What I Learned After Depression
I learned a lot about myself and my interactions with others after going through the major depressive episode. For one, I learned I can be resilient through any and everything. College is already hard work, but mixing in mental illness that barely allows you to get out of bed and your mind having such an imbalance that you hear things and are easily distractible. I don’t know how I did it or kept up without anyone noticing. I mean they did think I was a little crazy because I would accuse them of saying things that they didn’t, but oh well my bad I was literally sick.
You find out who really has your back and will be there for you. I didn’t realize how unloved I really was until I got sick. I was made to feel as though losing my virginity made me a bad person so much so that I wasn’t even worth loving anymore if they even loved me at all. I learned the hard way that people will kick you while your down all while throwing your words in your face. I know now not to tell anyone anything I don’t want or would be ashamed for others to know.
I can live a normal life and not be ashamed of the illnesses that I have. It’s not a death sentence or make me an outcast. I can be accepted and loved. I always thought it was my fault for being mentally ill and that it was a punishment from God. Now I realize it’s not! It is genetic plus your environment that triggers mental illness not a punishment or anything in particular that you did. God loves you unconditionally and would never hurt you. God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle. I remind myself of this everyday when I’m ready to give up and shy away. Don’t get me wrong there are consequences, but I don’t believe mental illness is one of them. It would be like saying you got diabetes or cancer for losing your virginity or not getting along with your roommates (in my case). See how silly that sounds!
It made me realize that whose opinion really matters of me is mine and God’s. I strive to be the daughter he can be proud of even if that means I make mistakes along the way. Looking back I see how much of his grace I truly received and still receive. For instance, I could have died or been seriously hurt all in those 9 months of hell. He kept me and allowed me to later graduate in 3 1/2 years. Not many people can say that they did that and especially not with a mental illness. I beat the statistics that bog me down because of the color of my skin and my mental illnesses. However, that wasn’t me that was definitely God. You see I would battle with going back to that depressive state for the next 2 1/2 years from my first episode. I would get on and off my medicine in hopes of feeling normal again and it messed me up every time. But as you can see I was kept by God’s grace. That’s why I have John 1:16 tattooed on my arm “grace upon grace.”
If you made it to the end, thank you! It means a lot to me that you took the time to read my story. I hope it made you feel less weird or gave you insight on what it’s like for some people with mental illnesses. Not everyone’s symptoms or experiences are like mine, but I still think it’s important to share for those who may have that similar experience. I hope this was inspiring that you too can make it through whatever. Ill or not. Like I said earlier I’ll give you the 411 on my manic episode and what I learned from that experience too. There are similar lessons, but I still think it’ll be good to share. Also, if you don’t want to miss my next post related to my mental health story then sign up on my email list. I send out emails once a week to let you know of any new post and give you updates.