I Matter: Struggles and Triumphs with Mental Health

Written by: Autumn Sandlin, Communications Manager, National Safe Place Network

TW: Suicide 

I can’t exactly pinpoint when my brain stopped making enough serotonin. It may have been all of the times I called my mom to pick me up from school because my stomach hurt in 2nd and 3rd grade, or after I suffered a major concussion in a car accident when I was 12 and couldn’t stand to leave my house long enough to go to Vacation Bible School for a week. It also could’ve been a super, unimportant, and minute moment that holds no significance to myself or my past. No matter when it was, it happened, and for a long time it was a struggle to make it through the day.

I knew something wasn’t right with me. I wasn’t attending school regularly. My body ached all over like I had a constant case of the flu. It was difficult, nearly impossible even, to make it out of bed in the morning. “I’m not feeling well,” I’d tell my mom as I headed back to the solace my comforters could provide me. The temperature outside was mild, but I still had four blankets on my bed. These weren’t thin throw blankets either. My lights would stay off as my television played the bright colors of The Price is Right with the volume down as I tried to shut my eyes and go back to sleep.

If I ever had any thoughts of suicide, it was during my junior and senior year of high school. I had started seeing a therapist and had been prescribed medicine to help make me feel more normal. Unfortunately, the medicine I was prescribed didn’t work for me. Instead of sleeping all of the time, my anxiety had begun to keep me up at night. I was having panic attacks that made me think I was having a heart attack. There was always a weight on my chest that made it difficult to stand. I eventually stopped taking my meds. The only saving grace I had were the people in my life who I knew would love and miss me if anything ever happened.

I never attempted suicide, but it was on my mind a lot. I would lie in bed during my depressive episodes and think about the easiest way out of it. I decided if I ever did try anything, it would be done by swallowing a ton of pills. That way, there wouldn’t be any mess or pain. I’d just drift off to sleep, as I’d done so many times before. I just wouldn’t wake up in this world any more. I really think the only reason I didn’t go through with it is because I couldn’t muster up the energy to see the entire plan through.

I somehow managed to graduate high school. Even though I missed nearly 30 days, I kept up with my work and made good grades. School was always important to me. I couldn’t be a failure in every aspect of my life. I also somehow managed to enroll, be accepted into, and begin attending college. College was never an option for me; it was always a requirement. I don’t know how I picked out the college I attended. I only ever made one campus visit. My best friend and I somehow went through the admissions process and were living on campus come that August. I thought that that was all I needed. I just needed to move away from home and I’d become so incredibly self-sufficient people wouldn’t know who I was anymore. Unfortunately, things weren’t that easy.

College worked with my depressive episodes. I scheduled my classes back-to-back, making sure I was done in three or four hours daily. The rest of this time would allow me to sleep. Whenever my roommate would leave for the weekend and I would stay behind, I’d go to the convenience store on campus and stock up on food and drink. This would allow me to remain in our room all weekend with minimal trips to the bathroom and to shower. My depressive episodes were accommodated by the college lifestyle. My anxiety, on the other hand, made me feel like I was losing my mind. I’d become so nervous about finals and big projects that I’d get so worked up I’d end up vomiting. My hair was falling out. College was not great for my anxiety.

I finally had enough of it. It’d been years of me feeling low and then feeling too high. I wanted to succeed. I didn’t want to die. I needed to reach out and get help. After my first attempt with medication, I was leery about getting back on to something. Why should I take this pill to make me feel normal? What was normal, anyways? I decided to try things on a trial basis. I spoke with my doctor about my highs and lows. I didn’t elaborate as much as I should’ve about suicidal thoughts, but I never thought they were that important to talk about. I’ve only recently started telling those close to me that yeah, there was a time when I thought about killing myself. I did elaborate on my depression and anxiety, though. She was understanding and non-judgmental. The prescription was made and I began taking the pills. The first week, I was incredibly sick. Every possible symptom I could experience was there with nausea and dry mouth battling things out to see which one was going to make me feel the most ill. Eventually, though, my body began to settle. The nausea and dry mouth subsided and I began to feel a difference. I didn’t stay in bed all of the time. I got a job on campus and began working nights while balancing my school work. My hair stopped falling out and the weight in my chest drastically reduced itself. I began to feel what I can only imagine is normal.

I graduated cum laude from college. I interned at a non-profit that I grew attached to and eventually got hired. I live with my boyfriend and our two dogs. His two kids are with us four days out of the week and I’m their Girl Scout troop leader. Life could not be more picture perfect at the moment, but this was a life that I couldn’t see at 16. There was no way that I’d ever get a boyfriend or have children around. I was insignificant and destined to be alone forever, only I wasn’t. I matter and so does anyone reading this. If you’ve had any sort of feeling that something is abnormal or that something is not right, please reach out and tell someone. I’m still on medication. I probably always will be. My brain does not produce the proper amount of serotonin to make me feel functional without it. I have generalized anxiety and depression. I have my down days. But on those days, my dogs are wagging their tails and jumping on me when I get home. My boyfriend brushes and braids my hair to make me feel better. I take a breather, remind myself that tomorrow is a new day, and do not let it get me down. None of this joy now would’ve been possible if I had gone through with suicide —if I had decided that things weren’t worth it and nothing could “fix” me. No one is broken and you don’t need to be fixed. Sometimes, our brains just aren’t equipped with the proper tools to function. That’s it. It is not your fault.

I write this to inspire hope that maybe, somewhere, someone will read this and relate to it in some tiny way. Maybe I can encourage the person who has been thinking about asking to try medication to finally go through with it. There’s a stigma around prescriptions for mental health issues that should not exist. Your brain really does need these things. Doctors can help diagnose you and monitor you to make sure that this is the course of treatment you need. I’m also a big proponent of everyone, no matter who you are, going to therapy. These people are trained to listen to you talk and offer healthy solutions, if needed, to problems. There is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to mental health. Help is there. Please reach out and ask for it. I matter, and you matter because we exist — here and now.


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