February 2020 Contributor: Kayla McKern

Trigger warning: self harm, suicide, substance abuse, panic attacks, bullying

This is really hard for me to write because people only know part of my story, and I was terrified to share it. But I was given the opportunity to share my story thanks to Ali! I also wanted to share my story in hopes of maybe helping at least one person out there struggling.

For the sake of saving time, I will not go into full detail about my life and the things that happened, but this is my story.

I grew up like any other kid in the 90s for the most part, but I was shy. I always felt like nobody wanted to be my friend. I would try my hardest to fit in and it just wouldn’t work. I never hung out with kids my own age, but I would try my very best to get along with them. I’ve been told that I have an “old soul.”

I would draw and paint, and I loved music. I was bullied a lot in school; I wore super thick glasses because I have very bad vision due to having meningitis when I was four months old. I was called “four eyes.” I started to gain weight and I was constantly bullied for it. I cannot express how many times I came home crying because of people making fun of me. They would call me “stupid” because I had a learning disability and I would have to be pulled out of class during a test or just to get help in my classes.

I would try my very best to “fit in” and to make friends, but it just wouldn’t happen. In 2001, my family and I moved out of my Grandpa’s trailer and moved to our current residence. Again, I tried my very best to make friends in my new school, but I was the new kid in school and I was shy. I would have a few acquaintances, but they all had friends of their own and it wasn’t until 2004 that I had a real best friend. I was 14 years old.

In grade school, sixth grade was the absolute worst for me. Kids would make fun of me because I had glasses, short hair with bad highlights, and I was overweight. That’s probably the first time that I discovered self harming. I felt like I was ugly and that I deserved to feel the pain. Sixth grade was the worst for me, but I worked hard at passing all of my classes, because all I wanted to do was get out of that place.

I started junior high, and things were still bad. I remember on the first day of school I was made fun of and then going home and self harming. In the next few weeks, I met my best friend Ali (who created this blog) through a mutual friend, and we instantly clicked because we were both in band and we loved music.

My best friend and music were the only things that made junior high tolerable. Then Ali had to leave for high school, as she was a grade year higher than me. Eighth grade was the worst because I didn’t really have any friends, just acquaintances. They would say hi to me and walk off to their own friends. I didn’t fit in with any group.

I hated middle school so much that I would purposely miss the bus, pretend I was sick, or hide behind the shed. My mom would have to work from 6pm to 6am and she would be too tired to bring me to school. My dad would already be at work. To be honest, I don’t know how my parents and I didn’t get in trouble for truancy or how I passed school.

I managed to get through eighth grade with my grades; I was determined to get out. Soon after, I was in high school and reunited with Ali again. She made school bearable and so did band class. We were both in marching band and concert band. Once she graduated, senior year was hell for me. I was alone and I didn’t have any real friends; they were all come and go. I struggled hard in school with trying to pass everything and preparing myself for college, but not knowing what I wanted to go to college for.

I, once again, focused on graduating high school. I graduated, and I worked hard for my diploma that I’m still proud of to this day. Then I started college, and it was easier, because I learned that I didn’t have to fit in and it wasn’t anything like public school. I could truly be myself and there were others who didn’t care about how I looked or the way I acted.

I started off as an English major, but after a semester and a half, I found out that I hated writing papers and it just wasn’t for me. I wanted to be an English major so that I could write for the papers, magazines, and even writing my own novels. I changed to a graphic design major. In 2011, I joined the Spirit of Northwestern marching band. Art and music were the only things that I was decent at. I’m not really good at anything else. I loved being an art major.

In 2012 is probably when my mental illness “unofficially” started. Things were getting rough for me and depression was creeping in on me, and the old demons from middle school came back telling me that I wasn’t good enough and that I was a failure. I went to the doctor and I was put on different depression meds, but not a single one worked for me.

I took a job handing out samples in a wholesale store in 2012. It was my decision to work for this company. At first, it was okay; my bosses were nice for the most part. As the months rolled by, things only got worse at the job. I was made fun of behind my back and in front. I was bullied by adults twenty years older than me. That’s when the self harm and the self hatred got worse. I would come home from work and I would cry my eyes out and self harm.

Then, I discovered sleeping pills, and they were the catalyst for my addictions. I would take them; anything to make me go to sleep and forget about what happened that day, but I became addicted to them. I became addicted to sleeping and not being awake just to be away from the pain for a little while. I then started mixing them with alcohol and became addicted to that.

In 2014, I tried to end my life. I wasn’t thinking about anybody or anything; the only thing I was thinking about was ending my life, to end the pain, and to just end it all and not exist in this world anymore. I took a handful of sleeping pills and laid in my bed waiting for my eyes to close forever. My mom came in to see me, but she didn’t know what happened, and I never told her. I was in and out of consciousness and somehow, I made it out alive.

To this day, I don’t know how I lived after that incident, and as I think about it today, there’s some unknown reason for me to be alive. The drinking got worse; I would drink until I passed out. Just about every day I would show up to school or work hungover. Nobody said anything, so I continued on my destructive path. I eventually quit my job and I tried to find work, but nobody was calling me for interviews and my depression was getting worse. I eventually got a job as a cashier at a grocery store and I hated it, but I pushed through and now I’ve been at the job for about six years. I found a therapist, and it was what I needed. I needed to speak with a professional about my mental illness and the demons that reside in my mind. Everything seemed okay at first, but things were only getting worse.

I was becoming a monster and I was harming those around me. I indirectly verbally harassed people that I loved, making horrible, nasty posts about them and called them names. I was turning into the one thing that had messed with me since I was a kid. I became a bully.

On April 28, 2015, I had to go to the hospital. I took some sleeping pills and drank. I felt like I was dying; my heart was pounding, I was shaking, and my body went cold. I honestly thought I was dying, but I later found out I was hyperventilating. I’ve had panic attacks before, but this was by far the worst one I’d ever had. It got to the point where I had to go to the emergency room.

It all came crashing down in that hospital room. I admitted to everything. I admitted to the day I tried to kill myself with the pills, the suicidal thoughts, the self harm, and the demons that reside in my mind from the past. It was all exposed like a nerve. I was placed under a close watch so that I wouldn’t do anything to myself or others or that I wouldn’t walk out. I didn’t know that admitting all of it would cause me to be put in a mental hospital.

I won’t go into full detail about the hospital stay, but it’s what I needed. I was diagnosed with bipolar depression, borderline personality disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. Maybe this is why none of the antidepressants I was on weren’t working for me. I was released from the hospital, and as soon as I got out, I literally kissed the ground.

As soon as I got home, I had to adjust to life at home, work, and school. It was hard and my addictions and old ways of thinking were creeping back into my mind, but with therapy, I would banish those thoughts. In mid-2016, my therapist gave up on me. He told me to never come back. I was out of therapy for a while, but I started seeing a new therapist and I loved her. Eventually, my insurance costs were getting to the point where I couldn’t afford it anymore. A few months later I got new insurance, a new psychiatrist, and a new therapist. I absolutely loved them, but in 2018, I was admitted into another mental facility because things were getting to be too much for me. I had school, work, and my family life to deal with. All of it was taking a toll on my mental health. Luckily I was smart enough to sit in my advisor’s office and confess to him what was really going on.

I’m still very thankful to this day that he helped me out. He took me to my school’s on-campus therapist. I told them everything that was going on. They eventually deemed me unsafe to be by myself and I would later be admitted to another hospital. To this day, my advisor still checks in on me and asks me if I’m okay mentally.

In 2019, I discovered opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. I would take them from family members who were seeing pain management doctors. I would mix these with alcohol. In June, I went on a cruise. My great aunt had oxycodone and I took at least 20 pills from her to feed my addiction. When we came back to the states, my Grandma and I had a huge fight. I called my therapist at the time and told her that I was starting to have suicidal thoughts. She said that she was on her way, but while she was driving, I did the unthinkable and I self harmed. It was the only thing I knew how to cope with everything going on.

As soon as my therapist arrived, she wanted me to go to the emergency room. From there, I was admitted into another hospital for my mental health and for rehab for opioids. I stayed a week to detox and to work on my emotional wellbeing. I was then released from there, and that’s when I would start going to NA meetings and meeting up with my sponsor.

As you are all reading this, on February 13, 2020, I will be seven months clean from alcohol and drugs and in July, hopefully, I will be one year sober from opioids and alcohol. Every day is still a struggle, and my mind wants me to go back to my old ways, but I know in my heart that I can’t do that. I can’t go back to my old ways and I have to keep pushing forward.

As I conclude this, I really hope that in some way, my story has inspired you in some way to seek help and to get the help that you or a loved one deserves. I want to thank Ali for giving me the opportunity to share my story.

If you are struggling, please seek help.

Thank you for reading my story!

Kayla McKern

January 2020 Contributor: Dani Kennedy

Heavy burdens keep close company…

(lyrics by Kelsey Sprague)

To those of you who know me, some of these things might come as a surprise. But maybe it will all make sense…

To those who don’t know me, hi! I swear I’m okay. I’m working on things. That’s what’s so great about what Ali is doing here. We need to work together in order to break all of the stigmas of mental health.

Back in September (2019), I felt like I had finally hit my bottom (little did I know that that wasn’t my bottom at all). I decided to seek out therapy for the first time. See, about 3 years ago, I went to my primary care doctor for anxiety. Sure she helped, but she just put me on Zoloft and that was it. I went to see her monthly to make sure everything was fine. And for the most part it was. My anxiety levels were lower, I wasn’t letting the little things get to me, it was all looking good. I ended up moving across the country, and ended up going cold turkey (DON’T DO THIS) from Zoloft. I then let my anxiety get in the way from me going to a doctor again. It wasn’t until September that I learned that my anxiety and depression were just symptoms of something bigger.

When I found Timi (my awesome therapist), I told her straight out that I was afraid that if I said the wrong thing to her that she would hospitalize me. She reassured me that she had no intentions of doing so unless I became a threat to myself or others. We then started talking. If you’ve never gone to therapy and you wonder what it’s like, let me paint a picture for you.

Timi’s office is warm and cozy. I sit down on this cozy couch and we start talking. It’s like talking to a friend, but a friend who doesn’t know any of the people I’m talking about. A friend who notes tiny things I say and tells me what’s going on in my brain. I feel safe and I know that whatever I tell her she won’t run and tell someone else. She is a great sounding board.

Timi brought to my attention some things that I do, and diagnosed me with OCPD (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder). What does that even mean? I asked her exactly that question. Was this something I would have to explain to people? Was this something I needed to take pills for? Would I ever be normal? She sent me to some articles, and it all clicked.

OCPD is one of the most manageable personality disorders (THANKFULLY). My symptoms that I suffer from are as follows:

  • Perfectionism – to the point of being a problem
  • An overwhelming need to be on time, causing me to get upset when others aren’t
  • An extreme attention to detail
  • Not being able to delegate, because I know that people won’t do the task right
  • A rigid adherence to rules and regulations
  • An overwhelming need for order

Because of these things, I have also developed some “ticks” for when I’m anxious, including picking at my skin to the point of sores on my arms and scalp, twisting and counting my fingers, and pinching myself to the point of sores.

As I sat there and listened to her list the symptoms, I just started crying. It was like I finally had a name for what was going on. And it wasn’t just me being uptight. What became even harder was when we started diving deeper into how I developed this personality disorder and how it affected by relationships with people close to me.

OCPD develops in late childhood, early adolescence stemming from a few different things. One of the major theories suggest that people with OCPD may be have been raised by parents who were unavailable and either overly controlling. Also as children, they were harshly punished for not being perfect. OCPD traits develop as a sort of coping mechanism to avoid punishment. This got me. This was all something that could have been avoided.

What prompted me to seek professional help was separating from my husband. We were together for 11 years, married 5, when we decided that we had just grown apart. We weren’t the same people we were when we were 17, shocking I know. But all of sudden my world was broken. My world was turned upside down. I went from owning a home to renting a room in a house with 6 other people. I didn’t know how to be me without him. I’m working on finding me. And learning that I had this underlying personality disorder that could have caused some rifts in my relationship tore me apart. I’ve thus learned that I can’t live in the what if’s: What if I knew about my OCPD? What if I would have learned how to better communicate earlier? What if this had never happened? What if I never developed OCPD? What if, what if, what if… I was driving myself crazy.

I’ve now been seeing Timi every week for 3 months. I have learned how to properly communicate is what is bothering me instead of getting angry or anxious. I still have my depressive episodes, but I’m learning ways to help with that. I have learned to throw a muzzle on that anger voice in my head that tells me how “not good enough” I am. I’ve done some major work on myself. Therapy is the best decision I’ve ever made, and I also got extremely lucky that my first therapist was a good fit. That’s usually not the case, and that’s okay. I still get anxious and I still internalize a lot of my anger, but I’m human and I make mistakes.

If you ever thought about going to therapy, but you were worried about what people would say, let me tell you what Timi told me. She said this on our very first session and it stuck with me. She said, “It takes a strong person to realize that they need help, and an even stronger person to want to do the work to make yourself better.” I had never, ever felt strong before. But each milestone I mark with Timi, I feel stronger and more empowered. I feel like I’m finally realizing who Dani really is. And that’s an awesome feeling.

Read Dani’s writing here: http://www.evrydaychanges.blogspot.com

 

These Shoes

These shoes have taken me to the place where I would get the diagnoses that would change my life. They have taken me to the place where I have met people that didn’t want the best for me; they wanted to take advantage of me, to see me fail.

These shoes have taken me to places I never want to go again. They have taken me to places where I’ve felt pain, where I’ve felt anxiety, where I’ve felt stuck.

These shoes have taken me to places where I would have to share my feelings with complete strangers and hope that they didn’t judge me. They have taken me to places where I’ve waited and waited to feel whole again, to feel something, anything at all.

But…

These shoes have taken me to places that I recover and try my best to feel significant. They have taken me to the place where I can speak my soul and help it to heal. They have taken me to the place where I can feel free, where I can feel whole, where I can feel human.

People can judge us. They can slander our name. They can look down on us because we’re different than them… but they can’t take our soul. They can’t take our voice. They don’t know our lives or how we live, why we do the things we do. What we have fought for up until this very moment.

These shoes are dirty, beat down, worn out… but nobody can take away what they’ve been through. What I have been through.

Keep fighting for you and I’ll keep fighting for me.

Campfire Thoughts

Campfire with my boys

I’m sitting in front of a campfire with my two dogs next to me, I’m looking up at the night sky and I see the stars, I hear the crickets, I see the fireflies… and nothing could ever beat this feeling.

I haven’t felt this happy and content, stress free, no depression, no anxiety, since 2016 when I sat on the beach literally by myself in Okinawa, Japan. It’s a feeling I didn’t think I’d ever feel again. It’s a feeling I thought was just a once in a lifetime type of thing.

I say all of this because I’ve been depressed lately. It started right around my birthday, which is right on time, because I always start getting those holiday blues around my birthday, which is in early October. I didn’t think I’d get out of it. I kept up with my homework, but that’s about it. I was able to have enough energy to hike just once since it’s cooled off. I’m behind on my chores, like cleaning the house. I’ve just been depressed.

I sat at my desk last night and stared at the sand from the beach in Japan I went to (I collect sand from all the beaches I visit), and I thought to myself, “What if I never feel that feeling again? What if I’m stuck forever in this endless cycle of depression?” I can have great days, but it never fails that the bad days happen a day or two after. I have felt stuck in that endless cycle for a long time now. But that day at the beach in Japan proved to me that I can feel like I’m floating and feel like I have no stress or worries, even if only for an hour. But I always thought I’d never feel it again.

Tonight, while I sit around this campfire, I am feeling it again. There’s no better feeling in the world. Tomorrow, maybe it goes back to normal. Or maybe I can live my life like I’m on that beach or I’m sitting in front of a campfire.

It’s time to start living, man. I have to or I’ll feel stuck in this endless cycle forever. It’s time to start traveling, hiking more, camping more, writing more! I’m feeling so inspired to just… write. Everything. No matter how real or honest it gets. I just want to write. I want to live. I want to breathe and not feel trapped. Things are changing, my friends. Keep up with me or get left behind, because I’m not slowing down.