"You're fine. You’re just stressed and a hormonal teenager. Nothing is wrong with you."
This was my mantra for most of my teenage life. I refused to believe that something could actually be wrong with me. What I was feeling was normal right? Looking in the mirror to realize you hated every inch of your skin? Feeling so alone that you would rather sit locked up in your room for hours than talk to anyone? Thinking that harming yourself was a practical way to help yourself feel something when you literally felt completely apathetic? Sleeping one or two hours a night because your mind is racing and telling you every decision you have ever made in your life was wrong?
Denial. I was in denial. I don’t have a mental illness. I couldn't have a mental illness.
I still remember the first time I harmed myself. I was away at summer camp, about to go into my first year of high school. I don't remember the exact details of the day preceding it, but I sure do remember how lonely I felt. I've never felt so alone in my life. Looking back, I had plenty of friends within my cabin. But of course I couldn’t see it that way. I never told anyone about this though, cause who would even care? So I held it in.
Entering high school I was excited for the fresh start. The excitement quickly faded as the second month of school started. I started to see friend groups forming, best friends being made, and plans being made without me. I blamed myself, no one wanted to be my friend because I was just a shy, quiet girl. Why would they want to be my friend? This is where the bad thoughts really began.
I would get home from school and stare at the ceiling or blank computer screen in my room, but incase anyone asked I was ‘sleeping’. This is when I started having recurring thoughts of getting hurt, not in the form of self-harm but at the hands of others. My thoughts included (but were not limited to) being hit by cars or getting mugged in the streets. I didn't feel comfortable coming to anyone with this problem, so I held it in.
Throughout high school I had a few friend confide in me about their own experiences with self-harm. Their reasons seemed different from mine. Their reasons seemed more legitimate. I felt as if I was just being stupid for harming myself. I had a pretty good social life, a part time job, and a supportive family. So I didn't tell them. I didn't tell anyone. I held it in.
Grade 12 was a great year. I finally felt that I was making progress with school, getting good grades, making close friends. I thought I was finally over this stupid “phase” in my life.
"See Sami, you really are fine. "
It wasn't until my first year at Queen's University where I felt myself going under again. In September of 2013, my grandmother was brutally killed. She was found in the garden of her Mexico home unconscious. She was badly beaten and barely alive. Her house had been robbed. We said good-bye. This is when the bad thoughts started coming back.
The events were completely incomprehensible. My thoughts kept me up late at night, sending me deeper and deeper into the spiral of my own mind. These events reverted me back to my old self-harming habits, and obsessive thoughts of being physically hurt. I was simultaneously witnessing my mother’s pain as she tried to grieve. I began sleeping less and less as I witnessed her cry, a lot. Of course I was sad, but my mom had it worse. I couldn’t add any more stress to her life. So as always, I held it in.
In the middle of my second year of university I welcomed my boyfriend, who would eventually completely change my life. It was one late night in March, when I decided to chug a bottle of wine with friends and head to the bars (a usual occurrence in university life). Before the night of fun could begin, I pulled my boyfriend aside at the club and began to confess. Confess everything. It felt so good to finally be able to talk to someone. We left the bar immediately and sat outside in the cold. As we talked for the rest of the night, I told him about the loneliness and harming, as well as the obsessive thoughts and the anxiety. He accepted me. He understood me.
"There is something wrong with me. I am not fine. "
I still had not found the courage to tell the rest of my friends or family.
The summer leading into third year I made many advances in treatment for my illness. I went to see my doctor, and told her everything. I began taking anti-depressants. I began to feel more normal, a feeling I hadn't felt in a while.
When I got back up to school, I knew I had to start telling my close friends about what I was going through. With the help of my good friend wine, I was able to confess (yet again at a bar), to my best friend. Of course she understood. It felt so amazing to have her there with me, and to have another person who understood what I was going through.
In the weeks following, she talked me through telling my parents and beginning to tell my friends. Although my parents were worried and shocked, they were completely supportive and caring. My friends understood too, some of them were even experiencing similar struggles to mine. It felt good not to be alone anymore.
In mid October, I decided it was time I come clean to everyone. Maybe not with the fine details, but at least to let them know I was struggling. After getting a semi-colon tattoo, which signifies a fight with mental illness, I shared this image with my friends and family. “A semi colon represents when an author could have ended their sentence, but chose not too.” I got several supportive responses, and I have never felt so loved and cared for.
Until recently things had been going great. The obsessive thoughts still remain, and I noticed some compulsive habits forming, but overall my emotions were under control. However, when I reached exam season, my depression decided to hit me full force, making me bed ridden and unable to complete my exams. Thankfully I was able to work with my professors and my school’s disabilities services to reschedule the exam I missed for the following semester.
Recently, there has been a new development with my diagnosis. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, more commonly known as OCD. OCD comes in many forms, and is comprised of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Specifically, I have compulsive skin picking disorder or dermatillomania. I know, it's not so glamorous. Picking my skin has been a habit of mine most of my life, but has recently become overwhelming and uncontrollable. It is characteristic of extreme skin picking to the extent of self-harm. I feel pleasure/relief by picking my skin. This isn't the same as popping pimples or picking a scab. This is an unconscious habit that I cannot control. I create cuts on my body leading to greater anxiety about the bleeding and scars. The skin picking, alongside the obsessive thoughts of myself being hurt or injured, was grounds for my doctor to believe I was suffering from more than just depression and anxiety.
I recently weaned off my initial depression medication and am starting a new medication in the hope that it will to help my OCD as well. On top of this I'm seeing a cognitive behaviour therapist regularly, as well as a psychiatrist. I really feel as if I am making advances with my illness.
Over the past few months I have learned so much that I would like to share with anyone struggling. 1) You are not alone in this, you would be surprised how many members of your community are going through the exact same thing. 2) Telling someone you trust is the best thing you could possibly do. 3) It DOES get better. I never thought I would be able to spill all my life secrets for the public to see, but I am. "I have a mental illness. I am not fine. But I am getting better."