A year ago today, I received my first tattoo. Getting this done was more than just a “cool” trend or putting ink into my body. Tattooing WARRIOR onto my wrist was a symbol for myself and to others. This tattoo represents freedom, faith and strength. A few years ago, I would never be able to look you in the eye and tell you I am okay and mean it. I was ashamed of myself and the life I created and felt I had destroyed. A year has gone by and I feel mixed emotions thinking about my tattoo.
Twelve years ago, started something that I still don’t understand to this day. Having a mental illness can scare anyone into believing that they are different or sick. I used to believe that the things I was feeling were taboo and shouldn’t be spoken about because people didn’t talk about it. Growing up, I was never really informed about what mental illness was. By the time I was, it was to late.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the girl I was only a few short years ago. I think about how much pain I was in. How a sad song would come on and I would instantly become someone else. I used to sleep in bed all day, on purpose, just so I didn’t have to face the world again. I didn’t want to move, I just wanted to stay still, in the dark with my thoughts running through my mind. I used to just sit by my window and watch life pass me by. Some days I would stare out the window so long that my day would turn into nights. I used to think that life would go on without me. Nothing would change, just my existence.
It is strange for me to look back on the person I used to be. I don’t even recognize that person anymore. I wake up everyday without depression holding me down and forcing me to sleep walk through life. I still have problems but I don’t walk through life with a constant weight on my shoulders. I smile.. a lot. I laugh.. a lot. I am so different but this is not a place I thought I could ever be. I never thought I could be content with life.
My tattoo is a daily reminder to continue fighting not only my big battles but also the smaller ones. Everyday, people struggle to make ends meet, to provide for their families, to live. I complained about so many things when I had no reason to. I pushed people away who stuck by me through everything I put them through. If my life didn’t have a problem, I created one. Drama was my best friend and helped me keep my disease moving forward. I can deny as much as I want to but having my mental illnesses was something I chose to live with. I acted as though my issues defined me and they did, because I let them. The truth was, I didn’t want to get help. I liked feeling the way I did. It is hard to explain why someone would want to feel this way. Why would someone want to be in pain? To feel numb? To feel trapped inside their body? Well, sometimes living in this other world you created for yourself, is easier than living in what you call your reality.
I have seen and heard a lot of stories about people with mental illnesses. Many of them use the word “normal” in almost every line. You see, I think mental illnesses aren’t being looked at the way they need to be. Everyday, people die from mental illnesses. People who have been shamed, told they were not good enough, told they were being dramatic, told the world would be better off without them. Living in this world is a challenge in itself, why do people need to go out of their way to make another human being feel so much hatred toward themselves, that they ultimately decide to take their own life?
Often times, people who have never experienced or have known someone who had a mental illness or was suicidal have a hard time understanding why these things happen in the first place. I have been told from people who are close to me, “You do this for attention” or “Why would you do that. You are so stupid”. It is statements and biases like this, that cause others dealing with mental illness to feel isolated and judged. Mental illness has a stigma around it and this barrier needs to be broken down.
In the mind of someone who is depressed or feeling as though they don’t play a role on this earth, seeing all of the good in life is blinded by mental illness. If you take a look at my life right now, I will tell you that I am a lucky person. I do not have everything that I want in my life, but I have everything that I need. I have an amazing family who I am lucky enough to be close to. I have friends who I can depend on. I have a home, a car and a job. I am able to go to college and pursue my dream. Most people don’t have half of what I have. I appreciate the little things in life and the things I always took for granted. Something we do everyday, breathing I now appreciate a little bit more. The fact that I have arms or legs or that I can see or hear. Gifts that we have been given and so many people have had taken away, I took for granted. So, I am truly grateful for my life. A few years ago, I couldn’t name one thing on that list. This is not because those things weren’t there but because I wasn’t able to accept them or believe that I had good things in my life.
Having a mental illness, is like being in a room filled with everything you have ever wanted but not one thing makes you happy. You have many good things in your life but you cant see it because you are so convinced that you and the life that you live are worthless. I used to believe that I didn’t deserve happiness. I used to believe that I was nothing and the last time I checked, people who are nothing deserve nothing. I have a little cousin, two now. As I watch them grow up, I see how smart and unique they are. They developed their own personality and authenticity. I never want them to grow up feeling like they are anything but normal. I don’t want this society to change the way they believe in themselves. I started to understand how hard it must be for a parent or a loved one to watch someone they care about slip right through their hands. It took having my cousins enter my life to understand what it is truly like to care and want to protect someone. I would do anything for them and to keep them always believing in who they are.
It is not always easy to understand why people feel the way they do. But do we always know why we do everything we do? No, we don’t. We often act on impulse and what our guts tell us to do. I have been in recovery for about two and a half years now and I am just now starting to understand half of what I did and why. Everyday I learn a little bit more. We don’t have to always understand or even agree with what is presented in front of us but we need to be able to stop treating mental illness like it is taboo or shame others who suffer from one. How can we further our understanding of mental illness, if we aren’t open to the idea?
Being able to share ones story is something I admire in people. From personal experience, this is not an easy task. As I continue to progress as a person and come into my own, I have become more open to talking about the issues in my life. I consider that a huge accomplishment and for the first time in my life, I am proud of myself. Finally being able to confront my most inner demons and thoughts, has helped me to grow as a person and help others as well. I am able to help myself in ways I never thought I would be able to do. I am able to change things in my life I was never able to do before. I am finally able to work on my issues and overcome the challenges in my life. That alone is an amazing feeling and one I would not trade for the world.
I am also able to help others through sharing my story and giving advice on the things I know all to well. Helping others deal with and work on their issues is the greatest feeling in the world. Having people come to you and asking you for help or just being there to talk to them, is just a reassurance that I am on the right path in life. I may have struggled with mental health but I am able to help others through my experiences. We have so much to give in this world and even if we don’t have everything we want, we will always have the gift to help and give back. You don’t need a reason to help someone or to give someone a hand. We do these things out of the kindness of our hearts and not in hopes of receiving something in return. No matter how many times we have been knocked down, never stop giving back and helping people. We all go through ups and downs regardless of the situations. We all have the power to constantly keep making room in our hearts for people for no reason at all but simply because we care.
“I’ve got shame, I’ve got scars that I will never show. I’m a survivor in more ways than you know. Now I’m a warrior. I’ve got thicker skin. I’m a warrior. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. My armor is made of steel you can’t get in. I’m a warrior and you could never hurt me again.”
Words I live by everyday. We need to always keep growing. Forever. We need to always keep spreading love. We don’t just give up because things aren’t going our way. We are always going to have things that will go wrong in our lives. That’s life. We are only human and life will never be perfect. One thing I learned is to learn how to deal with things when they don’t go our way. Learn to be happy and be who you are. You only live one life, so write a good story. Don’t live life living with regrets and the what if’s. Just be the person you were always meant to be. We are all warriors fighting our own battles and we always have the power to win the war.