Written by Alan Brown. 

If you met me, you wouldn’t think that I would be your typical candidate for mental illness, at least that would be most people’s assumption. I was the popular kid in school, had good grades, a great home and family life. On paper, I should have no issues. I should’ve excelled, and I shouldn’t have had problems. But the real me was far from those things. I knew how to show people that I was happy, but God knows that I wasn’t happy. And until recently, I never was.

I seem to have found a light at the end of the tunnel by seeking professional help, and I would like others to take hope in the fact that seeking help is a sign of strengh. If you relate to where I’m coming from, it can be your chance to start fresh. Change is hard, but change is pivotal for growth.

Photo: Hannah Spurlock

While my mental health issues go back as far as I can remember, the first time I actually acknowledged them was in the fifth or sixth grade when I asked a teacher for a gun so that I could kill myself. It was a bit melodramatic, but I had taken the first step by admitting that I had a problem. Even if I couldn’t exactly put a finger on it, I knew that I was not existing in a proper state of mind.

Unfortunately, in high school, those same feelings still existed. I didn’t understand it then and I’m not sure that I still even really understand it today. I knew that I was suffering from major depression, but I didn’t understand how I stayed in this point of view with a life that most people dream of. The question that constantly plagued me was “How can I be so sad with all of these good things going on?” I found myself wanting to be like the other people who seemed happy, and who somehow just seemed to understand whatever it is that this life thing had to offer. Even though I couldn’t stand myself, I learned how to put on a show for people so that they were unable to see that my mind was chaos every single day.

Mental illness is ruthless. It doesn’t care who you are, what you have, or how you got there.

Throughout high school, college, and even as late as 2017, I self-harmed. My method was primarily to cut my arms. Until late 2017, this action followed me. Again, I did not understand why I felt the way that I did. All that resonated in my head was: “You deserve this.” It became my go-to way of punishing myself for no reason at all. At one point, in early 2016, I tried to overdose on any medicine I could find in the house.

After 27 years on this Earth, I finally took steps to get professional help, and it turned out to be something as “simple” as a chemical imbalance that could at least be partially rectified with medication and therapy. This information let me breathe a sigh of relief like I hadn’t done in years.

One of the main things I learned in therapy was “Chemical imbalances affects the thoughts we have. Those thoughts become actions, and finally those actions become habits.” It became so clear to me that those people who I wanted to be like had taken control of their own habits, and that is why they seemed to just “get it.”

Until almost the end of 2017, I was stuck in a world of extremely depressed habits. While I didn’t always cut, if something bad would happen, it was would be my main go-to. Many people do not understand this was a daily battle for me. There isn’t a “snap out of it” method with mental illness.

There were days—good days—that I would leave work or a friend’s house, and suddenly for no reason be consumed by thoughts of suicide. But before I got help, I only knew where I wanted to be, with no idea of how to get there. Everything was a blur because my habits were not able to breed good thoughts. I was stuck in a complete loop of waking up, being sad, and wasting my time long enough to go back to sleep. I spent years in this numb cycle of just existing, and it continued to spiral. I understand now that my main internal conflict was and is struggling with the idea of lost potential due to mental blockades.

Photo: Lori Kilgore Miller

In therapy, I am learning how to close this chapter of my life. I am learning that the cutting was part of my control mechanism. It was one of those habits that became normal. In therapy I am learning how to let go of the control. I finally am understanding why I cut. It was because it was all I knew. It’s what my brain relied on to calm down in those moments of stress. It was a pressure relief valve, and that’s why I did it. And finally, I am ready to be done with that.

I am also learning to use all of this fire I’ve had within me. No longer will I let this depression control me. I am learning what it is going to take for me to just “get it.” For the first time, I understand why I’ve been depressed. In addition to fixing the chemical imbalance, I am being given the tools and perspective to dig myself of out of the ruts that have been so deep in my everyday life.

If you are having these kind of thoughts, it is totally okay to get help. I am finally learning to live my life and for the very first time learning how to unleash all of my potential. I want you to understand that this an action of strength, and I encourage you to make your habits ones that fuel your fire, not snuff it out. You do not have to continue a path of failure, self-harm, or numbness. Thoughts affect actions, actions become habits, and those habits keep us buried.

A dark room cannot sustain itself when lights are placed within it. Get help so that you can find your fire. You can do it.

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.

Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.

Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.

Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.

Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.

— Chinese proverb, author unknown

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