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Tough Love: Speaking Out on Anxiety and Depression Part 1

by Sarah A 4 years ago in recovery
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Tough Love: Speaking Out On Anxiety, Depression, and Other Mental Health Disorders (Part 1)

This is not an easy article to write, with so much stigma surrounding mental health disorders. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for the better part of my young life, exhibiting symptoms and signs as early as four years old. This is not for those of us who want to be coddled or pitied or even an article for those of us in the midst of an episode of intense depression and grief; no, this is an article for those of us who are tired, tired of depression and anxiety kicking our asses, ready for a change, and ready to take control. I am going to gently, here, place a trigger warning, as I’m going to share my struggle and some of the things that I have learned along the way to developing a healthy mind (which has not been easy—self is the greatest obstacle anyone must overcome in life). I’m probably going to say some things that maybe you don’t like, and it’s OK if you don’t agree with them, but I want you to think. This article is in two parts: part one, my story; and part two, my recovery and what I learned.

Trigger warning: Self-harm, suicidal thoughts and actions, abuse, cyberbullying, drugs/alcohol, rape, relationship difficulties, depression, anxiety, and…. Incredibly Tough Self-Love.

We Are Victims: Part One, My Story

Along my journey, I have been physically, emotionally, and mentally abused, as many of us with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or even borderline personality disorder have been. I suffer from all four. This is a reason, and it’s far from an excuse. I grew up with an alcoholic parental unit who had frequent disputes often turn physical (more-so on the side of my father to my mother, I never saw her hit him), and, when I was seven, my father died. My mother’s drinking continued in excess while she worked 70 hours a week to support my sister and me, trying to give us what she felt was, financially-speaking, the most normal life possible. We grew up in a conservative, upper-middle-class town, where poverty was not often seen. We took ballet class like "normal" girls in our area and music lessons, too; she was even our Girl Scout Troop Leader. I don’t want this article to leave you thinking my mother was a "bad mom"; she was and is a mom with a great struggle, and I genuinely forgive her and love her very much.

She really did try to do her best, but she couldn’t stop drinking, and, when she would drink, she would get mean. Subject to her rages and her grief over losing my father and the unfairness of life, after being left home alone for many hours, we dreaded when we saw the bottle come out—we knew it meant more instability. Most times, it was berating and blaming, but, other times, I would be remiss if I did not mention that it did reach physical levels. We lived in silence for fear of losing our last surviving parent to possibly growing up in the foster care system. Many times she would often threaten suicide, which, to children, is pretty difficult to reconcile with. She would oscillate between intensely supportive and kind, bordering on overprotective, to downright destructive to our self-esteem and creating a hopeless spiral of confusion, never knowing which was the reality.

We grew up angry, with very few coping skills. I was the first to break, probably because of the fact that I was a very cognitive child, very aware, and also older and cognizant of what was happening between (and with) my parents. I was diagnosed with ADD because I had poor focus, but the truth was I was anxious and fearful of speaking as to why. The medications I was prescribed served only to fuel more chronic anxiety in the form of side effects, and I developed a lot of behavioral issues in school: poor social skills, inability to make lasting, healthy friendships or relate to others, lashing out at other students for minor offenses, and crying bouts, which only lead to the consequence of being bullied at school. This was in a time when cyberbullying was just becoming “a thing” and schools would do little to mitigate it because it was not happening on school grounds. The common mentality at the time was, “just turn off the computer,” which we now recognize as very difficult to do for young adults.

I self-harmed. I skipped school. I smoked cigarettes in the bathrooms, I mouthed off to teachers. I didn’t do my homework. I also got my head shoved in the toilet, got locked in lockers, had people pick me up and put me in trash cans and try to roll me down the steps, had things thrown at me in the cafeteria, and was laughed at in the hallways. At home, I had, for a time, found relief in LiveJournal, Blogspot, and AIM chat rooms, the early social media—that is, until the bullying at school crossed onto these platforms and students at my school sought me out on these places to continue tormenting me.

“Kill yourself, emo bitch,” reads a comment still up on my LiveJournal. There were many others, though, that I took down religiously. This also doesn’t include the countless AIM messages from students at my school creating anonymous screen names. MisteryStalker59 told me once, “your dad died so he could get away from a disappointment like you.” My mom went to the school often with printouts of these conversations, much to my terrible embarrassment, and would have meetings with the dean and the principal only to be told there was nothing they could do.“Take it to the police,” they said. She also did that, and the police told her to “take it to the school, and take your child offline.”

As it seemed to circulate around information that was already known about me, it was fairly easily pinpointed. It was pretty accepted by my mom, teachers, and other school officials and police that the offenders must have been in my group of friends. These "friends" were people who were also growing up in abusive, alcoholic, drug-addicted, or even poorer homes, making it easier for us to relate to each other. Our relationships were in constant turbulence, and gossip ran rampant in our "circle." The rest of the school called us the “goth kids” or the “emo kids” or even “those Hot Topic kids,” and they ultimately showed a high level of disinterest in us, except when it came to mocking us in the hallways and putting us in trash cans.

We operated primarily in our own difficult circle of issues, seeing ourselves as victims because people didn’t like the way we dressed. We were mostly victims of each other, though, looking back. It was not so difficult to gather that the bullying was happening within our own group when we frequently involved the school when disputes would pour over and we would argue in the halls, disrupting classes and other students. The fact that my mother was so involved lent me the title of “tattle-tale” because it would often spell detention for all of us; as you can imagine, this made things worse. Eventually, I dropped out after being told I would have to repeat 12th grade because I’d been hospitalized several times, somewhat long-term, for episodes of self-harm and trying to overdose on pills to take my life so many times. I’d collectively missed 186 days of school for the duration of my high school experience, making me unable to graduate with my peers. I did receive my GED and attend some college, though. Years later, the "friends" that were responsible for the cyberbullying did admit their wrongdoings and apologize. And my mom? She married an asshole and got sober.

Once a Victim, Always a Victim: The Struggle Draws to a Close

For many, many years, I blamed my mother and my "friends." My thoughts circulated around how life should have been and how unfair my life was. How all the medications the psychiatrists put me on in my teen years made me so tired that I could not focus, and that the tremor in my hand had become too much to allow me to draw (which was a big escape of mine). I never went to art school because of my mother who continually asserted I was not stable enough to attend classes. I grew up without a father. My friends were huge assholes.

When I had gotten through all the troubles of high school, my mom met a really nasty man who she’s still with today. He continued on the saga of abuse until my sister and I ultimately moved out, and my mom never addressed it. The guy refused to get a job, requiring my mother’s full financial support, and, even with her cancer and need for help with the bills at present, he still refuses to get a job. He was even arrested and jailed for a month once for assaulting my sister and me, and my mom still took him back. Every time we visit my mother (who is very sick currently), he still nitpicks us and yells at us, making ridiculous demands such as to clean up after his messes or to listen to him while he’s telling us how much we’re losers and failures. He also has never hesitated to let me know that my psychiatric treatment is such a disgrace, and his favorite go-to is, “You’re fucking crazy, take another pill.” Not really a likable guy, but I deal because I forgive my mom’s weakness. This has persisted for years and is still happening, so I work on forgiving his weakness, too—not for him, but for myself, because I DESERVE PEACE. Forgiving is a very active process, though, and a choice we make every day, but I’ll talk more about this later.

So, I digress; I was angry for many years. I let my emotional thoughts drive me into spirals and destroy relationships, to sabotage my educational endeavors and my dreams. I reflected often about how my life was so unfair, that no one should have to grow up this way, that I should not have been given my struggles. When I was 19, I was raped by an older man I was dating.

This was not your stereotypical "slam you against the wall, rip your clothes, and force himself into you" sort of rape. We had a very fast relationship, even having a religious marriage ceremony three weeks into our relationship, and I moved in to escape my stepfather. It turned bad pretty quickly, though, and I regretted moving in with him within a week or so. It started off small: He took my phone because I had called an ex-boyfriend of mine to complain about a fight that me and my “husband” were having. He said if I needed to talk to my mom or my friends, there was nothing I couldn’t say in front of him. I had a job as a waitress at the time, and my “husband” didn’t care for it because it was a bar and the uniform was, I will admit, pretty skimpy. I won’t get into his religious faith, but I do suspect that may have had something to do with it because I was not as "pious" as he would have liked me to be. He went to my job and screamed at my boss for running a “whore house,” and I was subsequently fired after my “husband” had committed me to a psychiatric hospital because he was leaving for a trip and could not “trust me alone” for various reasons (me speaking to my ex as a friend, one of them). He told the hospital that I was suicidal, and, though I wasn’t, the cuts on my arms did little to support what I said. In the end, my job found that my working there was “too complicated.”

We fought often, and the night that it happened I was supposed to cook dinner for him and his friends. I did so, but not without a grudge. That night, I refused to sleep with him. It was about 10:30 at night and I was sitting in bed reading a book on the occult (which he did not approve of, but I found terribly interesting, so I was going to do it anyway). He slid under the blankets next to me, placing a hand on my thigh, and I looked over at him through my dark-rimmed glasses.

“If you think you’re going to get some, you’re wrong,” I said, looking back to my book. His hand tightened on my thigh. “Get off, I’m mad at you. I shouldn’t have to cook for all your rapper friends in the studio, it’s not fair” I said, shaking him off.

“I’m fucking supporting you and giving you a place to live,” he said grabbing my arm, causing me to look up.

I felt anxiety and anger bubbling up, “You got me fired! I’m giving you the money I have saved!”

“You got yourself fired, bitch.” He squeezed my arm tighter.

“Get off of me, I don’t want to talk to you.”

He let go and got up, walking over to his studio computer and starting to put away his equipment, throwing cables into drawers, and slamming them. “What the fuck good is having a wife if she never does anything for you? You leave me high and dry that is not your duty or your role as a wife. You would be nothing without me. You have nothing without me.”

My “husband” was sounding angry, his voice rising in volume; he hit the wall open handed and I jumped. “I should take another wife so you can see how they would do for me. So you can see how a woman would please her man. You are nothing; you are weak! I have done everything for you! I could throw you out on the street, you know that right? I could throw you out and you can go back with your fucked up family! If you continue on this way, I’ll send you right back where you came from! Let them deal with your disrespectful ass!”

And that was how it happened. Like I said, it wasn’t rape in your stereotypical sense. He got louder and louder, and I became more and more afraid until I gave in. I said "yes" because I was so afraid of having to go back to being hit by my stepfather and being told I was shit by him with my mother turning a blind eye. I was young; I’d never seen real romantic love outside of movies. My own father used to hit my mother. I thought this was normal, so I allowed it.

When I consented that night, he held me down by my arm and my throat, calling me a bitch over and over again while I cried silently. I hesitate even today to call it rape: It was more frightening, often more demeaning sexual experiences, and coercion through abuse, but I’ve been told that counts as rape because I was not able to give true consent, and I’m not really sure what else to call it. I do often wonder if he may have eventually forced himself on me, given his nature. That night, after it was over, I locked myself in my closet and dug a razor blade into my wrist several times, trying to test to see if I could cut any deeper and slit my wrists. I felt completely defeated and trapped; I couldn’t even call my sister to ask for her help. I wanted to die.

For three months after this event, every time I resisted, he would make it clear he could get rid of me in a heartbeat, that I would be homeless, that I would have nothing without him, and I would give in, and it would end in a similar fashion each time: me crying because I felt I’d no choice and I was afraid of him. We had a pregnancy scare, and it indeed was a scare because when I showed him the positive result, he told me that immediately after the child was born, I’d have to sign the rights to him so I couldn’t pull some “crazy shit.” The test was a clear positive, but I frequently went without eating because of the constant stress, and I began bleeding heavily before I even saw a doctor. I was never so grateful as to not have to bring a child into that. I started taking the birth control pill secretly after this (and exactly as prescribed, never missing a pill), even though, inside, I bitterly wept the loss and was filled with extreme confusion.

I tried to find another job, but he told me abruptly that we had to move because the house we were renting had been foreclosed on. The landlord had been taking our rent money without telling us until the final two weeks, according to my “husband,” and I will never know if that is true or if he knew for a while. My mom helped us move, but I was too scared to tell her because I couldn’t go home with her with my stepfather being as abusive as he was. I had not been allowed to leave the house without my “husband” or a friend of his escorting me, be it to the store for a pack of smokes or even for a walk around the city block. He’d also barred me from seeing any of my friends without him present, but he didn’t want to go see them, nor have them over, because he said they were “dumb kids,” plus “his friends were all I’d ever need.” This continued at the new place.

One night, a new roommate who did not share my “husband’s” viewpoints on marriage came to me and talked to me a little bit about what he was seeing. He said that no woman should be subjected to that verbal violence and that I should have my phone. I played dumb, but the roommate insisted. He pulled my phone out of his back pocket.

“Take it,” and he placed a small, one-shot bottle of alcohol next to me. “And have a drink.”

I took my phone, and I drank the shot down, “Thank you.” He gave me a cigarette and told me he had to leave for work, so I’d be home alone for once. I didn’t hesitate. As soon as he left, I threw a bunch of clothes into a trash bag and called my ex-boyfriend and told him what was happening. I begged him to ask his father if I could stay with them for a few days until I figured things out. He agreed.

My “husband” came home as I was finishing up gathering up the trash bags I had packed, triple bagging them because they were difficult to carry, and a backpack of some of my books and shower supplies. Cold rain and hail beat against the glass and the wind whistled past the house.

“Where’s my dinner?”

“I don’t know, where is it?”

“Don’t talk to me like that. Why haven’t you made it?” He started to get that wildfire in his eyes that I dreaded, but I was almost there. I WAS ALMOST OUT.

“I’m not making you dinner. I’m leaving. I’m going to stay with (name omitted).”

“Whoring around now. You’ll be back, and I won’t have you when you come crawling back.”

“I’d rather be his whore than your wife.” It sounded so cliche when it fell from my lips, but it fit.

I wanted to leave right then and there, but my “husband” insisted on me leaving in the morning. He asked me to stay the night, and if I still felt the same in the morning, I would be free to go. I hesitated, but it was almost midnight by that point and none of the busses were running where we were, so that would have meant either a very long walk or sleeping out in the cold rain, and it was due to change to snow by morning. I agreed. In the morning, before he woke up, I left because I didn’t want him to change his mind when our other roommates got home and he had more people to back him up.

Unfortunately, when I left, I was only able to take one bag with me and my backpack. I realized it would be too much for me to be able to flee the house in silence. Many of the possessions I left were broken or urinated on. He slashed my favorite painting with, apparently, a knife when I went back with my mother to get my things. Needless to say, I only had a few outfits and books for about a year after that. He continued to contact me under various numbers for several years after, wondering what I was up to, how my family was, if I still had feelings for him. Each time, I felt sick to my stomach and re-lived the experiences again in brilliant emotional recall and vibrant color, the air sucked from me as I tried to laugh it all off.

I ended up moving back in with my mother. My stepfather was just as verbally abusive as ever, but the physical abuse was one to three times a year, and, as long as I kept my mouth shut, I learned it would be solely just the verbal abuse. I ran off about two and a half years later and moved in with another guy, and, because I let all my past traumas get in the way, that failed. He couldn’t deal, and neither could I.

I became an alcoholic, and I definitely put a lot of drugs into my body that I’ve no clue even what they were, mostly because I didn’t care if I lived or died; I just was running from everything. I was hooked on opiates for a year, but when a guy I was dating was arrested, I was forced to get sober because we were living with his family. I still continued to drink and my mom continued to send financial support to me through my spotty employment, but I was so traumatized, it was difficult to work. Everyone was a potential threat and probably out to hurt me or control me. I’d always wind back up at my mother’s after each failure, having my stepfather to contend with, which caused its own problems. Flee, fail, flee, fail: the inevitable cycle that had become my life.Now that you know some of the causes, issues, and situations leading up to the problem, here is PART 2 of this article with the solutions:Tough Love: Speaking Out on Anxiety and Depression Part 2


About the author

Sarah A

Mystifying the mind one article at a time :-)

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