Leah’s Story

leah

I don’t remember the exact age I began having mental health challenges. I think it was before my bat mitzvah, so probably around the age of 12 or 13. I started seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist when I was 14 or so. I had a lot of anxiety, and I had a breaking point. My anxiety led me to develop trichotillomania (a compulsive urge to pull out hair, which I still struggle with today). The worst part of trichotillomania was throughout high school when I pulled out all my eyelashes a few times, without even realizing it. It was terrible in the summertime (especially at camp) when I would get so much dust in my eyes from not having anything to protect them. I looked and felt weird. It was just so embarrassing as a teenage girl! It’s now been over a decade since I’ve done anything that drastic to myself. Meanwhile, things got pretty bad in high school, and even worse after that.

 

I had a few different breakdowns in life. I have tried to commit suicide three separate times, and I think- I hope- that that’s all in the past for me. The first time was 2008. I was 21, and it was about a week before Memorial Day weekend. I had to go to the ER after I tried to overdose. I took a little break from school, because I knew I wasn’t going to graduate anyways at the same time as all of my friends. I was in the emergency room for a little while in Denver, and then I went back to Texas for about a week. My family basically said, “I think you’re ok,” which trivialized what I was feeling a bit. It was a really awful summer to say the least. I was feeling like I was going nowhere with my life, so I attempted suicide again in August of 2008, and I was put on a psychiatric hold in the hospital. After I got out, my mom flew to Denver and packed up my stuff and we drove home to Texas. It was at this point that I realized it was best for me to stay living at home with my family for the long-term until things got better.

 

This started two and a half years of recovery, during which I was the healthiest and happiest I had been in a long time. We had just rescued a puppy, and dogs are so therapeutic. I got better, spent time with my family, decided to finish school, graduated and got a job. I was keeping myself busy and healthy, and I saw a therapist twice a week. She was wonderful- still the best therapist I ever had. Slowly but surely, I got better.

 

And then I moved away in December 2010. At this point, I had been living in this safety bubble with my parents and a dog as a young adult for a few years. I moved to Boston for grad school. In Boston, it is really hard to meet people – they aren’t as friendly as in Texas. I started drinking more and going out more. I got off all my medications (anti-depressants and mood stabilizers), which was obviously not my brightest idea. It’s not that I was ashamed to be on them; I just thought I could be done. That was easily my biggest mistake at the time. I wouldn’t get out of bed, I binged on Netflix, and I shut people out of my life. I wouldn’t even talk to my parents or sister at times. That’s what worries my family the most now, if I go a few days without answering their calls. I literally stayed in this one little nook in my bed, not wanting to get up in the morning, but my body would wake me up, and I would sit there and do nothing and turn my phone off so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. I did the same thing every day for a few months. I stayed in bed all day and went back to bed at night. It was not a life to be living. There was no substance, no content.

 

I knew that depression was overtaking me, but I thought, “So what?” I was so lethargic and felt so gross. I didn’t care. I didn’t even have the energy to attempt suicide again, I was just living this life, getting through day by day but not doing anything. I mean, what’s there to talk to people about when you’re that depressed and have nothing going on? It was hard — not a pretty picture.

 

I started dating someone new in December of 2011, and I thought it was going well – we had just celebrated Valentine’s Day and I had just met his mom. But in February 2012, he broke up with me at his apartment on an early Saturday morning, and I immediately got in a cab to go home with the intention of overdosing. I vaguely remember walking to the door of my apartment, chugging a bottle of wine, and getting every single kind of pill possible out from my nightstand (this included prescription sleeping pills, anti-depressants, mood stabilizers and medicine for anxiety). I took several bottles worth and drank at least two bottles of wine. From the marks on my body (many bruises and a black eye), it’s clear that I was struggling and kept falling over around my apartment as I was doing this. However, looking back, I realize that this was more like a cry for help, because as I was doing it, I texted my best friend and asked her what she was doing and if she could come over immediately. She had to force herself into my building. When she got there, I started throwing up, she called 911, and I was quickly taken to the nearest ER.

 

I was on psychiatric hold for 2 days in the ER, and then I was transferred me to McLean, one of best mental hospitals in the world. This was my third time attempting suicide, yet this was somehow the first time I was checked in as an inpatient within a psychiatric hospital. It was such a weird experience… almost an out of body experience. I don’t remember the first few days, because I had so many drugs in my system. For better or for worse, I didn’t have a roommate at McLean, and I wasn’t quite connecting to any of the other patients. I remember my cousin brought me a pay-as-you-go phone so I could be in touch with my parents. I started on new medications again while I was in there. I had to make an agreement with the doctors that instead of just leaving the hospital and going to my apartment, I would take a leave of absence from work and go back to Austin for 10 days. I was also forced to get a therapist within Boston in order to leave. I still don’t remember a lot of that time because I was such a zombie. It was such a deep, dark time for me.

 

After some much needed time off in Austin, I finally made it back to Boston. Since I work alone, I had the ability to work from home a lot and I did so when I came back, which isn’t healthy when you’re already feeling isolated. It was in the spring, and I remember drinking so much wine and pretty much eating dozens upon dozens of mini Cadbury eggs. I rarely left my apartment. For this first time ever in my life, I didn’t even go anywhere even for Passover. In the midst of all of this, my sister got engaged to the love of her life. Everyone around me was doing so well, and I was just in my apartment refusing to make the choice to get better, while also gaining a ton of weight. I wanted to get myself together and get in shape (as that always helps me feel better), so I got myself up and out of bed, put away the wine and chocolate, started using my gym membership again, and got myself back to the office that I had to do my job. I knew it would be a slow process, but I was going to get my life back together.

 

And then my life just started changing for the better. I ended up getting a new job that summer, which is where I still am now. I have great co-workers, and it is nice to be working within a community. I make working out a priority, and therapy is taken even more seriously. There was just one day when I said to myself, “Alright, I have had three chances, and I am here for a reason. I can’t do this again.” So I just made a change. Every day has not been perfect since then, of course. It’s been three years since I was in that really deep, dark place and I’m not going to lie, it’s still hard sometimes. I wish I could say something happened that made me say that it was time to get better, but it just happened by itself.

 

My mental illness has been something that I have battled for over half my life at this point. I am now in a place where I find it so important to talk about stuff like this, because I have come to realize that there is way too much negative stigma around mental illness. The more people I talk to, the more people I find that mental illness affects — especially now that I am working with teenagers. I think it’s so important for us to talk about this. It’s not that I’ve ever really been ashamed of this, but I’ve also always been pretty quiet about myself. I don’t walking around wearing a neon t-shirt that says, “Hey, I tried to commit suicide three times,” but I think it’s really important to be here and open up the conversation.

 

My past challenges have definitely affected my entire life, and my family’s. I did a lot of this for my dad. Whether he admits it or not, he is very emotional, and the last time I attempted suicide, he just lost it. To say that he was completely heartbroken would be an understatement. I’m his baby. Unfortunately, my sister also doesn’t really understand all of my struggles. She is blessed and hasn’t had to deal with any mental health issues herself. She was very angry with me, which is not an ideal reaction, but she clearly didn’t know how to handle situation. She thought I was being very selfish. I didn’t come home that Saturday morning and say, “You know what? I’m going to hurt my family. I’m going to OD right now.” That’s not how I think of things. It’s been tough. My mom’s the only one who gets it (or says she does). She’s a nurse, so being in the medical field, she knows that this is nothing I have chosen. Whenever my mom talks about me to her friends who have children in similar situations, she tells me, “My friend’s daughter was there, and I get it because you were, too.”

 

The stigma is there. It shouldn’t be, but it is. People always have these absurd reactions to mental health issues. I know it’s so cliché to say this, but telling my story and talking about everything has completely made me stronger day by day and allow me to remove that stigma not only in my life but also in the lives of others around me. There are so many mornings when I wake up and I’m beyond depressed or dealing with a lot of anxiety, but that’s going to happen. That’s reality. That’s life. I’ve learned to let this be a part of my life, but I won’t let it control my life.

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