by Samantha Gaspardo
I used to think that my mental illness defined who I was, but over the past five years, I have learned that I define who I am.
I have always dealt with depression and anxiety, but it wasn’t until recently that I was diagnosed with PTSD. In high school, I reached rock bottom. I was in a verbally abusive relationship, I was raped by my boyfriend (which I blacked out of my memory for almost a year) and became suicidal. After being told by my ex-boyfriend that I should kill myself, I finally decided to go through with my plan. To this day, I still thank God for not letting that plan work.
My parents discovered me on my couch, incoherent from taking pills. They rushed me to the hospital where I proceeded to get the help I needed. After being in an adolescent psychiatric ward and a girls group for teenagers with depression, I began to comprehend what I had gone through a little more. However, since the PTSD was still undiagnosed at this time, there were still a lot of issues.
That fall I went off to college and tried not to think about anything I had gone through. I spent the next four years trying to forget about what I had gone through, suppressing the memories by drinking, sleeping around and also became addicted to painkillers. I had tried out a few outpatient programs in those years, thinking that after completing them I was ok. I also was on and off my medication a lot in those years, because I was afraid of peers finding out I was “crazy”. I also thought that by going off my meds that it meant I was ok, everything was better.
That did not turn out to be the case.
Finally during what would have been my senior year of college I entered a partial program for mental health issues. I learned a lot about myself, was finally diagnosed with PTSD and was on the right path. That is until I returned to school. I ended up in the hospital with PID thanks to a cheating ex-boyfriend who caught a disease. After all I had gone through, I felt like everything I worked for in the in-patient program was for nothing. I went back home for a week and became suicidal again.
I did NOT want to go back to school, I was angry at the world, and when my parents told me I had to go back I came up with a plan again.
The very night that I got back to college I overdosed again. I told everyone it was a cry for help and that it was an accident, but secretly I was hoping that something would happen. I was in the hospital overnight and thankfully they agreed to let me go back home and get help. I packed up all of my belongings from my apartment as soon as I got out of the hospital and headed for home. The next few months were very hard, my depression had kicked in full force. I thought I was a failure for dropping out of college, I worried that I would never be ok, and I worried that I had no purpose to my life.
That April I started seeing a therapist who changed my life. She educated me on PTSD, helped me through the trauma through EMDR Therapy, helped me realize I wasn’t a failure, and most importantly she taught me to love myself.
I have been out of school for almost two years now and each day I get stronger. I have told myself that it is ok to have bad days and be sad, but that I should also never stop fighting. I realize I will deal with my depression, anxiety and PTSD the rest of my life, but have decided that I will not let that hinder me from my goals.
Most importantly, I have come to believe in the phrase “it gets better”. I used to hate when people said that to me, as I am sure a lot of people who struggle do. But I now realize why people say that. I cannot imagine not being here today, there is so much that I would have missed out on. So I want people to know that as much of a cliché it is, things really do get better.
Don’t be afraid to drop out of school or delay going to college to get better, don’t be ashamed to take medication, don’t worry what people think because you are in therapy. There is such a stigma about mental illness, you just have to push through that barrier and help people see the side of it that we see.
I am not a victim of sexual assault, I am not my depression, I am not my anxiety, I am not my PTSD. I am a warrior who will never stop fighting.