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Sammi's Story

Over eight years I got many different diagnoses: depression, anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder. But really, overall those titles mean nothing to me. I don’t know what exactly was wrong with me, all I know is how it felt.

It was like there was a monster in my head, sucking the joy out of everything. The monster appeared when I was about 13 and for the longest time I thought that was just how all teenagers felt. I thought all teenagers hated themselves and hated the world and struggled to even leave the house in the morning. I thought all teenage minds were chaotic and everyone walked around feeling completely alone no matter who they were with.

The monster told me so many things; that I was weak, that I was hopeless and that trying was pointless. It reminded me daily of how ugly and stupid and worthless I was. The monster occasionally relented, allowing me fleeting moments of happiness, but it was always short-lived and I was shoved from the greatest peaks of happiness to the bottom of darkness again.

When I was 14, I started harming myself because I wanted to make my pain as obvious to everyone else as it was to me. The monster was invisible so only I felt the full force of its torment. Turning my pain into something physical seemed easier to deal with. When people saw the pain written all over my skin that was when I was made to realise that what I was feeling wasn’t normal. My life became about psychologists, psychiatrists and medication. But nothing made any difference. I felt like the monster just got stronger and stronger. The feelings of desperation just got bigger and bigger.

I lived for eight years without sunshine and had completely given up on ever recovering. I continued hurting myself and hating myself. By 2010, I had accepted that happiness was completely hopeless. I went through the motions- working, studying and trying to have a social life. I lived with certainty at the back of my mind that eventually I’d die of suicide. It felt like that was the only way to stop the pain.

Following one of these “attempts to stop the pain” I was sent to another psychiatrist who prescribed medications and advised that I started Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Even though I was certain it wouldn’t work I went along with it to appease my concerned family and friends.

The first day at therapy I cried inconsolably because I felt like I was taking up someone else’s place in the group, my illness didn’t even allow me to feel worthy of getting better. That day, the psychologist asked me to set a goal for myself to achieve during therapy and I told my group that I’d like to be able to experience the sensation of “calmness”. At that time in my life, that felt completely impossible to me.

At some point that year I realised that nothing was ever going to change if I kept listening to my own brain. I was aware that a monster was in control and I had to stop letting it make the decisions. In a moment of clarity I decided that it was important to regard anything my therapists said to me as fact and I spent a few months tediously following every piece of advice they gave me.

I was on mood stabilisers and anti-depressants at the time, and because the medication sapped almost all of my energy, I did little more than study, work, receive therapy and sleep. But in group therapy, magic started to happen. I learnt about radical acceptance; accepting something bad that has happened without liking it and dealing with it rather than becoming stressed by it. I learnt of self-care and began making myself tea or taking walks around the block when I felt emotional rather than hurting myself. I learnt how to keep myself grounded and started to see the world with more clarity rather than automatically reacting emotionally to things. These may seem like simple concepts but they never even occurred to me when the monster was at the wheel.

In the beginning of 2011 I took some massive risks. Firstly, I went to Indonesia for a summer semester. My family were quite apprehensive about me being away from my support networks for 2 months but my psychologist suggested I was ready. I got there and immediately felt completely safe.

In the two months I was in Indonesia, I faced many challenges. My parents separated, my boyfriend broke up with me, I was studying and I was stressed about being in a foreign country. For the first time I was fighting against it without any professional help, without any medication steadying me. I was doing it by myself, yet for the first time in years I didn’t feel alone. The surprising thing was that most of the time I was actually happy and well. Even with all the drama going on in the background I remember that summer as the first time I was truly happy.

When I returned to Australia, I continued my DBT and continued to improve. I faced some different challenges, such as working out who I was. The monster had been with me for so long that I felt like I never knew where the mental illness stopped and where my own self began. The past five years have been about working out what I’m about. I’ve used this time to travel the world and live overseas. And life has been really beautiful. There have been moments when I have cried at the idea that I could have killed myself and denied myself all the wonderful things that my life has given me. I feel so blessed to be alive and able to live.

I still practice the concepts that I learnt in DBT. I feel like recovery is as much about maintenance as it is about killing the monster in the first place. These days a lot of the skills happen automatically but when I feel stressed and sad I know what I need to do to help myself stay on track.

It’s funny to think that being calm seemed impossible to me just 6 years ago and yet I’ve gone on to live with more happiness than I could have even imagined back then. That monster could have destroyed all this happiness before it even began. We need to remember that happiness is worth fighting for and that this world is a beautiful place no matter what that monster says.

By Sammi

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