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12th of October 2009. That’s the date I was diagnosed with Depression, Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I was 15 at the time, in high school, and couldn’t explain or comprehend when I was drowning. I thought I was weak—strong people didn’t need help. I didn’t understand.
I was immediately put on several medications as my doctor was worried I was a suicide risk. I wasn’t, not then. To this day I don’t know if the medication worked. I didn’t necessarily feel better while on it, just more in control. That did help, I guess. Feeling in control made it easier to accept what was happening. I didn’t leave the house. I missed months of school. When I hit 18, none of my friends were going to university but I felt hollow like I needed to leave. I decided to re-take my final year of high school. I visited six universities and decided on the one I wanted to attend. I only wanted to go there, so for eight months I attended school every day, and spent my free periods, breaks, and any free time I had working. I pushed so hard for so long I think the illusion of control that my medication gave me was all that got me through sometimes.
I got in my dream university. Not because it was an amazing institution—I think currently it's number 74 in the country—but because I felt at home the second I walked onto campus. The subject I was studying had a great department with talented lecturers but not so high in their field they seemed above it all. It seemed approachable. They were great. So much so I graduated with the second highest degree possible despite relapses.
I decided to do my masters for the wrong reason. I still felt like I had something to prove, people to prove wrong. Someone to spite with my achievements, to cause them to eat their words. It was the wrong motivation and I saw that immediately, but I couldn’t face quitting, so I pushed again. I still do sometimes. A need to prove that I’m not weak and my intelligence or capability isn’t dictated by my illness. I completed my masters and graduated last September. Yet, the feeling is still there, I don’t know if it will ever go away, but today I’m proud. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. I’m proud of the relationships I’ve fortified with my friends and family. I’m closer to them now than I’ve ever been even though I’m 10,000 miles away from home. I left in January, I packed a bag and left, alone. I decided that I would travel solo. If "Eat, Pray, Love" was one woman’s journey mine would be "Eat, Drink, Withdrawal."
As of today, I have been medication free for almost five weeks. After nine years of pills, I am finally me again. No mood-altering substances, no illusions of what I’m feeling. I feel it all now, the pain, joy and confusion that seemed muted until so recently. This did not happen overnight, and I want to make it clear I discussed it with my doctor before I left home. Due to the length of time I was on my medication, I couldn’t go cold turkey. I spent the last three months gradually reducing my dose until five weeks ago when I stopped. I honestly can’t remember what day I stopped. I just forgot to take them, something which never happened as I took them every morning with my inhaler. I just forgot and by the time I realised, it had been days, maybe over a week. While alone on this trip, I’ve begun to get to know myself maybe for the first time, As a teenager no one knows who you are, opinions, tastes, and personalities change, and mine have been altered for so long. I feel different, not happy—not cured, not depression free or an absence of self, just different. Like I’m learning things all over.
I’m in control. No one else. I chose the paths I have taken, I chose to stop taking my medication after so long. I chose to get away. I chose.
You are in control. Not your illness, not your medication. You are strong and one day it will get better. You will not wake up to sunshine and roses but one day you will wake up and smile. You will be proud of what you’ve achieved, because you’re still here.