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I skipped junior year of high school because everyone I was friends with graduated at the end of my sophomore year. The end of that year was also when I fell in love with one of my best friends and subsequently found out he was cheating on his girlfriend with me. I was ready to be done.
I started senior year in 2011 at 16. I had a job, I was in color guard, I was taking 3 online classes to be truly promoted to 12th grade, I was in choir and piano and musical theatre. I was constantly skipping classes, shoplifting and sneaking into the local hookah bar with my legal aged friends. I was studying my ass off and putting too much on my plate and working at the same place as the guy who had broken my heart.
I was filling the void by flirting and making out with literally any guy who would talk to me – a kid from band who found himself on the outskirts of our friend group and is in jail now, the friend of my friend’s boyfriends despite the fact that we were the opposite of each other’s types; a guy who worked with us, and another guy who ended up working with us, so some nights ended up with the three of them and me on the clock, which made things interesting.
There’s a theme in my life in finding validation in the opinions of men.
*I feel like it goes without saying if you know me but when I say I made out with these guys I literally only made out with them. Nothing else. Not that it’s anyone’s goddamn business if I had sex with every single one, but I didn’t. We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.*
I would cry like clockwork each and every day: 7am, right before choir, the only thing I looked forward to. 10am, in the middle of my remedial math class because I had failed my very first class the year before, Algebra II. 2pm, walking home from school. 9pm, when I would start falling asleep in the middle of doing homework. I started driving my 2000 Ford Ranger to school, which was three minutes from home, just so I wouldn’t have to face my mom in the mornings. I would drive to the park instead of school and sit in my car, bawling my eyes out to Sarah McLachlan and Counting Crows.
I would skip fifth period to hang out with my friends, and come back in time for seventh period, which was color guard.
Color guard, if you don’t know, is a combination of flag, baton, sabre, and dance. Most importantly, they march on the field with the marching band, so it would count for the physical education component needed to graduate high school. I was one of the worst dancers, the oldest girl on the team, and I didn’t get along with half of the members. As you saw above, I had a lot of shit going on.
I would go straight to work after color guard, half-praying the boy I was still in love with wouldn’t be working the same shift as me, and half-wishing he would so I could spend four hours with him. I would come home smelling like pickles and french fry grease. I would do my virtual classes and my real homework and study my choir music and sleep for maybe four hours.
I don’t remember what the turning point was, what finally made me ask for help. I had made him a mixed CD, with songs that explained how I truly felt, for Christmas. I ended up running over it with my car in a desperate effort to kill anything that reminded me of him. This came after three months of us reconnecting; sitting in my car smoking menthol cigarettes at the park while he talked about how much he missed his girlfriend and I screamed with my eyes that I loved him more than myself. I finally got up the courage to quit the job and tell him how I felt. He told me, in so many words, that we should never see each other again because I was in too deep and since we didn’t work together, we should cut off all contact with each other.
I told my mom, as independent and self-assured as I had always pretended to be, that I needed help.
Shortly after I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I went to the band director and quit color guard, with the promise that I would still get enough credit to graduate, since we were only three months from the end of the year. I started volunteering at the community theatre and got another job, this time as a barista.
I started dating a kind, respectful, honest person who was the best thing that could have ever happened to me at that point in my life. He was the first guy my age that ever treated me the way one person should treat another. He never judged me. I hope he knows that he saved my life.
I graduated with high honors, one year early, despite almost drowning in mental illness and heartbreak my entire senior year.
It sounds like a beautiful ending, too good to be true, because it was.
Mental illness doesn’t care what you’ve accomplished despite it. Mental illness doesn’t care about your plans.
Mental illness doesn’t care that you’re in college and have things to do, a job, a show at the theatre, eighteen credits, a boyfriend who went to college four hours away who needs your attention.
Mental illness doesn’t care that I’m now 21 with my own house and my own bills to pay and my own full time job. Mental illness still kicks my ass sometimes. Mental illness sometimes forces me to stay in bed all day. Mental illness still forces me to fight with my boyfriend over nothing. Mental illness still gets my heart racing and hands shaking for no reason and has me breaking down at song lyrics. Mental illness still keeps me up at night.
But what mental illness does not do is define me.
Mental illness doesn’t know what a good friend I am. Mental illness does not change the fact that I am extremely sensitive and soft-hearted. Mental illness does not change the goals I have for myself, though it might make it harder to reach them. Mental illness doesn’t change that I love myself and want to live my best life, even when I want to die.
Mental illness doesn’t stop me from being myself.