This morning while idly scrolling through my Facebook memories, I saw a picture from six years ago that really got me thinking. I look at myself in the picture and I almost don’t recognize myself.
I’m 18 in this picture. I had just spent the month in Mexico trying to make my missionary life succeed. I had already been in missionary work before, but this was the first time I was on a team without my family. I had been through three months of training. I thought I was ready for this moment.
What no one else knew at this moment, including myself, was that I had two undiagnosed mental health problems. I knew something was wrong with me, I just didn’t know what it was. I had tried to talk to the missionary leaders. I was told things like: “It’s just an attack from Satan” or “Maybe it’s just your menstrual cycle about to start.”
I wanted to believe them. But deep down I knew they were wrong.
Mental health was not something that was talked about in real terms where I was. So I spent the entire month of January in deep depression; at times I wished I could just end it all. I spent the entire month of January going in and out of panic attacks so bad I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t breathe. The only thing that kept me going was the routine the other missionaries were trying to start.
I woke up in the morning, and I just wanted to cry in bed and never leave.
Six years ago today I escaped. Six years ago today I took my future in my own hands. I stopped trying to do what I thought my parents and community wanted me to do and flew back to the United States. Only a couple days before (I can’t honestly remember if it was one or two days before my flight) I bought a plane ticket. I didn’t tell anyone until it was bought, then I told them all I was leaving. I’m sure I made up a bullshit excuse. I don’t remember what it was.
I didn’t know how to say: My mind is going to kill me if I don’t get out. Somehow saying that would be weak. Saying that would leave it open to interpretation and getting bullshit answers like, “god will take care of things.”
I was done waiting on a god who was never going to show up to fix me.
I remember the day before I bought the plane ticket, I walked over to the local church and sat in the back and cried. I stayed there for about an hour, asking god to show me a way. Asking him to fix me.
The only answer I got was my own. Only I could fix me. I didn’t know how. I was only 18. But I knew it started with me leaving Mexico and the community behind. The community failed me. Their god failed me. But for the first time I stepped up, and I didn’t fail myself.
I found a strength that day that has saved my life. This strength helped me get into therapy and get diagnosed. It’s helped me find a career I love. It’s helped me come out as bisexual. It’s helped me find two partners that I love. My strength has kept me alive today.
So today I’m celebrating. I’m free. I’m alive.
To anyone else who thinks they might have depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, or any mental health issues. You can do this. I believe in you.