Ten years and ten months later, here I am writing for you. I never thought I'd see the day. I can count on one hand how many people I have shared my story with over the years. This is terrifying yet exhilarating at the same time.
Let me paint you a picture. I am a six-foot-tall woman with a voice that carries across a room, wildly sarcastic and sometimes a bit overly confident. I have nine black and gray hue tattoos with long brown hair that has been dyed more times than is probably recommended. I love my family, friends and interacting with people. Do you have a good picture?
After reading that first portion, would you believe me if I told you that I struggle with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Would you believe me if I told you that I had a heavy drinking problem in my early twenties because I didn't know I struggle with anxiety and PTSD? On the outside, I act like I have it all together. The inside is a completely different story. I hope my story helps you or someone you may know to show you that this world may be tough, but you are stronger.
I grew up in the middle of nowhere on an eight-acre property. The driveway was a half mile gravel lane leading back to an old stone farm house. The house was surrounded by a Christmas tree farm, a chicken coop, a blueberry patch, an ice-skating rink, a pond and endless opportunities to make memories. Those were the best fourteen years a girl could ask for. My family and life were perfect in my eyes. We laughed, we cried, we were silly, and we made remarkable memories. Year fifteen was the year that everything changed.
It was a Sunday morning a little past seven a.m. in October 2008. The night before was spent at the town Halloween parade with my mom and my twelve-year-old sister laughing and catching an obscene amount of candy that no one actually enjoys. We went to bed that night and woke up abruptly. My dad shot himself while my mom was in bed with him. My room was across the hall and my sister was downstairs having a sleepover with a friend. That morning my mom had just become a single mother, I was fifteen and my sister was twelve. Our lives changed instantaneously in a way no one could have predicted.
This was only the beginning. Over the course of the years, I am no longer in touch with my father's side of the family. They abandoned us immediately after the funeral was over. I lived with my grandparents on my mother's side for almost a year. Rumors, to this day, have been spread about my family, specifically my mother. My mother started dating a man a year after my father who turned out to be the biggest freeloading schmuck. He was using a woman who was just trying to keep her head above water when all she wanted in return was to be loved. This list is barely scratching the surface, but I promise, it does get better.
Fast forward to these almost eleven years, I am just now finally coping with my feelings and my past. I am talking and telling more people about my story and started therapy. There is still a lot of progress and work to be done, but the weight off my chest is indescribable. I can finally breathe again. I thought for the past eleven years I was fine and I had dealt with the trauma. As a teenager, I was acting out, failing in school, and suppressing my feelings. When college rolled around, drinking became more available and I drank until I cried and drank until I didn't remember. I had panic and anxiety attacks so frequently that I was convinced I was having heart attacks. I was fine on the outside and covered everything with humor and sarcasm. Now, I can finally breathe and know that even though I cannot forget my past, forward is forward. Sure, I am still over-the-top and sarcastic, but this time, I'm not using it to hide.
There are three big things I want you to take away from my story.
1) Ask for help and take care of yourself. One of the worst things I have done to myself over the years is push and suppress my feelings until they completely spilled out in a negative, unhealthy way. I always wanted to act tough and strong, but that was the weakest thing I could have done for myself. There is nothing strong about holding it in. It is not easy to talk to someone about what you are going through, but I promise, the weight off your chest is worth it in itself. Seek therapy or talk to your family and friends when you are ready.
Self-health and care are so important as well. It may seem selfish at first, but you come first. Go for a run, meditate, color in an adult coloring book (which I highly recommend), or watch a new show. Make sure your mentally and physically strong and healthy.
2) "It doesn't matter where you are in your journey, forward is forward". I saw that quote hanging on a corkboard and I will never forget it. It took me almost eleven years to confront my trauma, anxiety and PTSD, but this is my journey and I am doing it for me. Do not compare yourself to others and their journey. Everyone has a different path and story and you have to do what is best for you. You'll get there and when you do, nothing will stop you.
3) Check in with people. Regardless if it is a friend, a family member, or a complete stranger, ask how they are doing, and really ask. I know what happened with my father is not my fault, but that event made me realize that you really never know if someone is struggling. My father was like me; very outgoing, bubbly and happy, which is why his suicide was such a shock. No one ever saw it coming. Make sure to ask people how they are doing or even flash them a smile, because you have no idea how much that could change their world forever.
I hope my story helps you in your journey no matter what stage you are at. Take care of yourself, reach out for help, help others and know that you are worth it. It took me ten years and ten months to get here, and I know you are on your way to success and happiness too.
Written by Selene Jones