I’ve decided to republish the original posts from May 2020. I didn’t know about my disorders then. I just knew that I was tired of being pushed around and being hurt for something that I couldn’t control. I wanted to spread the word; to speak out to let others know that they aren’t alone.
Any notes from 2021 Amber will be highlighted in purple.
“And these children that you spit onChanges, David Bowie
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through”
My teens were bumpy, to say the least, but whose aren’t, right? I honestly can’t say how much of what happened as a teenager was hormones and what was mental illness. At this point, I think they just held hands and skipped along together.
My home life had become unbearable for me. The tension was often palpable. Made worse by the fact that I was no longer trying to play along anymore. I was angry and I was tired of being discounted. I was tired of the wonderful parts of my personality being drown out by the amplification of all the perceived ways I was failing as a person. My attitude got defensive and ever more defiant and I wasn’t afraid to spew that attitude on whomever I deemed deserved it. It seemed that no one else was going to stand up for me so I started standing up for myself but the results were often explosive.
Other things were going on as well. The teen years are not always kind and even kids with normal lives and brains struggle with fitting in and finding their place among their peers. I had always had a strong desire to “fit in” all throughout school and it seemed this was amplified now that I had started Junior High.
Also, I missed my mom. Being a teenage girl who lives 5 hours away from her mother is not Easy Street. I remember, in the 7th grade, a boy that I had known since I was 6 got mad at me for something and said, “At least I have a mom.” It was devastating. He took the one thing in my life that already caused me severe pain and anxiety and threw it at me like a grenade.
During this time we entered therapy for the second time, this time as a family. My dad, step-mom, my sister, and I would all pile into the car and drive the next town over for our sessions. She would sometimes talk to us together, sometimes separately. It seemed like it would help, temporarily, but by the time we had our next appointment, things would be back to bad. After several months, we stopped going.
While in therapy, I never really talked a lot about what was happening at home. Even when speaking to her alone, I knew that she was going to speak with my parents alone too and I didn’t know what she would tell them. I also knew that they would turn it around on me and blame it on my angst and defiance; say that I was attention-seeking or just being dramatic. So, I didn’t even bother.
Home alone one night, when I was in the 9th grade, I went to the refrigerator where my parents kept all of the household medications. I picked out several bottles and shook out some pills in my hand and I took them all. This was not a serious attempt on my life, I don’t believe. Things had just gotten so bad and I felt like no one would hear me. I just wanted them to understand that life was manhandling me; I needed help.
I got scared after I took the pills and called a friend. She convinced me that I should make myself vomit, which I did . And then I never told anyone else about it. Looking back now, I was probably never in any real physical danger, but it is a glaring indication of where my brain would eventually take me.
When I was alone I felt even more sad, lonely, and desperate than ever. I was tired of not being heard by the people who were supposed to be listening. I was hurting and I felt abandoned and unloved; given up on.
Wherein Tragedy Strikes
Two weeks before my 15th birthday, tragedy would visit my young life and my soul would be well and truly crushed for the first time. My grandparents and my aunt had lived out of state for many years. Through my visits with them, I had become extremely close to a family friend. He was older than me, by almost 10 years, but he was kind and trusted and we all loved him deeply.
This was in June and the Christmas before we had started being pen pals. Back home, I was angry and depressed and struggling so deeply and he knew it. Sometimes, coming home from school and seeing a letter from him sitting on my bed was the only thing that kept me going. He was the only adult in my life who didn’t treat me like a little kid, but as a human being with my own view on the world.
The family was down visiting my grandparents for a week and on the third day that we were there, my mom woke us up to tell us horrifying news. My sweet, kind, beautiful friend had been killed in a car accident the night before. It felt like the breath had been stolen from my chest.
It was the first time I felt a pain so deep and abiding that it felt like I could grab it with my hands and pull it out whole; the unfairness of wanting to see someone, hear them, touch them, and knowing that they just aren’t there anymore, no matter what you do. He was there the day before, laughing on the phone with me, making plans. Then he was just…gone. No more 100-watt smile. No more jokes. No more letters on my bed. It crushed me.
I spiraled in my grief.
Falling To Pieces
I returned home shortly after we said goodbye to that dear man and I stepped into a year that would see me swiftly spiraling out of control. Within two weeks, I had gotten drunk and smoked pot for the first time. I had been trying so hard for so long to be what I thought I was supposed to be. I wanted to be accepted and loved. I just got tired of trying. If I was going to be labeled a “bad kid,” that is exactly what I would be. Teenage logic.
The first time I smoked pot, I felt the weight of the grief I had been carrying lift instantly. Even my old familiar sadness didn’t touch me, not really. It was a lightness I had been craving for years. After that, all bets were off and I started engaging in some pretty risky and dangerous things.
Over the next year, I floundered and by the end of my sophomore year of high school, I would have destroyed most of the things that I held good in my life. I started drinking from my parent’s alcohol stash when they weren’t home and I would sneak off to smoke pot with my friends whenever I had the chance. Anything to get me out of my mind, at that point.
There were other insignia of something serious brewing inside of me. Increasingly morose and rebellious, I started spending a lot of time alone in my room, listening to music and filling the pages of my first journals. Journaling would grow to be the coping skill to help me the most in dealing with the turmoil I fought to keep hidden from most people.
My dad often says that he regrets letting me hole up in my room that way and I understand his perspective. Honestly, though, it was the healthiest way that I was dealing with what was happening to me. In those moments of solitude, I leaned on music and learned that it was healing and therapeutic for me. I had always been moved by music, even as a small child. I can’t sing or play an instrument and I know nothing about how music is made, but it stitches me up inside and always has.
I also learned to be comfortable being alone. Even as a grown woman, I crave periods of solitude and often use them to let my thoughts wander. I have an internal dialogue that is rich and active. Sometimes it is my worst enemy. Sometimes, though, it is long, lost friend that I enjoy catching up with. Weird, I know. It is what it is. The point is, I was living through some of the worst months of my life, but I was also learning my very first effective (healthy) coping mechanisms.
By the Spring of the following year, I would find myself in juvenile detention, truant from school, and no longer a member of the cheerleading squad that had helped me sustain my mental health for several years. Things at home were more contentious than ever and I was feeling more and more frenzied to be heard by someone, anyone, at that point. So, one day, I packed a bag before school under the guise of a cheer function and I just never came home.
As an adult, I have a lot of feelings about the action I took that day so many years ago. I can’t call it a regret, exactly, because they heard me. It was a painful thing that led to me being given a second chance and that second chance may very well have saved my life. But I will always carry guilt for it. What my loved ones, and especially my parents, went through in that time is unbearable and I will forever be sorry that I did that them. As a parent myself now, I cannot imagine my child just disappearing one day.
A Second Chance Presents Itself
When I got out of juvenile I went back to school and, within the first week, I had my first official panic attack. We had been placed in a boiler room during a tornado drill and my fear of being packed away like a sardine kicked in. By the time I got back to class, I was shaking and sweating. Around the time that I started feeling like I was going to hyperventilate, my teacher stepped in. She explained what was happening to me and talked me through it. Thank goodness for kind people.
I continued to go through life angry, sad, and frustrated and continued trying to dilute those feelings with whatever substances I could find. I had started dabbling with pills. I was stupid and I had no idea what I was doing or what I was messing with and that caused me to make extremely perilous decisions. I was teetering on the edge of something disastrous.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the teachers and administrators that stood by me and supported me during this time. After my time in detention, I had several meetings with guidance counselors, school administrators, and teachers. Some teachers saw things that absolutely would have gotten me kicked out of school, but instead handled things more discreetly to protect me. They saw me for what I was; hurting and damaged, but good. They showed me incredible kindness and understanding and that will always stay with me.
Within a few weeks of obtaining my teenage runaway status, my dad informed me that my mom would be coming to get me at the end of the week and I would be going to live with her and my grandparents. Two months before my 16th birthday, they did just that. In the car on the way there, my mom and I discussed the way that I had been living and the things that I had been doing to alleviate my emotional pain. Then and there I promised her that this would be a fresh start and I meant it.
For a couple of years, I lived a pretty normal life. Looking back, there were times when I was probably not well, but I was happy for the most part. I started cheering again at my new school and I had made a ton of new friends. I also had the same boyfriend for the rest of my high school years, but the relationship was unhealthy and he was not for me. Those facts did not stop me from, at times, having an unhealthy obsession with our relationship.
Loss, Grief, and A Breakdown
During my senior year, when I was 17, I found out that I was pregnant. It was scary and shocking. Being pregnant your senior year of high school is uncertain and overwhelming, to say the least. Over a few weeks, I couldn’t help but be excited. At the end of the first trimester, I found out that I had miscarried and had to have surgery the following day. It destroyed me, all over again.
I became even more obsessed with my relationship, distraught that the father of my child was unsupportive and distant. My mind was telling me that only he could help me through the pain. My mom hid all the phone receivers because I wouldn’t stop calling him over and over, only to get his dorm room answering machine. One morning, she woke to go to work and I was just sitting there on the couch. It was light out by this time, but I had been sitting there all night, staring into the dark in a panic. She scheduled a doctor’s appointment later that day. It was the first time that I would be medicated for anxiety.
I eventually ended my abusive relationship and I found a way through the heartbreak of losing my baby. I enrolled in community college, made new friends, and start making a life outside of my small town. By this time I had just turned 18, I was free of any entanglements or responsibilities, and the world was my oyster.
One more thing happened to me during this period that would have a devastating, long-term effect on me. We’re going to call the players in that story, “Dick,” and, “Dandy.” Trust me when I say, Dick and Dandy deserve their own post in my story. That is exactly what they will get.
Until next time…