Healed and whole: my mental health journey

This is me, now. Healthy, happy, healed, and whole, or at least trying my best everyday to get there. This moment was a long time coming and at the end of a road filled with adversity. (Cerena Read )

From the beginning, I was always the shy kid, always too scared to talk and engage in social situations, hiding behind my parent’s legs. Every year, the first day of school was filled with anxiety. I was so scared about being myself and fitting in. I would always have bad dreams leading up to that day, about the possible conflicts at school that year. I still engaged with my peers and I had friends, but very few real ones that I felt most like I could be myself around. By the time I was in high school, I was afraid to talk in class. Presentations were the enemy and asking for help was never an option. I had hoped that things would get better as I got older, but they just kept getting more difficult because of my growing anxiety. Despite this, I put on a really good show of always being poised and in control, even if I was quiet. That was until sophomore year, when I admitted myself to a mental hospital. 

A problem in the making 

Besides school, my dad’s house became the biggest source of anxiety in my life. My parents are divorced, and for as long as I can remember, my dad would say hurtful things about my mom to me. He would always tell me my mom was a liar and if I didn’t stop lying I would turn out just like her. My own mother, someone who I looked up to more than anyone in the world. 

That in itself was heavy enough, but then he remarried. It was okay at first, I thought she was a cool person and I enjoyed the thought of having her as a new mom. But as time went on and she got settled in with us, I started to notice small things she would say and do that were degrading to my self worth and that made my time with them difficult to get through. 

I remember one day I came over to my dad’s house after being at my mom’s. I arrived wearing one of my favorite pairs of shoes, a pair my mother bought me that I really loved. My stepmom stopped me in the hallway and told me they were the ugliest shoes she had ever seen. I was 8. 

Those small slights, from someone that I looked up to, were deeply hurtful, and over time they turned into huge conflicts between us that turned into a pattern of traumatic experiences. When I was 11, I recounted a night to Child Protective Services when my dad and step mom were intoxicated and I had been forced to drink alcohol while in their care. Furious with the reality that her own children could now be taken away because of what I shared, my relationship with my step mom became irreparable. 

The last straw at their house was during freshman year. I was 15, and I came home with my hair dyed purple. I had been dyeing it a lot prior to that, but I always had to get permission from my step mom to do it. This time I didn’t, and that led to a confrontation at dinner. While our family was sitting at the table eating, I sat there silently because I knew what was to come. She started yelling at me about my hair, and as she yelled, I started to cry, to shake. I had a full on panic attack built up from all the years of pain. Crying, I left the table and curled into a ball on the couch, but she followed me, screaming. It wasn’t until then that my dad finally stood up for me, telling her to stop with such authority that she went silent. For a while, I thought they would get a divorce. My stepmom talked about packing up and leaving, but she never did. My dad could never fully see how bad it was for me, and they stayed married. Looking back, that was the most painful part. 

A turning point 

This is a sweet drawing and notes from my younger sister that I had while I was inpatient. My mom brought this when she visited on her lunch breaks because younger members of our families weren’t allowed in the facility. (Cerena Read)

In my sophomore year of high school, I was at my lowest point in life with my struggles with my mental health. My anxiety was out of control and depression had skyrocketed. Though my life seemed perfect looking at it from the outside, I was really at my worst ever. No one knew how much pain I was experiencing. I would cry every night, and self harm became a regular way to cope. I had been going to a therapist to help me, and one day I opened up to her about my self harm. She was calm when I told her, but I could tell she was worried for my safety as we talked. When we finished, she asked me if I would be interested in going to an inpatient facility. It was a difficult but absolutely necessary yes. 

This is a photo of an inspiring and heartfelt note I received from my teacher. It was a small gesture, but had a big impact on me when I came back from the inpatient facility. Her words of encouragement meant so much to me and they still do. It helped me keep going, and I am so grateful to have so many amazing teachers that have helped me along the way in high school. (Cerena Read)

That night, my mom and I drove an hour with all of my stuff packed up and sat there for another hour filling out paperwork for my stay. I didn’t fully realize how serious this was until the workers there started taking the strings out of my shoes and hoodie. I spent a week there, doing therapy sessions, workshops, making friends, and bettering myself. My mom and maternal grandparents would visit with snacks and that helped a lot. Some bad things happened while I was there: my dad would call me, but I never picked up. I missed Halloween. But mostly, the end result was good, and my stay helped me greatly. 

When it was over, I was so relieved to be home. My mom took away all of my sharp objects, and that was okay. I was back in school, and I was incredibly glad to be there. I had so much support from my teachers, and it was hard, but I managed to get back into things and pick up where I left off. 

I stopped going to my dad’s house after that, and I ignored most of his attempts at contact with me, giving myself space while I healed and grew into a newer, healthier, happier version of myself. 

Moving on 

The time after that was full of the typical ups and downs that define high school. I went through my first big breakup: I was with him for a year and a half and the whole thing was devastating at the time. At first it was hard to go to school and to be alone. I felt like I had no one, and I cried all the time in the first couple weeks. Like heartbreak tends to do, it improved with time, and that year on spring break, I went to Disney with my mom’s extended family and had so much fun that I was able to finally get my mind off of the loss of the relationship. Over time, I found a confidence in myself that had long ago been forgotten. I was learning so much about myself every day; I was growing, I was changing, I was becoming a person that I really wanted to be. I learned that self-love is more important than any relationship, and I will never forget that. I had goals for myself, I saw a future for myself, and I realized I was better off without everything I had left in my past. I was genuinely happy and finally living life again. Everything before then was all leading me to where I was supposed to be. 

A pile of my mail from WMU, including my acceptance letter. I was so excited to get an acceptance letter and I told everyone close to me as soon as I knew. (Cerena Read )

Today, with just two months until graduation, I am still living life to the fullest. I am taking each day as it comes and staying positive. I have such a bright future ahead of me, and I know that all the hardships I came across were all important and necessary in making me who I am today. I am the best version of myself right now. I still have fears, like driving and growing up, but I feel at peace and happy. 

I see my dad now, and I have learned to live with the pain that my stepmom has caused me in the past and live with healthy boundaries with everyone on that side of my family. I don’t have time to be stuck in the past: I have a new purpose in life. College is calling, and this fall, I will start the next season of my life at Western Michigan University, studying to be an art teacher. 

I used to see no future ahead. Stuck in darkness, I never thought about who and what I could be. But now, I am so excited to see what my future brings, and I am very optimistic about my life and all of its potential. Not to say that I don’t still fall every now and then – I do – but I have learned to get up on my own, and I am so proud of that.