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Below is a copy of the original transcript for the following video. In it, I discuss my mental health timeline from childhood through my first hospitalizations. Please be warned, there is lots of discussion of self harm and suicide, as well as a brief picture of blood. If those will be upsetting to you, please stick to reading or click out. I hope this helps. Watch in HD!
Hi everyone! My name’s Olivia, if you haven’t seen one of these yet I’m here to remind you that I run a little blog called Millennial Girl, Interrupted, the link to which you can find in the description. The blog is my main platform. If you’re on the website right now, hi!
I’m actually filming this around a week before posting it, because in a few days I’m going to be having 6 teeth removed! 4 wisdom, 2 molar. It’s eating disorder related and a story for another day, I’m pretty nervous, but yeah! This was a week ago. Now onto the video.
Sometimes I get to diving pretty deep into mental health topics- I’ve covered dermatillomania, abusive relationships, Scrupulosity OCD– but I got a question the other day about what my baseline diagnoses are and it got me thinking that perhaps I haven’t painted as clear a picture of my timeline as I might have wanted to.
My experience with mental illness started in childhood, and I want to take you through my journey with it, chronologically. I’m going to stop at around 3 or 4 years ago because anything past that is too fresh to be considered “history,” they’d be more of me just spilling tea.
Watch for moments that sound familiar, whether it be in your life or in the lives of the people you know.
The first sign came as I was just a little kid who cried a lot. I cried over everything. Many, if not most, of my childhood memories are of me bursting into tears. I was extremely anxious, often sad and lonely. My best friend and I sat with the teacher at recess in 4th grade and talked about books while the other kids played. I’d run home and cry that everyone else seemed to have loads of friends and I didn’t think that I did. I was very consumed with having a best friend.
Of course, I had what most would consider a best friend for a fourth grader, but what I really wanted was someone who truly understood what was whirring about in my head, all of the anxiety and fear and sadness and frustration, and was willing to listen.
In fourth grade, I’d only wear my uniform if I could accompany it with a specific white cardigan. The cardigan draped itself flatteringly, I thought, over my eight year old tummy, and back then I was very concerned with appearing fat. Eight years old.
When I was entering fifth grade, my family made a big move from Virginia to Connecticut. I immediately made friends, but my emotional struggles continued. I cried easily and my anxiety was through the roof.
I began pulling my hair out at the root. It got so bad that I had a long, thick bald patch atop my head, where my part should have been, that I covered up with hats and side parts. I don’t have any pictures from that time readily available, but here is a picture of me with the regrown hair about three inches long and sticking up, whereas the rest of my hair is past my shoulders. I had so much pent up anxiety that the only way I could physically release it was by hurting myself, and at eleven or twelve, that meant plucking hair after hair from my scalp, staring at it for a moment or two, and throwing it behind my bed, where hairballs accumulated. This is a condition called trichotillomania, characterized by the pulling of one’s own hair.
Eventually I transferred over to dermatillomania, or scratching and picking at my skin, and my hair grew back in. I was in seventh grade, and though I was 110 pounds soaking wet and 5’5″, I was convinced that I was fatter than any of my peers. I wore a black pair of compression shorts and a tan compression undershirt under everything. Literally everything. Here I am, wearing striped stockings for my crayon halloween costume. Underneath, you can see the black compression shorts, and I’m wearing the shirt too. I wanted to be thinner, smaller, unseen. Seventh grade.
In eighth grade, shit started to really hit the fan. I began hurting myself with a razor, which alleviated the pressure of picking, a bit, but was messy and dangerous. I had friends, I was doing well in school, I dipped my toe into the dating world, and nothing terrible happened. I just was in so much pain, experiencing such overwhelming anxiety and fear and panic and hurt at all hours that going to school, or playing soccer or my violin, or being in the school plays and musicals, did nothing for me. I was crying all of the time, everything hurt, and I didn’t know why.
I remember early in my eighth grade year, I had a breakdown in my room and I ran to my dresser to find a belt. I spent half an hour Googling how to tie a noose with a belt before I gave up and the urge subsided. I was officially suicidal at age fourteen, and not a soul knew anything but the fact that my tear ducts were especially active. I didn’t talk about it with anyone and when I had a chance to, when someone disclosed to me their similar struggles, I froze up. I had no idea how to communicate what I was feeling and what was happening. I was suffering in silence.
Late in the year, my mother walked in on me in my room, on my bed, absolutely hysterical. She asked if I wanted to go see a therapist and I nodded. It would be another six months before my parents let me have medication, but come the beginning of freshman year, I was in therapy and on an antidepressant, Wellbutrin. I had wonderful friends, great academic prospects. But I just fell apart.
The first thing that went was my activity list. My anxiety made soccer, basketball, violin, theater, all terrifying experiences that I dreaded, so I quit them all. It was midway through the year when I stopped eating how I should have been. I dwindled down my diet to mostly just a handful of cough drops a day, spending many lunch periods in the bathroom, on my phone, to avoid questions and popping cough drops throughout the day to keep my mouth and digestive system busy. There wasn’t any weight available for my frame to lose, though, so I kept popping cough drops and wearing compression garments, but I needed more to control. Nothing made me happy. I carved more and more words into my legs and arms with a razor, spending most nights sobbing and carving rather than doing homework or studying. My friends didn’t know what was happening, and I can’t imagine I was a very good or attentive friend to them. Most of my time was spent crying, cutting, picking, or fantasizing about my suicide. I have distinct memories of riding the bus home every afternoon, staring out the window, listening to the exact same, 10 sad songs, in the exact same order, and imagining my suicide over and over.
In the spring, things all came to a head. I’d begun hoarding pills in a little plastic baggie in my bathroom drawer. My bag was a mixture of my Wellbutrin, my mother’s mediation, and household meds. I began taking 3, 4, 5 Wellbutrin pills before I went to school, relishing sitting in class and noticing my heart beating out of my chest due to excessive intake, taking my pulse in Latin 1 class and imagining what it would be like to double, triple my intake, for my heart to beat so hard it had to stop. I wasn’t eating, I was carving into myself, I was missing school, I didn’t have a good treatment team, I was receding from friends, and I wanted more than anything to be dead; I let it slip in conversation sometimes. These are all classic warning signs. It was March of my freshman year.
My mom found my stash, one day. She’d noticed her unusually dwindling medication supply and gone looking. When confronted, I admitted my suicidality to my mother and therapist, who instructed my mother to drive me to my local hospital that minute. From there, I was referred to a mental hospital, where I was given a short list of official diagnoses. At the time, I was said to have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and OCD. I spent almost two weeks inpatient, nodding and “yes”ing every doctor I encountered, desperate to get out. I was so shell shocked that I was almost of the mind that I was better.
Two weeks post discharge, I was right back in it, but this time even more hopeless. The end of the year was approaching, and not only was I as sick as ever, but all of my friends were happy, carefree, anticipating summer and AP classes and camps. I felt doubly hopeless, then, for the big intervention hadn’t worked. It felt like nothing ever could. I began to thoroughly plan my suicide.
I won’t go into the details of the plan or the attempt, for risk of veering into a bit of a pornographic tone, but I’ll tell you the warning signs I exhibited. I texted goodbye to my friends and grandmother. I placed my prized, stuffed green bunny in my brother’s room. I cleaned my room. I wrote in my diary “THIS IS THE WEEK, I CAN’T WAIT UNTIL IT’S ALL OVER!” I told my therapist I was totally better; we had a great, hopeful session. I spent almost all waking hours that week either at school or researching the best methods. This photo was taken a week or so before. On the day before, I walked into town and bought myself my favorite red velvet cupcake from my local bakery. It was an hour and a half long, warm, springtime endeavor, and I remember feeling freer than I had in a long time. The next day, I went to school, smiling and sociable, comforted by my afternoon plans. I came home and tried to kill myself.
It’s been a long slog since then, but that day was really the beginning of a new phase of my life. I spent over a month in the hospital. Since that day, I’ve settled on my official diagnosis list; Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder (Recurring), severe OCD, PTSD, Anorexia. It’s a real laundry list, and I’m so far from where I was. I’ve gotten heaps of therapy, medication, love, trauma, and healing.
Here’s what I want you to take away from my sharing this. I had friends, I had talents and activities. I was sociable, I was smart, academic. And I just kept slipping and slipping. Mental illness can, and does, happen to everyone. It’s indiscriminate. We all need to be so vigilant and supportive of one another. I’m very lucky I wasn’t a news story in May 2014, and that I haven’t ever been. I want you to think about how my timeline progressed. I was showing warning signs as a little kid, all the way up until my attempt. Crying? Sign. Hair pulling, picking? A sign. Cutting? A sign. Withdrawing, giving away possessions, meds disappearing, not eating, discussing suicide. These are all warning signs of something scary, something (a suicide attempt) that happens to a million and a half people a year. My hope is that by sharing my warning signs, they’ll be more obvious to you and yours.