At the age of 5, my parents divorced. They were young, out of high school when they married. Not so uncommon. At 6, my mom and I lived in a little apartment over a grocery store. I don’t have too many memories from that time, but one that stands out the most is her panicking, as a man convulsed and foamed at the mouth on our living room floor. I had just gotten out of bed for water, I was so thirsty. I remember my thirst. I remember the white stuff on the glass coffee table, little rivets drawn through it, and I remember my mom, scared and trembling, eyeliner running down her cheeks, as she leaned over the man screaming at him to wake up. I remember the ambulance, a nice family in the middle of the night. I remember living with my grandparents for a little bit then.
There are scattered memories from my past. There were the highs and lows of my mother’s bi-polar disorder, and they ebbed and flowed with her ever-changing tides. Taco Tuesdays with mall shopping and a movie on her “up” days. The fun was ever-lasting and non-stop, one exciting adventure to the next, with no end in sight, until I was literally exhausted. When the days were low, though, they were very, very low. There were days of me sitting next to her on the floor while she drank and cried. There was the one time, I was 7 I think, and she awoke at 1 pm and yelled at me for eating Count Chocula cereal off the floor next to the cat while she ate her food (of which I gave her way too much). I remember idling whole days by as she slept or couldn’t get out of bed. Drinking and drugs were her crutch when she was low.
Growing up with my mom, who was severely manic, but untreated, I believe is what made it so hard for me to recognize that in myself. To me, what I was feeling was normal, wasn’t it? Although there were so many times I questioned myself. Times I wanted to die. Times I could not get out of bed. Then there were times that I felt like I was invincible, times that I lived so dangerously on the edge, I wonder how I made it.
With a growing acceptance of mental health in society, and a father, though distant, who recognized red flags in me, I was able to get counseling and start on a mild medication. My challenges were far from over; there were still bouts of abuse from a step-father, endless nights of sitting by my mother’s hospital bed on yet another binge, strained relationship with my younger half-sisters due to the toxic home environment, and Child services not allowing me to go home after a hospital stay. There are scars that I will never fully recover from. I can only visit my mother from her grave-side. I learned to accept the mixed emotions I had when I thought about her. I loved her, of course, but sometimes I still got angry with her. I had to learn that it was okay to have mixed feelings. I had to learn that she did the best she could, and that, despite the downs, she loved me.
I struggled to find myself for a while. Why was I dealt such a crappy hand? Why me? The straight-A honor roll student, why could I not have guidance and college, and prom? Why did I have to go through what I did? Why did I have to want to die at a tender young age? Why did I have to suffer? I am so alone, no one understands.
My experiences were building me. They were shaping me and molding me and preparing me. Life was testing me, but, dammit, I would win. I always find a way. I always land on my feet. I am a FIGHTER. I am a SURVIVOR. I found a courage that I did not know that I had.
My life was building me to be able to stand before you now, and tell you, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Don’t give up, ever. There is life after life, I promise. All my dark days, all the suffering. It made me strong. It made me aware. It made me a good mom, a college graduate (HONORS graduate!). It made me a home-owner. It made me a successful, contributing member of society. It gave me my passion, my reason; to help people. It was suddenly so clear! It lead me here, to reach out to you, and help you up. Because help is there, if you let it be there. You have a choice. You can succumb to the demons that haunt you, or you can fight them. But, YOU HAVE A CHOICE, always remember that!
CHOOSE LIFE. Oscar Wilde once said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” Make your life what you want it. Live your life, so that when you look back at it, you can say that you filled your days with happiness and love. Make a CHOICE to be happy. No, it won’t be easy. No it won’t happen overnight. It’s hard work and sacrifice. It’s discarding thought patterns that you have always known. It’s scary to let go and grow. It’s scary to get help. But it will change your life.
Let go of the chains that bind you to that stagnant negativity. You ARE good enough. You ARE smart. You ARE worthy. You can be anything you want! College at 30? Go for it! Buy a home at 40? You go with your bad self. Love yourself. Love your life. Choose to be free. Choose to let go. Get help. Get counseling. Fall in love, with yourself for once! Imagine all of the things that you could do if you broke free from your chains. Travel, open a business, raise a family, help others!! The world is your oyster. Be who you were meant to be, find your passion, and take the steps to get there. It is all there waiting for you, you just have to open that door.
But don’t ever let anyone take that choice away from you, including you!