“I had everything. I still do. BUT, and that’s a big BUT, I don’t know what happiness feels like. I don’t know if I’ve ever truly been happy for happiness sake. Having recently admitted this to my immediate family I crushed my Mom and no amount of explaining will ever soften that blow.
You see, I grew up in a family of 5. I’m the oldest of 3 and my Mom and Dad are more in love today then the day they met in Freshman study hall. I grew up loved, spoiled beyond belief and grounded. I was raised to know my own value, to speak up for myself when necessary and to defend the defenseless. I am the daughter of a Marine Corps. Vietnam Veteran and a mother who has battled a lifelong disease, Lupus, like a true bad ass, never letting it defeat her. My sister is my best friend and my younger brother is one of my most vocal supporters.
I knew from a young age that I had every opportunity afforded to me to succeed in life. I was never expected to succeed but always encouraged to do so. I would spend hours reading, often losing myself in a book so much so that Mom would wander into my room in the early hours of the morning and force me to turn my light of and go to bed. I lived as an introvert and still do, finding complete comfort in quiet solitude. I struggled to find ‘my crowd’ in High School. I wasn’t smart enough to be a nerd. I wasn’t edgy enough to be a cool kid and although I played sports, I was never good enough to be a ‘jock’.
I floundered to find my way but eventually found a small group of friends that I spent 4 years hanging with. I was invited to and attended parties, school events, athletic games and dances. I did what everyone else did but often turned inwards to reflect upon my quiet time that I needed to recharge. I went along to get along and did all the stupid things teenagers do.
Then one night when I was 18, I threw a party at my house. My parents were away for the weekend and I had convinced them that I was grown enough to stay home alone. Enter the sweaty keg in the living room that left a ring on the floor permanently. The beer that someone poured into my Dad’s 100-gallon freshwater fish tank that caused all the fish to float. And the collection of holiday teddy bears my mom kept in the living room drowned in the pool. It was devastating.
That night I drank too much and let people I thought were friends, destroy parts of my childhood. Worst of all, I was raped and just like that my world changed forever. I was not a virgin. I was not 100% sober. BUT I was in my own home, asleep in my own home, safe in my own home until I wasn’t. Unfortunately, I remember almost every vile act that occurred that night. I would later be told that I experienced something called dissociation. I didn’t physically feel a thing that night, but I had a feeling of floating above watching the assault. Professionals will tell you that this is an internal defense mechanism that occurs as a severe detachment from a physical and/emotional experience. I took my rape and buried it. Buried it so far down that it didn’t surface for 21 years.
It was September 2017 and I was 39 years old. It was a Friday morning much like any other day when I opened my eyes and knew it wasn’t going to be a good day. I called out of work and headed downstairs to grab some breakfast. It had been a good 3, maybe 4 weeks since I had felt like myself. Most days I cried for no reason, could not fully concentrate and had an unbelievable amount of anger. As I planted myself in front of the TV with a bowl of cereal my sister walked through the front door. Mom met her in the foyer and as far as I knew she was swinging by to say ‘Hi’ to her and dad. It was only a matter of minutes when my brother and his wife, who live out of state, arrived as well. It was an intervention of sorts and I was not having any of it. Being confronted with your own declining mental health by your closest confidants, sucks! So, I walked out. I needed a shower anyway so screw them.
It was then that it hit me as the hot water rained down on me. I wasn’t sure what were tears and what was water. I needed help and hated to admit it. Just then my Mom knocked on the bathroom door. She told me that everyone would be waiting when I got out because I needed to hear what they had to say. My response? ‘I think I need to go to the ER.’
Luckily, I didn’t have to do this alone. Every one of my family members headed to the hospital with me. By the time we walked into the ER I was in a full-blown panic attack. I knew there was no way I would be able to sit in that waiting room, with people surrounding me, when I was in such a state of emotional loss. **Something you may not know about panic attacks if you’ve never experienced one, is the overwhelming sense of dread. There is a god-awful feeling in the pit of your belly that something terrible is going to happen and it’s going to happen to you RIGHT THIS MINUTE. ** My brother recognized that I was beside myself and gave the secretary all my personal information. He let her know that we would be outside when they were ready for us. I spent that time waiting, huddled under my dad’s left arm as the sun beat down on us. It was such a beautiful day and I could not see any good in it.
It wasn’t much longer before triage came out for me. My blood pressure was through the roof. My heart was beating out of my chest and I was on the verge of hyperventilating. The hospital staff recognized the urgency and took me right back, plopped me down on a stretcher sitting in the hallway directly across the hall from 3 empty rooms and said a nurse would be over shortly. My sister and Mom stood there at a loss when I exclaimed that I couldn’t stay there, that I needed to leave because I was embarrassed. If you know my mom and/or my sister, you know that they are 2 of the strongest women around. That’s when my sister expressed her concern to the first-person walking passed. They weren’t going to stand for me finally hitting my breaking point and walking away out of embarrassment.
My nurse was an angel. She got me right into one of those empty rooms, pulled the curtain and was back in a snap with the ER doctor. You’ve probably never considered what you would say if you thought it was the end, if you finally had given up and didn’t know how you were going to survive. I hadn’t either but it was now or never. To this day I’m not quite sure what it was that I said but I’m sure it’s etched in my sister and mom’s memory. That began my introduction into the sorely lacking psych world.
The nature of the mental health world from an emergency standpoint is, medicate, medicate, medicate. I was immediately pumped full of a sedative and when that resulted in a headache, I was given pain medicine. I was totally numb, could barely keep my eyes open and was having a hard time comprehending what was being said. After a few hours, my brother, sister in law and dad walked back, told me they loved me and that they were headed home. There was nothing more they could do. It was a wait and see situation.
It wasn’t until late into the evening that a male doctor, mine had been female, approached my room and asked me if I was thinking of harming myself. I told him no and that I had never had suicidal ideations or thoughts of self-harm. What I didn’t know was that the only help I was going to get was if I was having homicidal or suicidal thoughts. The doctor expressed his concerns for my welfare and that’s when I told him that if I didn’t get some kind of help I didn’t know what would happen.
It was only a matter of minutes before my nurse arrived at my room with what looked like scrub pants and top but were blue and made of paper. Yes, I was made to put-on paper-thin clothing with nothing underneath to be taken to what I thought was a room in the hospital. Unbeknownst to me, I was being transported to a different hospital and I was going alone. When Mom asked if she or my sister could ride with me, they were told that I was going alone and that I wouldn’t be able to contact them until the following morning. Mom tells me that the hardest thing she has ever had to do was watch me be wheeled out of the hospital bay doors to a waiting ambulance.
During the ride to the hospital where I would be held as inpatient for the next 5 days I was in and out of it. The male and female that accompanied me were some of the nicest people. The female rode in the back with me and kept letting me know that I was doing the right thing and having never met me before, she was proud of me. I was scared and didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that my family had supported me in my decision, and I was hoping it was the right one.
Over the course of my 5-day inpatient stay I met men and women who had hallucinations, were diagnosed with personality disorders, had tried to commit suicide and had suffered far more horrors than I. What society would have deemed the ‘bottom of the barrel’ I learned, were some of the strongest people I had ever met. Everyone had a story, a story that would have broken most people. As embarrassed and defeated as I felt, I began to learn who my true self was. I was a broken spirit that had survived and succeed even when my mind tried to drag me down. I was strong. I was capable. And I was going to survive!
What I never knew was that although I had been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder as a teenager, I was suffering from PTSD as a result of my sexual assault. I had tried to hide the panic attacks, the flashbacks and the nightmares but now I was facing them head on and learning how to heal myself. Following my hospitalization, I spent 12 weeks in intensive, outpatient, daily therapy. I gained coping skills and found a therapist that specializes in trauma who has been my saving grace. I am followed by a psychiatrist who has helped to find the right cocktail of medications to treat me and I am feeling better than ever. Although I live more positively and know how to cope with my mental illness, I know that my recovery will never be linear and that I will still have my highs and lows. For now, I smile knowing that I can do just about anything.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kendralyn Cornwall of Loving & Laughing through Depression and PTSD. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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