One in Five: The struggle is real

Michala Keeler is a fourth-year St. Thomas University student triple majoring in English, philosophy and psychology. She enjoys exploring new places, running errands with her friends and listening to music 24/7.

Most people that meet me think I’m childish, a party girl who doesn’t care about her schooling and will miss weeks of classes at a time while still going out with her best friends for coffee or a tattoo.

If only it was that simple.

I’ve missed a week of class only to show up again covered in bruises, cuts and scars, all poorly disguised by a borrowed scarf around my neck. I’ve walked around in a low-cut top after sleeping through one of my classes, only to run into my professor with ugly yellow bruises covering almost all of my visible skin.

It’s not because I’m being abused or getting into fights. It’s that I’m desperately trying to do anything I can to cope, so that the next time I’m alone I don’t grab that bottle of pills in my room and swallow each and every one of them in a desperate plea for all of this to finally end.

I’ve been seeing therapists off and on since I was 12 and been depressed since I was 11. At 21, I’ve been sick for almost half of my life.

I was raised by a loving family who didn’t understand the reason I didn’t want to order my own food was not because I’m shy, but because I would have a panic attack trying to talk. They didn’t know I tried to take my own life in the bathroom one night because they didn’t hear my screams of anger and sadness when it didn’t work. They weren’t there for that. Instead they slept peacefully on the other side of the house, deaf to the horrors going on.

I never let them know how truly life-threatening my depression was, not until many years later. Depression told me I wasn’t worthy enough to get help and it’s hard to get help when you think you deserve your suffering. And because everyone in my immediate family was mentally stable, the stigma against mental illness was strong enough I didn’t want to talk to them about what I was going through. I know now that was a mistake — we’ve since opened up that dialogue.

Now I know my extreme and volatile mood swings aren’t just symptoms of depression, but that of borderline as well. This is only because of the help STU has offered and a new diagnosis this year at the UNB health clinic. My doctor taught me that’s why my boredom cannot be solved by watching Netflix or going out, why when I’m happy it feels as though that happiness will last forever and why I get so angry I can’t function.

The symptoms are vast, life-controlling and force you into a bias you never knew you had until the doctor told you so. But, it means I know what kind of help I need and that one day I will be the one controlling it rather than it controlling me. This can be done through therapy, the System Training for Emotional Predictability and Problem Solving (STEPPS) program at STU and the support of those close to me who can offer me stability while I fight these overwhelming mood swings.

The more people understand why I act the way I do, the easier it is for me to stop worrying about what others are thinking about me and focus on taking care of myself.

One in five is a bi-weekly column focused on students experiences with mental illness. If you would like to contribute, please send an email to features@theaq.net.

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