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Finding hope in a hopeless place: How believing in the possibility of my best self saved my life

Crystal

My story goes out to all the people who never thought they would figure their life out and are still battling to figure it out while facing their mental illness head on. I want those people to know that it’s okay not to be okay, to not have your life completely together, and to know you’re not alone on what feels like a complicated, unknown path.

My name is Crystal and I am from Mississauga, Ontario. My life has always felt scattered and unknown. From an early age, I never had a real direction on where I wanted my life to go. I am 27 years old and live at home. I have a minimum wage job. I still sit at the same computer day in and day out almost every day exactly like I’ve done for the past 15 years, full of ideas, but still hesitant on what my next move will be. I used to think about this as a negative. This wasn’t “normal”, that I had to have all the answers by now. However, I’ve come to realize that where I am in my life is absolutely okay. This is my journey and there are no time limits or an exact direction of where I need to be at any given point of my life. I believe society puts too much pressure on people, especially youth, when it comes to choosing what we want to be when we grow up and how fast we need to get there. When we need to start a family. How that family needs to look. How much money we’re going to make and what job we’ll have. How that job will define how smart or better we are than someone else which is completely fabricated. It’s too much pressure. Now add battling mental illness on top of all those other pressures society throws at you. I’m exhausted just writing about it.

Let’s rewind back to before I had the mindset that I do now. Before I had the courage to apply for my minimum wage job in which I am so proud of myself for having because it took a lot to get there. When I used to listen to what the guidelines of life “should” look like because I didn’t know any better. Let’s rewind back to my life before mental illness started and gradually go through when the onset of it took place, what I learned about myself, and how I was able to overcome it. This is my story.

“As far back as I can remember, I always knew I felt special.”

I remember thinking that if everyone viewed the world how I viewed the world, we would be living in a happier place. Growing up I was a happy, adventurous, active child with a creative mind, and a good heart. Though shy, when I was in my element, I felt like I could do anything and be exactly who I wanted to be. Unfortunately, this feeling didn’t last long and I know for so many others out there, people who I’ve spoken to personally, this feeling slowly diminished as well within their adolescent years.

I never did have a fully functional family. I would describe my upbringing as scary/intimidating, toxic, disruptive, violent, abusive, and harmful. At the time, there was no way I had any idea about the harm the situations I was being put into on a daily basis would cause me later on in life. Every single day I witnessed and was victim to mental and physical abuse more times than I can remember. I was sexually abused. I gradually learned to become protective over myself and others early on in life. I grew tremendous amounts of shame and guilt. I lost all self confidence in myself before I was even able to have it be found. Eventually, there was not a day that went by where I wouldn’t wake up anxious, sick to my stomach. I found myself walking on egg shells in my own home, which evidentially lead to walking on egg shells in life. That young, happy, adventurous, active, creative girl with a good heart I spoke about who had the world for her taking, suddenly was terrified of everything and everyone. Life got hard and scary really quick, in ways a child is not meant to ever witness and be a part of. In short, my childhood felt like a warzone. I later realized that I would be in for a battle of a lifetime.

Fast forward to 17-year-old me and the completely broken young lady that I was. Through all the trauma I endured in years prior, I never did lose the mindset of knowing I was special. I knew I had a purpose and that there was a happy life waiting for me somewhere, somehow. At first, I didn’t know help existed for something I didn’t even realize I needed help for. What I mean by this is that I knew I was battling with something, but I didn’t know what that something was and that it was something that needed help. I didn’t feel right. I was always anxious and depressed. I thought that was the way my life was meant to be. That I would never “be normal.” I never knew mental illness was a real issue. That other people felt the same ways I did. I didn’t know mental illness was something you could receive help for. That mental illness can be corrected. You can retrain your brains way of thinking. You went through trauma and that trauma had its effects on you that you actually can heal from. Realizing that discovery alone was the biggest eye opener for me. That there are people out there that specifically specialize in helping people do that.

I dropped out of school at roughly 16 and was given an ultimatum. I could go back to school, I could work, or I could go to therapy. I was trying everything to avoid the first 2 options out of fear, so I chose therapy. That choice lead to the greatest decision I will have ever made in my entire life. Bold words, but the purest truth I could ever speak.

Therapy changed my life. In my experience, talking with a therapist isn’t like talking to a friend. It’s more than that and I know for a fact that everyone needs that connection in their life. I’ve always believed that therapy is of benefit to everyone and that no one is any more or any less deserving of it. A therapist helps you bring a connection to yourself. The tools a therapist provides you with allow you to help yourself find yourself. Digging up everything that is a part of you and laying it all out on the surface so that you can retrace your steps and figure out the places where it all went wrong. Having the right therapist for you and the right mindset within yourself to not just want to be there to talk about yourself but to actually work on yourself, is a beautiful process. My life blossomed in therapy. Slowly, I began to make sense of myself when I discovered a sense of self, my best self. I have been under the care of 3 different therapists so far and each have given me all the tools I could ever have asked for to help me lead a happier, more conscious, and fulfilling life. I am forever thankful and grateful for those 3 wonderful women who helped me turn my life around.

After 7 years in and out of therapy, it was within the first year I knew practice was helping. It’s crazy to think only a few sessions into each of them I wanted to leave and I very well could have, but I told myself no. I wasn’t

about to give up on myself or these wonderful people who were willing to help me. I trusted the process and the reward gave me my life back. Through the guidance of therapists I trusted, I was able to help myself grow into the person I always knew I was and wanted to become. I’ve been drawn to psychology ever since. It is a profession I admire like no other.

Another form of therapy I brought into my life is fitness and understanding nutrition. I ended up losing 40lbs naturally on my own and gained back my physical health, just like I gained back my mental health. Going to the gym has helped me release stress and feel productive about my days. Gaining strength and being body accepting has given me a newly found level of confidence within myself. I feel better mentally and physically as I’ve become more aware of the foods I now fuel my body with on a daily basis. Mental and physical health go hand-in-hand and choosing to better my physical well-being is the second-best decision I will have ever made in my entire life. I highly recommend everyone to find some form of movement in your life each day, as well as become more informed with the foods you choose to put into your body. You’ll be surprised how much these changes can help your overall mood, stress levels, and perception on life.

I am diagnosed with Performance and Social Anxiety, Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Depression. I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I was a fur-mom to my late cat Tigger who has been like a therapy animal since I was 8 years old. I love him so much and I couldn’t have imagined going through the hardest years of my life without him. I am a daughter, granddaughter, friend and a friend-to-be. I am a girlfriend to the most nourishing, funniest, loving person I know, Laura. She is my biggest supporter in the world who has been through and helped me through it all. I am so grateful for her in more ways than I could ever let her know.

“I know what it’s like to feel alone.”

I know what it’s like to feel unloved. I know what it’s like to be afraid of the world and the people in it. I know what it’s like to have an antagonizing fear of public speaking and thinking everyone is judging you. I know what it’s like to have a panic attack and feel like you can’t breathe. I know what it’s like to overthink everything. I know what it’s like having your head in a million different places at once and people telling you you’re not listening but you swear to them you are but you can’t help the distraction and having to apologize multiple times for that. I know what it’s like having flashbacks of traumatic times, so real feeling like

they’re happening all over again. I know what it’s like to jump at every little noise. I know what it’s like to feel as if you’re hallucinating, making you terrified of going to bed. I know what it’s like to be so low you contemplate ending your own life. I’ve been there and I’m still here in this battle that I will be facing for the rest of my life. With breathing techniques, medication along the way (in which there is no shame for), and a completely retrained mindset, I have allowed myself to live more freely then I ever have before. I am an ordinary human living my own authentic life, down my own authentic path. I have always had a desire to share my story in hopes to reach out to anyone who chooses they could possibly benefit. Through destruction I have battled hard for the life I currently have and continue to strive for. It’s no luxury, but it feels like paradise compared to what my life used to be.

Every single day I wake up, draw the curtains, and say out loud to myself, “today is going to be a great day” with a smile on my face, no matter what. If you want to be happy, be happy on purpose. My biggest takeaway from therapy has always been to feel the fear and do it anyway. That’s what this life is all about. When life challenges you, challenge yourself even harder. Also know when to take a step back. Be kind to you and everyone around you. Make mistakes and learn from them. Be your biggest cheerleader and greatest ally. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good and are going to enrich your life. Nothing is more precious than your own happiness and well-being. Steer in that direction and I promise you everything will be okay.

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