Content warning: this article mentions self-harm and sexual assault.
Darkness looms and negative thoughts consume my mind when depression creeps in, especially when things seem to be okay. Past traumas from foster care and homelessness have played a huge part in my mental health struggles and how I choose to manage them.
I spent over 12 years in the Washington state foster care system and, subsequently, eight years experiencing homelessness. During my time in the foster care system, I didn’t have the comprehension skills to cope with my mental health issues. As a result, I resorted to self harm as a form of expressing the complicated feelings and emotions that came with experiencing trauma. By age 10, I was placed into a children’s hospital psychiatric ward. Upon being released from the ward, I was shuffled to mental health counseling appointments. I felt lost and craved attention. I found that self-harm or sabotage gave me instant gratification for self-pity. I’ve ruined relationships with people along my journey of figuring out my mental health problems.
I have always been a people pleaser, always wanting to be liked and doing the absolute most for those that wouldn’t even blink an eye if I was in danger. Being such a people pleaser resulted in me opening myself up to getting hurt a lot, only to turn around and do it all over again. I’ve learned that I lacked a true sense of self-identity if I wasn’t caring about someone else. I didn’t focus on myself because I severely lacked self-love and self-care. I felt extremely lost and depressed. It took many years for me to love myself and to find the value in taking care of me both physically and mentally.
Through cognitive behavioral therapy, I learned to reflect on how my actions counter my emotions and learned ways to cope healthier when I have heavy swings of depression. I use art like painting and writing poetry to focus on something other than the negative thoughts that can consume me. I’ve learned that practicing active behavioral methods like art helps to retrain the brain in centering the mind, concentrating on the present moment and shifting any excess energy.
As an integral part of recovery and management of my mental health, I am currently working on building stronger relationships with friends and family. I’ve struggled with this the most because of my past experiences of broken trust and being taken advantage of. I had to learn what boundaries I needed to set for myself and when it is best to cut ties with people that become too toxic in my life. I have sadly suffered sexual abuse which left me feeling so broken, sad, betrayed and, to a degree, at fault. When I relived those horrible memories in my mind, I would instantly blame myself. I learned from a pamphlet on sexual assault and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that reactions of self-blame are common in sexual assault cases even though it is never the victim’s fault. After the assault, I could no longer trust anyone and became much more alert about who I allowed in my life. But it’s okay to feel like you need to put yourself first and be protective. That’s part of healing and practicing self-love.
The journey to healing has been a rough one filled with many moments of self doubt, criticism and hopelessness. Experiencing foster care never provided me with the stability I craved. Experiencing homelessness added other stressors and anxiety that I didn’t understand how to handle on my own. Through my trials, I’ve gained a network of support from family and friends that have helped me to get back on my feet to recovery. I’m doing more mindfulness practices and teaching myself to forgive myself for my faults and to grow from them. I’ve learned to express gratitude each day for the smallest things in life and to seek more opportunities to progress myself. I hope that sharing my experiences can encourage someone facing similar struggles to learn from my mistakes. My new hopes and dreams are to inspire others facing the abyss of depression and to tell them that they can survive any disruption to their lives. It will not be easy. The battle is often not in the journey but in taking the first step to choose to improve your life.