Every journey begins somewhere. If we think back enough, we might be able to pinpoint the exact place and time we embarked on this quest.
Some journeys are easy to pinpoint; we probably made a conscious decision to take on a task.
I remember the precise moment that I decided that Hamline University would facilitate my academic interests.
It was the day of senior prom: 25 May, 2005. It was also the day that my decision cards were due for The University of Wisconsin, Madison. All I needed to do was to mail in a post card with a check-mark in one of 3 boxes: "Yes, I plan to attend The University of Wisconsin, Madison this fall," "No, I do not plan to attend The University of Wisconsin, Madison," and "I plan to attend, but not yet." Also indicated on the post card was that if UWM didn't receive this post card, a phone call, or e-mail response by 5pm that day, my application and subsequent acceptance to the University would be deleted and that I would not be eligible to attend without reapplying. I sat on this that entire day. I kept the unchecked post card in my purse with me while I picked up corsages and extra hair pins, and as I chose which lipstick best complemented my dress. Maybe I hoped the decision would make itself (the lipstick as well as Madison).
Slowly the time crept closer and closer to the deadline, but I ignored it and went on doing my hair and makeup for photos at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
I didn't look at the card again until the next day.
Maybe it wasn't a single moment, but I had made my decision that I did not wish to go to UWM and it just did not manifest itself until I woke up in a hotel room the morning of 26 May, 2005.
Not sending in that card is one of those beginnings that I can look back at and analyze. Not all beginnings are so lucky.
My lifelong journey of battling mental illness could have started anywhere, but looking back, hindsight is always a demon.
"How could I have ignored that?"
Of course all signs from the past are bright yellow. We just couldn't see them at the time.
But this journey, the one I am still on and that I will never finish, might not have a beginning. Maybe it is, always has been, and always will be.
Maybe I never needed to notice. Maybe all of my behavior was in response to (and not responsible for) trauma. Maybe my mental blocks kept me from seeing it. Maybe it didn't exist at all until one single moment.
I will never know, but I do remember the moment that was the catalyst:
When I was in 10th grade and in my Advanced Placement Writer’s Workshop class, something unexpected happened: I got a D on my first paper of the semester. For some reason, I couldn’t seem to shake it. My teacher gave me another chance which resulted in a B+, but I was never able to erase that D from my memory. The odd part about this all was that I was used to being an average student. For me, getting a D in an AP level course would not have been a major concern in any other circumstance. I wasn’t expecting to do well on this particular assignment (which was a compare/contrast essay on two very historical speeches that had to be 4-5 pages in length). At the same time, I was expecting that I could just skate by like in any other class. I didn’t put any special effort (or any effort at all) into this work, but when I was presented with a giant red “D,” a flip switched.
It was not the grade that was unexpected; it was my reaction.
There was the sudden shock that I am human, that all of this actually matters, and that I may be fucking it all up.
I didn't speak the rest of the week. I was easily irritated. I drove recklessly. I had fits of crying and hyperventilating.
How could I?
I distinctly remember the feeling of my blood boiling and thinking that I had proven myself to be incapable of doing what was expected of me.
I remember the sudden and intense knots in my stomach and that lump in my throat that hasn't gone away.
Once the initial shock wore off, my anger turned into a deep depression. I flipped up the hood on my sweatshirt, turned my CD player up, and held back tears in between classes. When I got home from school, I'd hide in my room until I emerged the next morning.
I wasn't sad; sad goes away. I wasn't angry; anger can be resolved. I wasn't anything. People often say that in this stage of depression they "feel numb."
I wasn't even numb. I wasn't. I just wasn't.
Shortly after this, I carried with me the diagnosis of moderate-to-severe depression. I was treated with a spectrum SSRIs, but they didn’t seem to help me get past little speed bumps that everyone else seemed to fly over.
I didn't expect that anything would shake this nasty depression, but I expected that doctors knew what they were doing and that they'd make me better.
I was referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with bipolar disorder within 15 minutes of my first visit. I was a senior in high school. I was not even 18.
And so began my love-hate relationship with a mental illness: with a compare/contrast essay in the 10th grade.