WHAT (I NEVER KNEW) MENTAL ILLNESS CAN LOOK LIKE
Hey everyone! My name is Anna Peicott and I am one of the co-founders of the YOU ARE Movement. Spoiler alert: my story includes a suicide attempt, a suicide loss, self-harm, and mental health diagnoses, but more importantly my story includes hope, therapy, support from friends and family, coping skills, and resilience.
During high school I suffered from depression and anxiety, but I didn’t know that at the time. However, I did know and understand that I was an emotional person. Emotional, not in the sense that I cried a lot, or was easily upset. Emotional in the sense that my emotions were a very intense part of me. If I found myself in situations of conflict, or unhappiness, or confusion, or embarrassment, these difficult emotions would get a life of their own. They would grow so large inside of me that they would become overwhelming. These feelings were not only felt mentally but physically as well. My anxieties would manifest in this physical discomfort that I could feel in my body, but I knew other people who talked about having a “pit in their stomach” when they were anxious – so it must be normal, I thought. But it wasn’t just a pit in my stomach. This pain, both mentally and physically, was all encompassing. I had no idea how to release these overwhelming feelings.
It was during these teen years that I started to self-injure. I believed I had found a way to release some of this pent-up anxiety. However, I was only adding to the long-term struggles that I was having. Even while using self-harm as a devastatingly unhealthy coping mechanism I didn’t think of myself as having a mental illness. Even my closest friends and family members who I had confided in about this didn’t think of mental illness or me needing any sort of intervention for it. We didn’t understand what I was going through and because of this misunderstanding we did not see all the warning signs and red flags.
To other people I probably seemed fine, maybe even better than fine. I have an amazing family, a big group of awesome friends, succeeded in school, and was in a relationship that looked pretty good on Facebook. From the outside I looked pretty normal, but I now know that normal doesn’t exist.
In the fall of 2010 I left for college a few hours away from home. This first semester of college was a difficult time for me. Between moving away from home, being in a relationship with someone who was suffering with their own mental health struggles and preparing for my first finals as a college student, December of 2010 was more overwhelming than I wanted to admit.
On the night of my suicide attempt no big event happened. There was no one thing I can point at and say this why I attempted suicide on that day. The truth about that night is that I was exhausted and I was desperate. I was exhausted of fighting my own distorted thoughts and emotions. And I was desperate for some relief from the stress that I felt was overpowering my entire life. I just wanted relief, I did not want to die.
After my attempt I told my closest friends and family but I feared people knowing. I was afraid of the judgment that could result. I didn’t want people to think I was crazy, I didn’t want people to look at me differently or feel like they had to tip toe around me. And frankly, I didn’t believe it was anyone else’s business. But most of all, I didn’t think people would understand. I didn’t fit the image that my friends and family may have held in their minds of someone who would attempt suicide or have depression. Honestly, I didn’t fit my own misconceived stereotype of what someone with mental illness looked like. But I’ve learned that mental illness doesn’t look like any one thing, or like any one type of person. Suicide can happen to anyone, it does not discriminate.
One month and three days after my suicide attempt my boyfriend at the time took his life. Within just over a month’s time I had become both a suicide attempt survivor and a survivor of suicide loss. Grief hit me hard, sending my mental struggles into complete chaos, and a numbing stop all at once. I had so many emotions and questions that I couldn’t make any sense of.
What most people didn’t realize was how my intense grief had actually increased the frequency and intensity of my suicidal thoughts. But now I knew the pain that a suicide death caused other people. At that point I didn’t believe I could ever attempt again. And as thankful as I am that I was able to have that thought to go back to in the darkest of times to come, I felt more trapped by my depression than ever.
As time passed I worked with my therapist, myself, my family, and my support groups towards mental wellness. I worked hard to find ways to live. Sometimes it was about getting through a single day, or even a single minute. But I wanted to find a way. I found ways to laugh again and put on a genuine smile. I finally started being completely honest with myself and with my therapist. I held my support network so closely, and they helped pick up my pieces when I couldn’t do it myself. I am forever grateful for all the people who helped me along the way, and still do today. I also did a lot of the hard work myself. I worked on teaching my mind how to undo all those bad habits it had relied on for years. I trained myself with a new set of coping skills. Some were as simple as going outside or coloring mandalas. Others were more complicated, such as using positive self-talk, and telling others when I needed help. It is not easy to change the way your brain instinctively thinks.
Please understand, this is not something that happened overnight. It is something that has taken a lot of time and effort and something that I still work on with myself today.
It was during this period of time I went back to college and switched my major from business to psychology. I still struggled with difficult days, and just took the good days to let out a big exhale. There are still days today when my anxiety and depression will try to creep back up and overwhelm me; some days where I feel that physical sensation of my mental illness. But it is very rare that it gets to the same overwhelming point that it used to. I am lucky enough to no longer suffer with suicidal thoughts. I understand that this is not every attempt survivor’s experience.
Today I am a college graduate. I am engaged to a supportive, loving and understanding man who taught me the value and beauty of healthy relationships. I have two beautiful daughters who motivate me every day. I work as a training coordinator for a suicide prevention program. I am the co-founder of the YOU ARE Movement. I am a better friend, daughter, partner, sister, and person because of the struggles I have been through and the time I have put into my own healing.
I am happy and I am so grateful to be alive.
Thank you all so much for taking the time to read my story and for being a part of The YOU ARE Movement!