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“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.” This was the number of times I had to close and open my bedroom door before going to bed at night. “One, two, three, four,” I whispered as I turned the light switch on and off before I could finally allow myself to fall asleep.
If I was lucky, this was all. Unless I had forgotten to check the stove and unplug every single home appliance we owned.
Nevertheless, if I was having a bad night, I had to stay up and listen to the voices while waiting for the shaking to start and my body to cover itself in a cold sweat.
In the meantime, I could witness a terrifying show of images and convince myself they weren’t real, but I was.
“You are here, you exist. They don’t. You can feel your face, your hands, your legs. They can’t. You are breathing. They are not.”
It was not always so bad, though.I had some great moments as well: I felt powerful, even superhuman.
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I would make endless lists about big plans and projects (which I would later dismiss) or turn my bedroom into an art gallery at 2 am.
Sometimes I’d even make the decision to change my life starting the next day. For some reason, this usually ended up with random sections of my hair being chopped off.
Of course, I already knew the higher “the high” was, the worse the fall would be. Still, the weirdest part was not my constant hair-pulling or my hallucinations; it was the fact no one noticed. Not even those who were the closest to me. My life was clearly a roller coaster, yet I somehow managed to keep it a secret, and I was really good at it.
My poker face, having been perfected over the years, became flawless, and faking smiles were my speciality. What’s more, who would have guessed the girl who got straight As and studied her piano lessons daily would be the one to end up medicated and in a psychiatrist’s office?
I have always thought my childhood could have been wonderful. I grew up in the most beautiful house near the beach with two siblings I’d give my life for, and two loving parents, who constantly turned their lives upside down just to see their children happy.
What was happening to me made no sense but I was always extremely and painfully aware, even as a child, of how not okay I was.
I knew there was something very wrong with me, but I refused to acknowledge it.
The first time my mum confronted me, I remember asking if I thought I was struggling with anorexia. I was about fourteen or fifteen years old. I wanted to say “Yes! Yes, I am, please help me, I don’t want this anymore.” But all I did was deny it and I kept doing it for another five years.
I was exhausted. It wasn’t that I couldn’t keep hiding my illnesses anymore. Of course I could, I could have done it for the rest of my life. But I didn’t want to. I felt claustrophobic and suffocated by my own brain and I was tired of lying.
So I did it. My mum was the first one to whom I told everything. We both cried for hours: a combination of excruciating pain and immense relief. When the hardest part was over, I told the rest of my family and closest friends. They were all in shock. I can’t imagine how disturbing it must have been for them, finding out someone you thought you had known your whole life turned out to be a completely different person.
“Coming out” as a person who had been living with mental illness helped me not only find my voice but realize I even had one.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe I am so much more than my disorders, for they do not define who I am. They are, however, a part of me.
For a long time, I felt nothing but disorientation. I saw my life as nothing more than bizarre chaos covered by lies. “Am I the mask I wear every day or the monster hiding behind it?” I wondered.
As it turns out, I am neither. I am the songs I sing as much as my sleepless, hypomanic nights, and I am my boxing skills as much as my unexpected depressive episodes. I am music and psychosis, I am immeasurable joy and inexplicable anger, will-power and anxiety, both strength and fear. Above all, I am a fighter.
My condition has made me stronger and braver.
Having felt so lost, having had to bear constant agony and confusion, it dawned on me: the same inner demons that once tormented me are now the source of my empowerment. I have so much to say and so many battles yet to endure. But I know who I am now, and I am not afraid to show it. After all, I can now see there is light coming out of my wounds.
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