When I left high school, I thought I had my life all planned out. I would go to a two-year college and then onto a four-year college. After college I would become a reporter for a big newspaper or a television news show. I had big dreams and expectations, but life had another plan for me.
My dreams were quickly shattered. I didn’t realize how hard college would be with my learning disability or how unprepared I was for college’s curriculum. Most of all I didn’t expect mental illness to get in my way. I dragged myself from class to class, throwing up in the bathrooms from anxiety attacks, fighting to keep my eyes open from lack of sleep, and so depressed that I wanted to die. I studied endless hours while injuring myself and planning my death.
It wasn’t until I got stuck at college and put up in a shelter during a snowstorm that I realized I needed to take a break from college. Everyone in the shelter was so nice, but I couldn’t stop crying. I was an hour from home, and I felt more depressed and alone than ever. My parents drove up to get me and I told them I couldn’t keep going to college like that. When the semester ended, I took time off and started working.
First, I started at a fast-food restaurant a half hour from home. Because of my learning disability they only let me do the fries and clean tables. I was scheduled three or two days a week for very few hours. I couldn’t afford the gas so with the help of a program that helps people with disabilities, I found a new job at a grocery store. I started in the bakery.
The bakery manager was loud; he yelled a lot and it scared me. I had to learn the prices of the baked goods in the case, and I couldn’t remember them, and I didn’t speak unless I had to. Keep in mind I was bullied in high school and the manager’s yelling took me back to those days when I was abused. I was forcing myself out of bed to go to work and a few times messed up my schedule. A couple days I thought I was off when I wasn’t and some days I came in too late. I thought I would get fired, but they kept me. Personnel told me I was making too many mistakes in the bakery, so they moved me to the front of the store as a bagger.
I thought being a bagger would be perfect for me. I could silently put groceries in bags and go on unseen and heard, but it didn’t work that way. The guys training me were jokesters and kept joking around with me until I forged a smile. They told me I had to ask customers if they needed carry outs and tell them to have a nice day. I had to speak. I couldn’t hide in my internal misery. My first customer while bagging on my own complained about me to a manager. I was in tears. I went home that night and injured alone in my room.
In the meantime, I was seeing a therapist who told me I was injuring to hurt the people I loved. When I kept coming home from therapy in tears, my mother got mad and told the therapist I would no longer be seeing her. She went on a search to find me a new therapist. I had just started at the grocery store and had no insurance and wasn’t making a lot of money. Finding a therapist I could afford was a challenge.
My mom went to a hospital in another state to ask for help and they referred her to a therapist. The therapist had a sliding fee. They let me pay what I could afford. A psychiatrist in the same office found a program where I could get my antidepressants free.
I worked, I went home, and I went to therapy. I was so depressed and hopeless I couldn’t see beyond my inner hell, but I dragged myself to my job each day. My illness couldn’t take away my determination. I put my all into my job and therapy. My number one goal was to get better so I could return to college and get my degree. To do that I had to tell my therapist my deepest secrets and do the work she gave me to do. She educated me about my illness with VHS tapes on depression. She taught me ways to combat my bad thinking and had me read and do the techniques in Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, M.D.
The cashiers at work began talking to me until I started talking to them. They started making plans with me after work. A group of us would go bowling until 2:00 A.M. and then I would go to work at 8:00 A.M. For the first time in my life, I had a lot of friends, I was having fun, and the customers loved me. The customer who told on me to the manager started becoming a regular customer. The more fun I had, the more my depression began to lift. Then for the first time in my life a guy asked me out and before I knew it, I had a boyfriend.
My therapist had me wear a rubber band around my wrist. If I thought bad thoughts or felt like injuring, I was to snap myself. The rubber band helped distract my mind and it helped me stop injuring. Within six months my therapist said I no longer needed her, and she was taking me off my antidepressants. What I didn’t know at the time was a therapist never takes you off your antidepressants. My therapist warned me that within in a few years my illness would come back, and I would need to seek help.
For those few years I enjoyed life; I went back to college, I worked my job on the weekends, I became a cashier, and I graduated from college. When I went to invite my therapist to my graduation her office was empty, and no one had ever heard of her. I didn’t go on to a four-year college or become a journalist. Instead, I became a beloved cashier, a good friend, an author, and a well-loved wife. I did go through mental illness again, but I worked my way to the light of recovery and have been in recovery for several years.
I continue to fight my mental illness, I’m working hard to get my memoir ready for publication and I write my own weekly blog. I had plans for my life, but God and life had other plans for me. I stand proudly in the light of my accomplishments and in the life that I didn’t plan, but the life I love.