I Am More Than: My Illnesses

I have + always will work hard in academics. I competed gymnastics for 15 years despite multiple injuries + spinal surgery. I love to be involved. I am also bipolar II with generalized anxiety disorder [GAD] + panic disorder ++ social anxiety [quite the combination, right?]

… wait, “I am” bipolar II? If I can say I have earned good grades + I had good competitions, why can’t I say I *have* these illnesses instead of saying they describe me? After all, I can *have* a cold, headache, etc. A quote I found while writing this is “don’t let your struggle become your identity” [Deidre Wallace] ++ it’s taken me years to realize that.

I began my journey of coping with mental illness in middle school, more specifically when I was a freshman in high school at 14 years old. I am now 21 years old + going into my senior year of college [at THE Ohio State University ; )].

For seven years now, I’ve had so many days of waking up + living with the tightness in my chest, the shakiness of having to deal with things that made my mind race + stomach churn. The devil on my shoulder telling me I’m not good enough no matter what grade + score I got, that my friends only pretend to like me + nobody is ever going to love me. I sleep too much or not at all. I’ll be impulsive + say yes to invitations, then regret every move I’ve made. I’ll start projects + never finish them. All of this under the umbrella that I was “messed up”. Until now.

I am *so* much more than my illnesses, I am…

Intelligent

Even when I study + get a bad grade, I tried my best. But I set goals, stay organized, + keep myself focused when I want to crawl into bed or spend hours online shopping. I use my therapy skills when I’m anxious to keep myself focused. I kept a 4.0 for my two years at Kent State before transferring + I’m proud of that. I earn what I work for, + I work hard.

Loved + Supported

I was scared to tell my family + friends I wasn’t feeling okay because my mind already told me I was unworthy, I was unloved. I didn’t even see a counselor until I asked my mom if I could for “gymnastics nerves,” a cop out to deal with the realization of all my emotions. I was bullied + decided to go to a different high school for my freshman year [+ transferred back after, it turns out you can’t run away from your problems]. I began self-harming when I was 14. My best friend at the time talked me out of committing suicide one night, + then shortly after I got clean after I confessed the same to my family on my 17th birthday. I was not reprimanded, I was shown love, empathy + concern to continue therapy + my medications. Opening up + finding the right people to keep in my corner has helped me in more ways than words can describe. I’ve found amazing friends who accept me as I am, are there to help or simply hangout. I have always been afraid of the judgement I anticipated receiving because of my mental illness. As I’ve become more open about it, the support I continue to receive still never ceases to amaze me. I am loved by my family + friends just as I am, + I am continuing to learn to love myself.

A work in progress

Therapy, medication, finding a balance + self-care take time. Recovery/coping is a progress that doesn’t follow a straight line + there is no right fit for everyone, there will be ups + downs ++ that’s okay! I was misdiagnosed with depression at 16. After doing well for a while + trying some different medications, I hit a low point + went to a center when I was 19 to be diagnosed with bipolar II. I always had a feeling I felt something more than depression + anxiety, so this *finally* made sense. I go to therapy + take medication + have found things that help calm me down or give me more energy, as I do still have my mild mood swings + work with my anxiety daily. But those no longer take control over my days. Instead, I like to do yoga, paint, meditate [checkout Headspace!] + workout, to name a few. My younger self would say she was ambitious + never gave up. I still say the same thing now, except I lead a much healthier life.

I deserve happiness

I combat my illnesses in the faith of being healthy + happy. I cannot say I “am” happy, because happiness is not a constant in our lives, but a feeling we strive to have. But, I am happier than I was at 14 when I first set my self-destructive path. I am happier than I was at 16 + 20. Happiness doesn’t cure anxiety, depression, bipolar II, etc., but when it comes everything is no longer dark. At one point I never thought I’d be here writing this, but I can say I am happy with where my life is right now + where it’s headed!

I no longer hide under a false shame of having mental illnesses, I am proud of who I am + what I’ve been through. I have so much more to offer to the world, + I’m ready to start embracing it.

++ Allyson Prince [@allyson_inCHAARG], OSU CHAARG

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