Trigger Warning: Today’s story is a personal narrative that contains descriptions and information about depression and suicidal ideation, which may be triggering to survivors or to the family and/or friends of victims. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please seek help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24-hours a day at 1-800-273-8255 for assistance.
When I was 5 years old, I underwent open heart surgery to correct a rare birth defect. My parents were told that if the doctor hadn’t heard the murmur in my heart, I would have literally dropped dead playing volleyball by the time I turned 12, and no one would have known why.
Of course, at the time, I didn’t understand the severity of it all; and I even remember asking if I could just get the surgery over with because I wanted to play with my friends in preschool. When all was said and done, I had two surgeries in one day. One to correct the defect and the other to remove a needle that had been left in my heart by accident. I lived.
In the years following, I was always told how much of a miracle the situation was. I was a quiet kid, shy even. Being quiet at the doctor’s office was normal for me, so finding the murmur was made slightly easier.
I never once questioned my surgery being a negative thing until one day in second grade. I made a friend that year, and I felt comfortable enough to share with her that I had this surgery, even showing the very top of the scar to her because it was visible over the collar of my shirt. I guess she didn’t understand what I had gone through because she said, “Ew, get away from me! You’re sick!”
These are the words that an eight-year-old version of myself took to heart, truly. It was also the first of many times that I was bullied.
I don’t blame her for what she said now, but it really hurt me for years. I started becoming increasingly self-conscious about my scar. I didn’t want anyone to see it ever again. I just played the words “You’re sick” over and over again in my head. I was ashamed of the one thing that had saved my life.
As I got older, people stopped bullying me about my heart and moved on to other things such as my quirkiness, my innocence, and my love for Lady Gaga, who I see as not only an inspiration but a role model and someone whose thoughtful words and lyrics helped me through some terribly dark times.
I once had a teacher in eighth-grade call me a “freak” in front of an entire class because of my music taste and choice in role models because they didn’t meet his standards. The words were like a sword going through my body, especially coming from an adult in front of my peers. What would they think of me after this? This is the type of question that would race through my mind at the time. I think what angered me the most was the fact that in a place where I was supposed to feel safe, I couldn’t even escape the harsh words of a teacher – my favorite teacher before that moment. I was no longer safe, and that is what really added fuel to the fire I already had burning in my mind.
After this incident, I began having panic attacks every day, especially when I was in that class. They were emotionally draining, and I felt emptier after every single one of them. Eventually, they started affecting my grades. In algebra, I had an F, which is something that had never happened before. I had to retake the class as a freshman in high school because I failed. I thought I wasn’t intelligent. I was so hard on myself and stressed myself out so much that I was constantly sick. My friendships were shaky because everyone was dealing with their own problems and they didn’t need mine on top of them. I lost many of the friends I was closest with in the span of about three years.
The pressure in my chest, the feeling of suffocation, it all consumed me. I tried everything. Nothing made me feel better. I stopped eating for a time and was at the lowest point in my life. I wanted to give up, but I never did. I kept most of what was happening to myself because I didn’t want anyone to know. Most people still don’t know about this. I didn’t want to seem weak or incapable of taking care of my emotions.
There are so many resources available for people struggling with these issues (and dear reader, if you are, too, I encourage you to seek them because help really is available), but at the time,I didn’t know that I could ask for help. Back then, it seemed as though the entire world was against me. I was going through a complete and utter mental breakdown, and I wanted it to end.
But when I was being bullied in ninth grade, I had someone basically take me in and let me eat lunch with her because I had been cast out by my other friends. She helped more than she knows, and she and I still eat lunch together. I didn’t have to be alone anymore.
In the second half of my sophomore year of high school, I met a couple more people who took me under their wings and have been there for me ever since. I clung to music with lyrics I could relate to like Gaga, Sia, Lana Del Rey, and Eminem. I found shows with characters I saw a bit of myself in like “Bones,” “New Girl,” and “Grey’s Anatomy” because they all had quirky characters who go through life and make it successfully.
I learned that I’m stronger than I thought I was. Even with everything I had to deal with, I somehow found ways to make myself whole again. I learned that I can ask for help when I need it and that I shouldn’t be afraid to do so. I learned that I could take all of this pain that I felt and put it towards something more positive. I volunteer at the local humane society where I can relieve my stress by taking care of living things that can’t take care of themselves and need just as much help, if not more, than I did.
I’m sharing this story because if one person can relate to this and it helps them, even a little bit, the pain won’t be in vain. I want everyone to know that they’re not alone. Find a teacher, a friend, or a parent you can trust, and tell them how you feel because no one will know unless you say something. Most people don’t wish you any harm, and telling them how you feel takes so much of the weight off your shoulders. We are not weak just because our emotions take hold of us sometimes. Strength comes in numbers.
I still struggle with having my scar show, and I do still have panic attacks and bouts of really dark depression. When I do feel even the slightest twitch of any of it coming back, I’ve found that helping others and putting my focus on something much more positive helps a lot. I may not be 100 percent yet, but I’m still learning to work through my struggles , and I’m finding a million reasons to stay positive.
If you or anyone you know is going through a mental health crisis, help is always available. Please visit Born This Way Foundation’s Get Help Now page to view a list of resources that can provide you with assistance, or chat with a trained counselor at Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. If you’re feeling depressed and it is not an emergency situation, please reach out to your doctor, a mental health professional, or an adult you trust, and ask them about treatment methods.