To Paint a Picture

I’ve never met a strong person with an easy past.” -Unknown

Dec. 4, 2018- If you were to paint a picture of what thoughts run in a person’s mind, the finished product you’d end up with might look pretty similar to paint splotches scattered randomly over a canvas. My picture would be a scatter of thousands of colors. It would show a sporadic arrangement of bright hues, symbolic of the happier times, and alongside them would be different variations of darker pigments.

There are over seven billion people in the world. Each one of us has our own daily struggles. Regardless of a person’s background, these struggles can shape large portions of our movements, mannerisms, thoughts and actions.

My upbringing had a drastic effect on my life. Subjected to various types of abuse, I learned early on what fear and disappointment were. I learned to fight for myself at a young age and felt as if the world was constantly battling against me. I combatted depression and anxiety through most of my adolescent years. Now, as I approach my thirties, I still struggle with my mental health.

I met my husband at the age of fifteen; I was a love-struck teenager who fell for an older boy. My husband came from what might be considered a typical family. He moved in with me and my family, and subsequently witnessed abuse of many forms. He even took the brunt of some.

I became a mother, and began caring for my own children. However, I hadn’t anticipated the effects my own childhood would continue to have. My mental health conditions did not control my life, but they did continue to have a grasp on me.

As a military spouse, I’m well acquainted with the feeling of needing to remain strong and carry on through the times when my husband is gone. Many military families deal with mental health conditions, and I did not want to become another statistic. After losing friends and family to suicide, I gradually realized I needed to seek help for myself.

Support came in the most unexpected way. In September 2016, my mother came to visit, and in memory of those we had lost, we decided to participate in one of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walk. We made shirts and took all of the kids with us. It was probably one of the hottest days of the year.

While I was walking, I began to notice the different names and birthdays on other people’s shirts, in memory of their loved ones lost to suicide. Reading these shirts, I realized I did not want to be a name on one. I experienced more emotion that day than I had in years: not just tears, but laughter. I was surrounded by others. I knew I was not alone.

After the walk, I found help. I began working on myself for the first time in several years. I learned the severity of my own illnesses and how to cope with them. Instead of beating myself up for not being “normal,” I decided that this was my normal, and that was okay.

I will always have to manage my mental health, just as someone with a physical health condition would. I have my good days, and my bad days. I have days where getting off the couch or out of bed is hard. There will be days when I play outside with the kids, and there will be days when I simply cannot.

Regardless of what I do, this is me. With each day comes a new hurdle. I have chosen to meet those hurdles with grace and courage. I will not hide away any longer.

This past March, I lost another friend to suicide. This time, I did not spend weeks or months playing the tragedy over in my head. Instead, I decided to begin telling my own story, and by doing so, hopefully help others to do the same.

I started advocating for mental health programs within the military community, helping families find their voice in light of the unique challenges military life can pose for one’s mental health. By sharing my own struggles, I have encouraged other people to be open about their own. Within this community, I have found a place in which I feel neither judged nor insecure.

I have found hope.

My journey would not have been the same had I not walked that hot September day. I found my passion to help myself, and others.

My struggles do not define me, but they make me who I am.

To find an AFSP Out of the Darkness Walk near you, click here.

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