World Mental Health Day

Hi, friends. Happy Thursday and happy October!! I apologize that I haven’t posted since July. I’ve recently moved and I feel like it has been such an exhausting process. Since I’ve started settling in, I thought it would be a great idea for my first post back to be in observation of World Mental Health Day. 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

For the longest time after the arrest I always described my mental state as “feeling like I was stuck at the age of 14”. As an adult looking back, it felt like my development was stunted. In all honesty, it took forever to grow out of feeling this way. Deciding to blog and share my experiences so openly was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, but there is so much hiding behind the scenes that enabled me to share my story. Somehow this experience has always felt like a slow motion car crash. As a kid, this was the most terrifying aspect. I did so much and participated in my brother’s case because it was impossible to understand that there was absolutely nothing I could do, especially as a child. 

I think it’s important to take at least one post to discuss my mental health during this time in my life. I think it’s important not only for others going through similar experiences but also for others experiencing similar mental health concerns. Over the years it has become extremely important to me to nurture my mind and be gentle with myself. For the longest self love meant loving the body I was in and loving my personality, but self love quickly became considering the way I would speak to myself, carry myself, judge myself. 

I fear the social stigma surrounding incarceration, whether that be a family member or parent, causes individuals to only see the inmate, the charges, the prison, etc. I fear that others aren’t considering individuals like myself. I fear that others aren’t considering what individuals like myself are truly faced with, especially as children. This part isn’t something I discuss often because it tends to be the most challenging for me. It was so hard. It was so hard going through this as a child. I felt like the person in those antidepressant commercials holding the happy face sign in front of their sad, depressed faces to hide the pain. I can only describe these experiences through the eyes of my current adult self because I was so overloaded with emotions, responsibilities, experiences as the child I was at 14. I was dealing with things I didn’t understand, and I was trying to understand things only an adult with a developed mind could understand. 

I wonder if adults in my life realized how overloaded my mind was? Due to my experiences, I try to keep an eye out for the kids in my life, I try to be mindful of how many places their minds could be at this moment. I think adults forget how hard it is just being a teenager so when you begin adding adult concerns that are literally impossible for a child to work out in their minds, it can quickly overload their mental state. 

When I think back to being in high school, I can’t help but think about the times I was asked about my homework. I was such a smart kid, and I listened so closely during my classes. As a kid embarrassed of what was happening at home, how do I tell my teachers what is going on? How do I tell them I skipped class today because I needed to attend court hearings when my parents couldn’t? How do I explain that I couldn’t complete this weekend’s assignment because I spent over half of it in a visitation waiting room? Goddess knows I took my backpack filled with books every weekend, but how can you expect a kid to focus in a visitation waiting room packed with screaming kids, seat neighbors discussing their inmates and officer radios constantly buzzing as they storm from one unit of the jail to the other? At this time I knew my education was important, but I just couldn’t comprehend how any teacher could expect me to complete my assignments when there were so many larger things going on at home. I just needed them to see the bigger picture. I’ll never forget when one of my favorite teachers approached me about a poor math ACT score. She sternly expressed her disappointment in me and ensured that she knew I was capable of so much more. She was right. I was capable of so much more. I quickly shrugged her off, said thank you and proceeded about my day. I wanted to tell her how badly I wanted to do well, but I just couldn’t. I wanted to tell her how impossible it was to focus on anything outside of what was happening at home and how badly I wanted to change what I was going through. I just didn’t know how to tell anyone about my experiences, because in my mind, why would they care? Why would they cut me any slack? I didn’t want to use my experience as an excuse to perform less, but I wanted just one adult to see how badly I was struggling. 

By the time senior year arrived I was so tired. I just wanted to catch a break and be a kid so badly. I’ll never forget being called to the office because I was on the list of “kids not on schedule to graduate”. I remember sitting down with an assistant principal I had never spoken to as he expressed his disappointment in me and informed me that I wouldn’t be graduating. I was failing my pre calculus class. Of course, I was on track to graduate because I met the required math credits, but they didn’t realize this as they assumed I had taken one math credit each year. Everyone, teachers and students alike, have things going on in their lives, but I just couldn’t comprehend why no one noticed this student who hadn’t failed a subject was suddenly failing a class? I couldn’t understand why my teacher didn’t notice me sleeping in class every day. I would sleep in class every day because this was after I had started working and paying for inmate phone calls. My ILO was on lockdown for 23 hours a day, with one hour to complete hygiene, phone calls, etc. This one hour always occurred between 1 and 4 A.M. I began falling asleep in class because I spent my nights waiting for my ILO to call. It’s easy to say that I could have ignored these calls, but I needed to know my ILO made it to the next day. I needed to know he was at least alive. I needed to give him hope to make it through tomorrow. I needed to share my strength with him. I just couldn’t understand why no one noticed that this kid who was extremely attentive suddenly began falling asleep in class. 

It is extremely important to realize, even as children, that everyone we come in contact with has an entire world of happenings outside of us. Everyone is facing a battle of their own.

I spent so many of my nights crushed with pain. I was conquered by my experience..an experience I didn’t think I would see the end of. Every night my pain would return with a vengeance from the night prior. Every night the anxiety would get worse. With each day, the worry about my brother’s life quickly began leaving his scars on my mind and heart. I still have trouble processing this one as an adult. Meditation helps. I was so consumed with the worry of such a basic thing…whether my brother would be alive or dead tomorrow. It’s exactly like constantly having someone in a critical medical state. The everyday worries began giving me extreme anxiety in all aspects of my life. It began making every worry an extreme worry, and I quickly lost touch with what was true and what was false. I couldn’t convince myself that I didn’t need to worry because my mind was tricking me. I didn’t have the necessary tools to resolve this. My increasing anxiety was pushing me in the face suicidal thoughts. It wasn’t the usual “everyone would be better off without me” or “no one would miss me” kind of thoughts. It simply became the fact that I didn’t think I could handle the pain anymore. I just couldn’t handle how hard this entire experience was for my family. I couldn’t handle how hard this experience was for me. In fact, I knew I would be missed and this is the only thing that kept me here. It was the love others provided no matter how much I pushed it away. It was those few friends that sat in the awkward of my pain and loved me anyway. It was them who saved my life. It was the idea that I needed to be there for my brother because for a long time, it was ONLY us in this fight. My brother needed me and I couldn’t be so selfish as to take my life and leave him to fight this on his own. No matter the reasons, the most beautiful part is that I am still here today.

 

I did in fact see the other side of my terrible experiences. 

 

I continued my story so I could help others through theirs. So, I’ll leave you with this – be kind always. Especially on world mental health day, but also every other day in the year. Speak with intention telling everyone around you how much they mean to you and how much you love them. Share your love and share your strength, because you never know how much someone else may need it.

“When we love each other unconditionally, our mirror is clean; we see others and ourselves as we really are, beautiful expressions of the divine.” -Don Miguel Ruiz

Thank you so much for giving me a space to share my story, and thank you even more for taking the time to read my posts. Truly, it is because of you, YES YOU, reading that I continue sharing. If this has resonated with you, please feel free to share and leave a comment on how you’ve grown to treat yourself better in honor of World Mental Health Day.

Chelsea

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