Hello! My name is Hope, I am a musician, a creative writer, a computer enthusiast, a friend, a sister, and a day dreamer. I spend way too much time online with other writers talking incessantly about books and movies.
Before we really begin into my story with mental illness please be aware that while I am not going into detail, I am going to talk about some things that could be hard for some people to hear. Just be careful and keep yourselves safe.
I always kind of knew that something was different about my mind. It was hard for me to explain myself to other kids, and I had tons of completely irrational fears, mostly of the dark or of being alone. As I got older I became more aware of my mind and for nearly as long as I can remember, I thought there was something wrong. I took AP Psychology in high school in an effort to understand my mind, but when we got to the mental health unit, I remember lessons seemed more about debunking mental illness than actually understanding it. So I let the matter go.
That summer my irrational fears started getting worse and worse, I moved into the newly finished attic space, but there was still a wide range of tools and materials up there, and I found myself hiding everything that could be used to hurt me in the middle of the night. It became part of my routine, that I hid everything sharp or heavy or long. I knew it was not healthy, and some nights I tried to just go to bed, but on those nights it was nearly impossible to sleep until I finally hid everything. This continued until one day my mother asked me if I knew where the hammer was. Me and my mother are great friends, so I told her, ‘oh, I probably hid it, let me find it.’ Once my mom found out what was happening every night, she took me to a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder and understandably immediately put on antidepressants, and they initially helped a lot. But as my Senior Year of high school started and bled into that summer, and then my Freshman year of College, it became increasingly clear that my depression and anxiety was completely treatment resistant. And very stubborn. My spring semester of College across the country from my family saw me taking seven pills worth of medication daily with little to no effect. I was still experiencing nearly daily panic attacks, my depression kept me from doing practically anything at all, and my school work and job were suffering because of it. I’ve heard depression and anxiety compared to ‘living in a body that is doing everything possible to survive with a mind that wants nothing more than to die’ and that’s a pretty accurate statement to how that freshman year of college felt.
When COVID-19 became a nationwide panic in March of 2020 I came home from college, and finished the semester online. In the scuffle I fell out of the habit of taking my medication and didn’t even notice. I tried to start another semester that fall, but it was not going well – everything about the circumstances made me feel incredibly inadequate and useless. I found another psychiatrist that doubled as my psychiatrist and my primary care physician, and that helped a lot, finding someone who could look at my health as a whole. By now I had been off my medication for a couple months, not wanting to take anything that was clearly unhelpful, so I was given a different kind of antidepressant, an SNRI, and a note to drop my classes for the semester. I was officially spending my time and energy trying to get these conditions under control.
This new medication was very bad from the start, usually when you start new medications like that it can cause a lot of side-effects until your body gets used to it, but these were abhorrent and did not go away. So we tried something new. We went back to SSRIs, and I took a newly developed medication that my insurance was kind enough to pay for. For a while, it worked. I only needed a very low dose, but I saw a light through the clouds. The effectiveness faded after a while, and I went back to my psychiatrist. This time, she referred me to a TMS clinic.
TMS stands for Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, and it’s a treatment where a doctor and technician use a special machine to stimulate your brain and mimic healthy brain activity. Over repetition of this, it becomes a habit, and more sustainable for your brain to use this new pattern of thinking rather than the old one. The treatment is incredibly effective, nearly or completely eliminating symptoms in over 90% of patients. The only problem is that it is really expensive. Like, special permission via petition to the insurance expensive. But after a lot of fasting and prayer I received confirmation that my insurance would pay for TMS therapy in December 2020, Just in time for christmas.
January 2021 I started treatment, and within a week I felt so much better. During the treatment I received some of the best advice I have ever received from my TMS technician. He told me that while I was feeling better, I needed to take time and commit effort into fixing whatever in my life had been messed up by Depression and Anxiety. Now that was a lot, I had lots of relationships that needed to be built up again, with friends, family, and with God. I texted and talked to so many people, I got my registration and financial status fixed at my college, and I poured myself into music and creative writing again. Something that I hadn’t been able to do mentally or emotionally in several years. By the time TMS was over, I was me again. I honestly didn’t, and still don’t, remember what it was like to be ‘me’ before my conditions hit hard, but whatever this feeling was, whatever changed in my very core being through my six-weeks of TMS and my efforts to get back in track, I was definitely, completely me.
Now as I write this, in September 2021, I am back at school. It’s incredible to me how different my mind has made to do the exact same things in completely different ways. I have friends and fun roommates that I love dearly. I’ve gone to more parties and events these past couple weeks than I have in my entire life and I’m loving it. To top it all off, I aced my first test of the school year. Something I used to be able to do well but haven’t since Sophomore year of high school. Some days are better than others, my conditions are managed, not gone. Something like that can never really be gone, but I have controlled and conquered it before, and if need be I can do it again.
The entire process took around four years. Looking back on it, it seems unreal and way too long. Going through my old journals, it was very real and still way, way too long. But I am so much more aware of myself and the people around me. With the ever-loving and everlasting help of God I am able to turn that suffering and defeat into an immeasurable effort to help everyone around me, especially if they are feeling even remotely the deep suffering I was. That’s where Collecting Stars comes from. From the beauty of the sky, and the making of it to be yours, and you theirs. It’s hard, it’s incredibly difficult, and there are days that people sob and want nothing more than to disappear. I remember being that person, and I remember wanting so badly for someone to help even if there was little to nothing they could do. So here’s the project known as Collecting Stars, an effort to make sure that we reach out and help each other, and ourselves. We have literal stars inside us, and we can’t let that power be taken away by anyone. Including ourselves.