The Long Road: My Life Journey Living with Mental Illness

I think often about how the world around us is constantly changing. Most of my generation grew up carefree and happy. The world didn’t seem like such a massive and scary place then—most of us just didn’t understand or possess the knowledge of how cruel the world really can be and why. Then one day, we were suddenly hit face first with that knowledge. 

I remember a time when I was carefree and happy. My mind would occupy things like what masterpiece I wanted to create with a little stick of chalk or what piece of candy I wanted that day. There wasn’t a single worry in my mind. I envy my younger self and her carefree spirit. At the age of six, my little world began to crack at the seams.

I was six years old when life literally crashed into me. One day in the spring, I remember sitting on the big yellow school bus, hand in hand with my twin sister. Suddenly, behind us came a massive impact that shook our little bodies. At first, I didn’t know how to react because I was in shock. The ambulance came but I was unwavering, stuck unmoving. This was the moment that changed my life: it was the moment that little black car struck our big yellow bus. I didn’t know it at the time, but this moment was just the beginning of the long journey that is my mental illness.

After the accident, for months and even years on end, I was at a pause. I was afraid to look at a car, much less get into one. Back and forth, back and forth was the motion my head moved whenever I was in a car. I became obsessed with making sure a car never got close enough again. The seat in the third row of my parents’ big green Expedition became designated as “Jada’s seat.” I think at that age, I had a feeling that if I could just see what was happening around me, everything would be okay. I think I thought (naively, I might add) that I was able to have some control. But realistically, I was only a child
what control could I really have had? Of course, at the time I couldn’t see it that way. This was also around the time when I developed a strong fear of severe weather. I used to watch the weather channel religiously. If the weather wasn’t looking promising, I wouldn’t leave my house, period. 

As the years passed, I didn’t get much better, so my parents decided they wanted me to try therapy. This was the first time I was able to really talk to someone about what I felt and how it was all so tough for me. She taught me many different tricks and even set goals for me. As time went along, I was able to make tremendous progress. I began to not fear storms as much. Most importantly, I wasn't as afraid to be in a vehicle.

A couple years later, I arrived in fifth grade. Along with that came a life-altering moment for me: when I was 10, I had emergency surgery for the removal of a mass on my right ovary. The mass was so big that doctors estimated it be the size of a soccer ball. They were just amazed at how strong I was, because they knew that this wasn’t just a normal case. I was put on so much medicine that I felt like I was floating. The surgery resulted in me having only one ovary and one Fallopian tube left. At the age of 10, that was a huge deal. I mean, ovaries and Fallopian tubes are incredibly vital. Along with the surgery came hormonal changes, which led to embarrassment for me.

Then, middle school came along. I remember being sick often, but I was pretty happy. I had survived a surgery that saved my life and was beginning to feel like myself again. Unfortunately, that was the last year of my school career in which my mental health didn’t play a huge part in my life. In the following years, everything changed. The diagnoses came like hard rain, steady and seemingly never ending. First came the migraines, then vertigo, which actually turned out to be a heart syndrome known as POTS. POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) is a heart syndrome in which a change in position causes a dramatic increase in heart rate. With that comes extreme dizziness, lightheadedness, and sometimes even fainting. The symptoms are relieved by lying back down again. 

I was in so much pain and so sick that I couldn’t even lift my head. I was practically bed-ridden and I no longer had time for school or friends. I just didn’t have time to be me anymore. My grades tanked, and my school and teachers weren’t understanding. I was soon diagnosed with anxiety, as the stress from school and my health caused me so a great deal of worry and fear. I thought I had hit my lowest point. But I didn’t know what was in store for me soon after. What came was far worse than anything I expected. High school has been the worst four years of my life. 

I truly and honestly can’t put into words how much high school has become my own personal hell. My mental illness has taken a turn for the worst. I was diagnosed with depression, then school avoidance. I’ve never detailed to anyone what it is, but it’s just that: school avoidance. I developed a severe fear of school, which partly stemmed from being absent for such an extended period of time due to illness. I no longer wanted to leave my house, much less step foot into a school. I don’t think anyone truly knows what it’s like to be afraid of going to school. I'm fine one day, and the next, the feeling of school makes me get so riled up I start feeling sick. One morning, it was so bad that my mom called the police. I didn’t know how to cope, so I had taken it out on myself. Imagine wanting to be injured over going to school
that’s how bad it is. The thing is, I do want to be at school. But it’s like my body pulls me back and wails a boisterous “NO.” Most days, it’s like I’m in an endless floating space where I can’t escape school. 

What’s so frustrating is I know I wanted to better, but I couldn’t allow it for myself because I mentally couldn’t. My GPA has tanked to a number I never thought it would be. Everyone around me is getting into great programs and schools, and then there’s me. I guess you wonder, "Well, Jada, if you have school avoidance, what makes you think college will be better for you?” The thing is, I don’t know it’ll be better. I don’t know if I’ll ever be better, but I do want to try.

I wish I could say it’s gotten better for me, but it hasn’t. I wish I could escape and be happy again. I wish I could go back to running through beautiful flower fields without a care in the world. But I suffer from mental illness. It’s debilitating and it’s extremely hard. I wish I had a success story to tell you I’ve won, but I haven’t yet. I can tell you, though, I still have so much fight in me. I can’t and won’t give up on therapy and finding the right medicine for myself, because there’s a spark in me I can’t let burn. I won’t let it fizzle out for those who lost their battles. There is time for us all. Our battles can’t do the speaking for us, only we can. We have the ability to change the world, to show others like us that we can and do have that ability. We can change the stigma, change the talk, and not be afraid to be us. That’s the dream I have for all of us, and I think I’m beginning to see it.

By Jada Moore
Visual by Paloma Williams

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