My struggles with mental health started in high school, around 20 years ago. I was a B student and involved in several extracurricular activities. I had friends and was outgoing, but I also lacked self-esteem and confidence. I was always worried about what other people thought of me.
In January of my junior year, my parents got divorced. I was angry at the time and didn’t know how to handle all the emotions I was dealing with. During this time, I had one best friend that I trusted to lean on. In February of that same year, that friend was instantly killed in a car accident. My whole life seemed to be falling apart. At 16 years old, I was no longer just dealing with your typical high school stress. I was working through the trauma of losing my best friend on top of learning to live in a split family.
A few months later, I found myself turning to alcohol to cope with my new anger and sadness. When I was drunk I didn’t have to feel or think about life. I could numb the pain. Alcohol only made the depression worse though.
At 17 years old, I had my first experience with visiting the ER for mental health reasons. I had overdosed on Tylenol 3. In my head, I thought that if I could just fall asleep and never wake up, all the pain would go away. Luckily, I cried to my parents shortly after taking them. The hospital had me drink activated charcoal and then sent me home with my parents. They referred me to counseling. I went once and refused to go back again. Mental health was not something I needed help for. Mental health was not something that was openly talked about. I just needed to suck it up, quit crying, and move on with my life. I had a bright future ahead, so moving on should be easy.
For years, I continued to use alcohol to cope with my emotions. Stress, anxiety, depression, celebrations, alcohol was the answer. Alcohol is socially acceptable, so I didn’t have a problem. I now realize that for many years of my life I was self-medicating with alcohol. Alcohol brought me together with friends. It took the edge off enough that my social anxiety would fade away. It also brought out anger and sadness. Many nights, I’d start out having a great time with my friends only to end up crying at some point during the night.
Sometime in my early 20’s, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and clinical depression. I would have days when it was hard to get out of bed, but I didn’t feel comfortable sharing that with others. I would go on and off my medication for years, battling the stigma that if I took medication I was weak or crazy.
Having anxiety and depression can also cause physical symptoms such as chest pain, stomach issues, nausea, headaches, fatigue, and lightheadedness. I experienced all of these.
In my late 20’s I finally realized that taking antidepressants did not make me weak or crazy. Knowing that I was taking the medication to prevent the physical symptoms helped me realize it was ok to give my body the chemicals it needed to be healthy.
Through all these struggles, I managed to work multiple jobs that I enjoyed and excelled at and I finished my bachelor’s degree in special education. In 2012, I moved to Bay City for my first official teaching job. I knew that moving to a new city, for a new job was going to be tough on my mental health, but I was also excited to begin a new journey. I love teaching and so much happiness came from my career. Even when it was hard to get out of bed on the weekends, I put my all into being the best teacher for my students.
While my career was going great, my dating life was not. With every rejection I would feel my self-worth depleting. I realize now, how little self-esteem I had just 10 years ago. I was struggling with not being able to find the right guy and was becoming a toxic friend. I didn’t always look at other people's viewpoints; I worried what everyone thought of me; I was jealous of my friends and the perfect lives I perceived them to have. I was confident in my teaching abilities, but I did not love myself. Through a lot of self-reflection and building self-awareness, I see how I self-sabotaged situations in my life.
Somewhere around my second year of teaching, I went to a psychiatrist and began therapy. After over 10 years of struggling, I was finally open to trying therapy. At this time, the psychiatrist prescribed me a stimulant medication for ADHD and Xanax. I saw the therapist for about six months and I developed a trust in her. It felt good to have someone to talk to about my emotions. I felt like I was making progress, until the day she asked me if she could borrow some of my medication. I never went back to her and it took me years to be open to therapy again.
I managed the anxiety and depression by always staying busy. I went back to school and earned my master’s degree in education online. Even though I was still drinking way too much, I was accomplishing my goals. Fitness helped. Friends helped. I was surviving. I would have some great days and some terrible days. I still had a lot of self-doubt in who I was outside of being a teacher.
Piecing together the timeline of my past is difficult. For many years, I used alcohol to cope, blocked out events, threw away journal entries (I wasn’t always open to sharing my emotions) and tried to just keep swimming through life. The exact timeline isn’t what’s important. It’s the obstacles I’ve overcome, the strategies and tools I have implemented to find self-love. It’s about opening up conversations around mental health and breaking the stigma.
Four years ago, I found Self Love Beauty and began taking workshops to improve my confidence. One of the workshops is called Passion, Purpose, and Goals. During that workshop, I discovered that I could turn my story into a purpose. These workshops helped me grow as a person. I became a part of an amazing community of women and I learned that I am not the only one that struggles with self-esteem and confidence. I recently became a facilitator for Self Love Beauty. This gives me the opportunity to teach teens the strategies they need to grow their confidence and self-esteem.
Another game-changer for me has been therapy. Two years ago, I was finally ready to try therapy again. I was struggling with irritability and not being the best version of myself. Starting therapy again has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. Therapy helps me cope with everyday stress and emotions and it supports me in being the best version of myself. Usually, I attend once a month, except for in the winter months when I’m prone to seasonal depression, I increase therapy to bi-weekly. Most days I just need to vent, other days I need validation that my emotions are normal, and other days the conversations are deeper and I talk about past struggles, conditioned beliefs, and find ways to let go and overcome them.
Sharing my story is not easy. I have fears that there will be people who judge me and I still have this belief that because I am a teacher, I shouldn’t be openly sharing my story of mental health. I am proud that I no longer use alcohol to self-medicate and that I have found ways to live a successful life with anxiety and depression. I am grateful to have a healthy relationship with a supportive boyfriend who knows all of my faults and loves me anyways. It took learning to love myself to find love with another. I share my story to break the stigma and to open up conversations around mental health.
– Aimee Allen