My Battle With Mental Illness

Ashley Schmidt, Staff Reporter

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Thinking back to my childhood, I’ve struggled with mental illness my entire life. While the type of mental illness that causes the most issues has changed, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t having some sort of battle with my mind. While I have overcome some aspects of my mental illness, my behavior has been forever shaped by my experiences, and the fear still feels very real.

When I was really young (before going to school), I had severe separation anxiety. I refused to be separated from my parents, afraid to leave their safety into the world of unknown. My parents soon learned that trying to separate me from them wasn’t going to work, so they either took me with them (for example into the adult service instead of Sunday school) or didn’t go at all. While fear of separation is not abnormal for children, I still have yet to fully overcome the fear of being by myself, always trying to bring someone with me wherever I go as a sort of safety net to prevent me from getting washed away by the uncertainty of life.

Once I entered school I overcame separation anxiety, and social and generalized anxiety took over. I remember being worried about anything and everything, my mind always going to the worst case scenario. I had my moments of childlike stupidity (such as jumping down a flight of stairs to satisfy a dare made by my brother), but after each incident, a new list of don’ts that I was “never to ever do again” entered my list of fears. As I have grown older, my childlike innocence has been going away and as I become more and more aware of the harsh realities of the world, my worries have only grown. Watching the news never fails to set my worries soaring, with each new problematic issue going on in the world.

While the back of my mind worried, I tried to fit in, but it was a struggle when other people didn’t seem to be concerned with the dangers in the world. In elementary school, most kids don’t think about how likely it is to get hurt on the playground or what would happen to them if they got a deadly illness. While I did my best to appear like everyone else, I never truly felt like I belonged.

With middle school came moving from a small private school to a large public school, causing my worry and anxiety to develop into generalized and social anxiety disorders. I worried about everything, especially regarding the future, and “what if?” scenarios were constantly streaming through my head. My fear of talking to strangers grew, and I would attend multiple classes without saying anything. I felt like everyone was judging me. Hallways were a nightmare. I talked some with my close friends, but I was always hyper-aware of who was around, and always made sure to avoid doing things that would draw attention.

After a panic attack at the mall in 8th grade, my mom started having me see a counselor for my social and generalized anxiety. Each session, I would talk with the therapist about aspects of my social anxiety and work through all of the distortions my mind was making to turn fears into reality.

By the time high school rolled around I had been seeing a therapist for half a year and my social anxiety was under control. The generalized anxiety was still causing issues with the never ending “what ifs?”, but I was hopeful that I would soon overcome it and be able to live free. However, life had a different plan, and my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), something I have had my entire life but never realized, started going out of control.

I remember my first obsessions and compulsions as young as 1st grade, but we didn’t recognize it as OCD at the time. They were passed off as quirks and I didn’t mention most of them. However, in high school, the “quirks” were getting out of hand. I was doing homework all night, checking my work and overthinking every assignment. Every night I’d go through the list of homework over and over again, making sure that I hadn’t forgotten anything. I set way too many alarms and got up way too early to do an extensive routine.

I was formally diagnosed with OCD and generalized anxiety disorder in tenth grade. It was a lightbulb moment, all of the weird things I did and the struggles I had were because of OCD, not because I’m just over sensitive or weak. Knowing what I’m fighting didn’t really help much and I continued going downhill, with more obsessions popping up and the severity of them increasing. The obsessions consumed my entire life and I barely slept. My mom started wondering at what point I should be pulled out of school to be homeschooled because she didn’t think I’d make it through the year. I went through a bad depressive episode at the beginning of the year that was triggered by side effects of medication, and my brush with death was enough to scare my mom. In addition, my issues with food, which started in middle school, spiraled out of control, and I was basically a walking zombie.

Spoiler alert, I survived 10th grade. Over the summer I went to an annual OCD conference, and I met other people like me. It was the first time in my entire life that I felt like I belonged. I was so excited, and I wanted to talk to everyone, and I would walk up to people and start conversations (huge difference from my middle school self). Even though I was there for only a few days, I was inspired to fight against my mental illness and help others.

With 11th grade starting, my battle with OCD and everything else continued. I can’t say it has gotten better, because my OCD is really good at finding new ways to control my life. However, despite reaching one of my lowest points (only rivaled by the beginning of 10th grade), I continue to fight. I fight not only for myself, but also to be able to help those who are struggling, those who feel crazy, out of control, or like they don’t know what is going on. I fight for those who feel like there is no hope left, like no one is there for them.

So, I decided to share my story, and to write about mental illness, the subject no one wants to talk about. My goal is to make sure that no one feels alone in their battle, because there is someone out there who is fighting the same monster that you are. There are so many brave people in the world who fight even though they don’t know what they’re fighting against, and I want to give them the knowledge to succeed. Everyone has a story, and we are all together in this fight toward the understanding of mental illness.