It was the darkest point in her life. She was struggling with insomnia. She couldn’t eat. She felt she lost all control. She texted her friend, scared.
‘I can’t be alone in my apartment right now. There are knives here, and I can’t trust myself.’
Julie* had struggled with mental health for a while. In college she was told she had depression, but she would learn after college that she has Complex PTSD, a PTSD that develops over repeated traumatic events. It started in middle school. Starting a new school, she was bullied and lost a ton of friends, which created an emotional dependency on others. She was in an emotionally abusive relationship. She had anxiety and was a perfectionist. She couldn’t do basic tasks. It built up until she couldn’t handle it.
The college she went to was academically rigorous, and she was constantly pushing herself. On top of a full-time class schedule, studying, and clubs, she was on the school’s dance team and committing herself to another 30 hours. Burn out was real. “My school had this culture that you brag about how much work you have to do. I got caught up in it,” she remembered. Julie was not in a good state. She was sinking, struggling to stay afloat. One of the worst points in her college career was studying abroad. During a time that was supposed to be full of exploration and happy memories, Julie was unable to leave bed. The days she could, she could only go across the street to get pizza, go back to bed, and cry. She wanted to feel grateful for the experience, and felt angry with herself. She knew something wasn’t right, and she wanted to get help.
Through her stressful college career, she attended on-campus counseling. She saw the on-campus doctor for antidepressants, and although the doctor was short-staffed, she got the help she needed. When she graduated, though, the doctor recommended she taper off her medication, which was totally the wrong choice. After graduating, she decided to go to therapy again, where she was diagnosed with Complex PTSD. Getting the diagnosis felt like a weight lifted off her shoulders.
“Getting the diagnosis was a big turning point for me. It made more sense than depression, but it encompassed the anxiety that I have. Working through that has made the biggest difference in my life.” She was able to learn coping mechanisms based on her diagnosis.
She thanks therapy for much of the progress she has made. “My therapist had the right balance of compassion and listening to me, but also calling me out on my shit. She explained that some days, your biggest accomplishment will be getting out of bed, and that’s okay.”
Therapy helped her listen to herself and be more compassionate. She learned to combat her perfectionism. She worked through being lonely after moving to a new city. She realized her uncomfortability with vulnerability, and works every day to overcome it. Most importantly, she learned to be more loving to herself. She has learned many coping strategies for this. Fostering dogs also helped her. “Having a little creature loving me unconditionally and giving me a reason to take daily walks made a big difference.”
While Julie still struggles with her mental illness, she knows that she owes so much to therapy — and to medication. “Medication lessened the energy things took.” You are not weak for taking them. “You need to work with your doctor and figure out what’s right for you,” she urges. Mental illness medication in general brings you back up to the level of normalcy so that you have more bandwidth to achieve your goals and live a brilliant life.
Everyone’s mental health journey is so different, but when you find someone going through what you are going through, it makes you feel way less alone. You’re not the only person going through it. If you’re struggling with burn out, PTSD, loneliness, or perfectionism, know you aren’t alone.
*Name changed to ensure anonymity.