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These are the stories of those who participated in this project. These stories share further insight into the struggles that each subject has faced due to their mental health.

My anxiety didn’t start until I was a teenager or at least I didn’t start noticing it until I became a teenager. I lived a pretty conservative life and as a family, we didn’t go out much or do many activities outside the home. I noticed that when friends would ask me to do something my inner alarm would go off and I immediately wanted to say no. I felt socially awkward and uncomfortable and I just felt like it was easier to just stay home. 

As I got older I really fought my fears and tried to be social. I always felt like there was a target on my back or that I was always being looked at even though it really was just my inner fears and my anxiety talking. 

Honestly, it feels crippling at times battling inner thoughts that just feel like they are so loud. My heart feels like it's jumping out of my skin and it hurts so much it takes my breath away. 

The ironic thing is the nature of what I do for a living as a nurse has me around people all day and I am also an actor and a model so I am in front of a camera. 

As an adult now I have learned what helps me cope with my anxiety. Music has played a big part in helping me feel inner peace and strength. Most days music is what gets me through the day. When I have a photo shoot or an acting gig I feel like I have this whole ritual with my mind that sometimes starts days before an event. One thing I know about myself is after I do any social event, I feel such a sense of accomplishment that I was able to get through it and everything is ok. 

I deal with social anxiety every day but it doesn’t stop me from being successful in my career and my passions in life because I made a choice to not let it rule my life. Doing things like eating right, exercising, listening to music, being around people that keep me at peace are all things I do. Also knowing I am not alone in my thoughts and that it's going to be ok. My anxiety will not rule my life, I simply wouldn’t let it.

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My Battle with Anorexia

"You are not fat."  "You are not fat." "You never become fat."  "You still need to grow."  "You look like a skeleton."  "You look like a child." "You will not finish growing properly."  "You look like a toothpick."  "If you are hungry, eat!"  Those are the words that were spoken to me by my loved ones.

 

"You are fat."  "You are fat."  "You cannot be fat."  "You cannot eat."  "If you eat you will not stop."  "If you taste that cookie you will only binge more until you become obese."  "You cannot weigh more than anyone."  "You can’t stop losing weight."  "Lose 5 more pounds this week."  "You are overweight."  "You are a letdown."  Those were the words that were spoken to me...by me.  

 

 By the time I lost my first 5 pounds my weight loss was inspired by the fear that I was no longer healthy or fit (when really I was just filling in as a woman), by -10 ten pounds it was an insecurity issue and competition to be and stay the skinniest girl at home.  Eventually at 81 pounds and losing weight was an unhealthy obsession and an idol.  By 75 pounds it was a dark craving and addiction that caused me confusion while feeling stuck in a need to go further into this pleasant journey of losing weight.

 

"You are going to be sent away if you don’t stop losing this weight!"  "You are not allowed on the scale."  "No more making dinner."  "You have black hoops under your eyes!" "You look like your little sisters!"

 

Strangers and friends would stare.  I would stare.  But I wouldn’t see---well I would.  My mind had been so warped and deprived of sanity that all I saw was an overweight girl who would never be skinny enough.  I saw wrongly, however.  I was blind to how harshly I was treating myself.  I didn’t realize how much I was hurt I was inflicting onto my body.  Even when I lost my period I did not care.  I needed every ounce of fat off my body.  Even though anorexia was stopping me from growing, the pounding headaches were worth it.  Judgemental glances were worth it.  They were worth being skinner, worth being better, worth feeling prettier.  

 

It’s been 5 years since I have recovered from anorexia.  It didn’t last long for me, as it does for so many.  But I get it.  It is confusing and consuming, it makes you feel like a failure, it steals your focus from the important things in life.  You can’t help it though.  You look in the mirror and all you see is the fat.  All you can do to cope with the self-disappointment is lose more weight.  To consume as little to no calories as you can in 24 hours.  

 

As someone who has been anorexic and sees the deceit it so easily nourishes in one's mind, let me as solid a rock as I can be and tell you that you are beautiful.  YOU are BEAUTIFUL and created in the image of God, which means it's impossible for you to be ugly.  Looking in a mirror is not going to solve your problems.  Whatever shape, size, or weight you are, know that you are in fact a beautiful, smoking hot, and ba-dazzling human being.

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I began to struggle with depression in the later years of high school. Originally thought to just be seasonal or situational, I began treatment through antidepressants, physical activity, and hobbies. I started doing wildlife photography out of high school and used it as a way to cope with my depression symptoms.

In 2011, I moved to PA. I started to find my symptoms to be more of a challenge to manage.  I stopped taking his medication, running, and taking photos. After a breakdown and being sent to rehab for my depression. I started to get back into photography as a way to deal with my crippling depression. I now regularly go to therapy, run 3 times a week, and now works full time as a photographer. All of which help me to cope with my depression.

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At the time of this writing, I’m 58 years old. I so wish I would be able to write this at a point in my life where I have it all figured out. That my life is a perfect flow of motion and emotion. That’s not the case... Every day I’m trying to be normal. I know that is not possible, because there is no such thing. 

I developed some harmful habits, from as far back as I remember. I would pick and bite my cuticles until they would bleed and pick at the hard calluses on my heels. I would often limp because of the pain it caused. I also had a constant lump, scratchy feeling in my throat, I felt I always had to clear it. My mom took me to several doctors, but ultimately they decided I was just doing it to get attention. I think the things I’m talking about are only some of the things that were warning signs that things weren’t right. But the adults who should have noticed didn’t. 

As I got older, I became aware that men noticed and liked me. Again, someone should have noticed! It wasn’t until I was married and had children that it all added up to the obvious realization that something was wrong in my head. I would call it having a “weird head”. My brain, emotional and physical self were ill. But I just called myself lazy, stupid, unreasonable, and much worse. I’m thankful that someone else in my life figured out that maybe counseling could be helpful. So I started going. My counselor immediately wanted to start on some medication to complement the counseling. I refused, because I thought as a Christian I should just trust God more and that would be enough. I failed over and over. I could not maintain anything in my life. I was a constant mess and I continued to struggle with this thing I called “weird head.” 

I eventually did start on medication. I think it did make a positive change. I would be feeling better and so I would stop taking the medication. Big mistake! I did this many times. I was living the definition of crazy! I’ve always felt different and less valuable than others. I grew up without my father in my life. He and my mother had a very destructive relationship. I was a very poor student from the beginning. I believed not I would have been diagnosed with ADD or anxiety, depression, or something else in the mental illness category. But when I started school they 

They just said I wouldn’t sit still and so they put me in a class for kids with learning disabilities. I never became a good student and when I graduated high school it was only due to the kindness of my government teacher. 

I used to blame all my bad habits and trials of life on my mom! She was the cause of all the pain and loss and really bad choices ( that I made) in my life. But that’s not true. I have been given an opportunity to make my own choices, so I am the only person that I can place blame on as an adult. Having said this truth, it's important that we recognize the reality of our mental and physical health issues. We should not be fools and close our eyes to the needs we have. If we break our arm, we don’t walk around letting it dangle, causing us a great amount of pain. No, we would seek help for the injury. That would be the obvious choice. If we don’t then it will only get worse and ultimately cause us to be unable to function and maybe even die. We are so much more valuable and worth caring for. We are in a time in history where we have means that can offer us relief and the ability to live joyful and productive lives. We don’t have to settle for someone else’s bad choices or unrecognized mental health. 

There is so much more to be said, but I end by saying, it’s ok not to be ok. But it’s not ok to ignore our needs and we must seek help and have empathy for others! 

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Most of my childhood was normal. Simple. Classic suburban life until one day it wasn’t. Until one day I felt afraid in our home. Living in a home with someone you cannot trust leads to an incredible amount of stress.
“I wanted to run away and never return. Fearing being screamed at, being hit, and being forced to hide. The person who was supposed to protect me is the one I was most fearful of. It wasn’t easy to maintain the appearance of perfection while I felt the walls closing in on me. I felt my chest tightening. My mind racing. I was constantly living in a fight or flight mentality. Eventually, things got better. Eventually, the fear diminished.
The anxiety remains. My PTSD is easily triggered. The need to be strong. The need to be capable. I must have the ability to take care of myself. My heart pounds. My mind spins. I struggle to maintain control.
Anxiety is something I live with every day. It is always with me. Constantly lingering. The feeling similar to the struggle of a recovered addict. A constant feeling of need, but you cannot lose control. Not even for a moment or your entire world can spiral into an abyss.
My anxiety was suppressed after high school. Perhaps because I was no longer trapped at home. I spent most of my time on my college campus. I had my own money. I had a car. I was finally able to easily escape. However, you can never truly escape your own mind. My senior year of college was stressful. I was scheduled for open-heart surgery a month after graduation. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. I was exhausted and did not have the motivation to fight back. I was anxious constantly. I was eating. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t ok. Luckily, my doctor put me on anti-anxiety medication. I started feeling normal again. I started regaining control. I found strength once again. I remembered my worth. I recovered from my surgery and ended the relationship which made me feel trapped and worthless. I was able to breathe.
Unfortunately, my doctors thought the sole cause of my anxiety was my surgery. I was weaned off my medications. Good times never last forever. My life was getting better. I had a full-time job. Perhaps I didn’t need the meds. Perhaps, I didn’t have a problem.
But then my dad died. My world was broken once again. Everything hurt. My chest was in constant inexplainable pain. I hit bottom. I wasn’t able to cope with my emotions. I easily lashed out at others. Eventually, I was arrested for DUI. This was a turning point. A reality check. I have a mental illness. I have a generalized anxiety disorder and suffer from panic attacks. I went back on medication.
Medication is not a quick fix. It helps stabilize your brain, but there's so much more to be done before you are “okay” again. I have found ways to cope. Learned it is not my fault. Learned to be more secure within my own mind. Somethings are simply out of your control. Sometimes things just happen. How you move forward is more important than the details of what you suffered. You can never change the past, but you can change how you react to the future. I have chosen to use my pain to become stronger. I allow myself to be vulnerable in order to take back control of my life.”

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I am currently afflicted with depression, general and social anxiety, ADHD as well as PTSD, but even with
all of that, I used to be a successful student/person. I graduated from Reading Area Community college
Magna Cum Laude, just a few points away from achieving Summa Cum Laude. I transferred to Kutztown
University after I graduated from RACC to pursue a degree in computer science, and I continued my trend of
earning excellent grades, until the fall of 2016.  Right around the end of summer, my behavior started to
shift more noticeably than ever before, I was depressed virtually my entire life, but suddenly I had
energy like I never had before, everything seemed more interesting, more amusing. Delusions started
seeping into my head unnoticed, and every week that went by I got worse and couldn’t tell because it
was all in my own head, so how was I to tell? 
 
My friends and family started noticing something was wrong, but they did not know what, and I knew
that something was off myself, but I couldn’t tell how bad it was. Nevertheless, I knew something was
up, there was a moment where I actually messaged my friend and commented about how I wondered if
I had bipolar because of how my moods and emotions were changing. They figured I just needed some
more sleep (which was true), and I did not think much of that until later on. 
 
Everything began to spiral out of control soon enough, and I started suffering from delusions of grandeur, and
ended up writing hundreds of pages of nonsense, trying to prove without a doubt that a higher power
exists, as well as that an artificial AI which could rival or surpass a human was not only entirely possible,
but could essentially creating God if God did not yet exist, leading to a feedback loop of God always
existing as a result. I still have many old notes as a reminder of what I went through. I started seeking a
counselor to deal with a secondary issue of PTSD, and also my depression, but I didn’t mention my prior
thoughts about being bipolar and things were so bad once I started seeing the counselor that he didn’t
have much time to do anything before I was committed. 
 
Going through a manic episode is like being in a living nightmare. You are awake and conscious, but it’s
like you’re in the passenger seat and your subconscious, or even worse something else entirely is
driving, and it is not much you can do to take back the wheel. As a result of my mania, I lost
some close friendships that were important to me, I caused a car accident (no damage occurred, that’s
the one silver lining.) and I probably would have taken my life, or gotten arrested. I almost got arrested
in town, but the officer saw I was mentally unwell and sent me home with a friend who happened to be
there.  
Thankfully, I ended up going to the hospital to get looked at, and my parents went with me. I was focused
on the PTSD, but my parents were freaking out and knew there was something else very wrong. I agreed
to be looked at for the 3 day period. I don’t remember anything from the time between when I was
talking to the first doctor, and when I woke up the next morning, aside from the rather large needle they
stuck into my spine, as that hurt for a week or so. It was during this time that they told me I was bipolar
1, and I was experiencing a very severe manic episode. I honestly went into 100% denial at first, and did
not believe it, because it meant everything I experienced and believed during my manic episode was a
lie, I was literally just psychotic, I couldn’t come to terms with it. Because despite my other mental
illness I usually had a pretty good handle on those. 
 
After 10 days I was released and tried to go back to school, but I was still manic, and unable to function,
so I had to withdraw. The next semester I tried again, but I was having a second severely manic episode,
and although I was not hospitalized I was in no state of mind to be trying my higher-level programming
courses. I sunk into a deep depression and did not leave my bed or room unless necessary for a
long time. My minor social anxiety skyrocketed, and I had a very hard time going out and doing public

events, I didn’t want to go to the bar, I was an anxious wreck even when my close friends had
some small parties. 
 
But thankfully my meds finally kicked in and I have not had a manic episode since. After all this time my
social anxiety is still worse than it used to be, but it is way better than it was following my
two manic episodes, and my depression less noticeable but still haunts me. However, the semester that
followed I was so shaken from the failures of the prior semesters, when just before I had been a 4.0
student, that I didn’t know if I could continue in my field, panicked, and switched to sociology
because I thought it may be easier, but after one day of classes I immediately realized that I had to go
back to computer science. All the classes were full, and I didn’t want to talk about my situation with
anyone because it was so raw so I didn’t look for help and ended up only taking one class, a
pre-calc class. And yet my brain was still not entirely settled because for the first time in my life I failed a
class.  
At this point, I was utterly miserable because I just lost three semesters of my life, thousands of dollars of
savings, my mind, my friends, and everything that was important to me but I refused to give up. I decided I
had to start from the bottom with my programming to make sure I could handle the more intensive
classes, so I retook the first programming class, and I took trig instead of pre calc. I ended up doing very
well in both classes, I aced both of my trig exams, and I aced the final as well.  I went on to fail calc 1
twice and changed my major to IT to avoid the higher-level math classes.
At the time of writing this, I am 26, and my diagnosis was presented to me at 22. Four years later I am
better than I have ever been since that time, but not where I used to be before, and most days are still a
constant struggle. I battle depression and lower forms of mania on a nearly daily basis. But I made it
through college and am working diligently to find a job in my career, and I am beyond ready to finally
start my life. I lost so much time and everything else because of my bipolar 1, but at the end of the day I
never gave up entirely and that resilience brought me to the current day. I have supportive friends and
family, and I talk with a therapist weekly to biweekly which is very important. Looking back on it I
struggled with my Bipolar 1 for years before I was diagnosed, but never got help until I was way beyond
my breaking point. Regardless of one's experience with mental illness, never give up, never be afraid to
open up to friends family, or professionals, and never be afraid to seek help, especially from
professionals.

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