At the age of nine I hit puberty. Crazy, right? I was nine years old having my period, growing boobs and curves and I had no idea what to do with them. My best friends’ sister, who was 13, looked at me with stunned eyes as she handed me her mother’s maxi pad. She herself had not had hers yet. Apart from being a mixed girl growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood this set me even farther apart from the girls around me. I struggled to make friends and with this the struggle continued. My new-found hormones came with a heavy weight.
I started feeling lonely. Started noticing I was more affected by setbacks than most girls. At eleven, a breakup with boy had me in bed for an entire summer. I felt like I wanted to die. I couldn’t handle the immense pain I was experiencing. Most of my life I was raised by my single mother and in that same year we moved, she got pregnant and married a man with two kids. Instead of embracing this new family I recoiled. My mind told me I wasn’t one of them. My mind told me I was all alone in this world, told me my mother had a new family. My mind told me no one loved me. I cried alone in my room more than any eleven-year-old should. Then one day I was so lost and smothered in sadness that I just wanted it to end. When I think back I can still feel the twisted knot in my belly. I feel the pill bottle in my hand, feel the pills sliding down my throat, feel the anxiety washing over me. Fear caused me to tell my mother what I had done. My mother seemed worried, but I could also hear aggravation in her voice. The inconvenience on her tongue. As they pumped my stomach at the hospital the doctor too was aggravated. Told me I was wasting his time, keeping him from someone who really needed him. His words solidified my feeling of loneliness. A nurse said I needed counseling. My parents said I didn’t need it and since they didn’t believe my depression was real neither did I.
I spent years of my life believing I didn’t need therapy. I didn’t need medicine. There was nothing wrong with me. I just had to “get over it” like everyone told me. But trying to get over it only caused me to make bad decisions. I drank, I took drugs, I slept with guys just to avoid being alone. I jumped from toxic relationship to toxic relationship. Even when I found a good guy I was so broken I couldn’t keep it together. Then my mother died, and a new mental illness arrived. Anxiety. That one is a real bitch. It followed me wherever I went. I no longer believed that standing on solid ground was attainable. Panic attacks and trips to the hospital became a regular occurrence. They told me the pain in my chest was from stress. No doctor ever mentioned or asked if I was depressed or having anxious thoughts.
In my late twenties I found myself in another toxic relationship. He was “that guy”. You know the one. The one who breaks you into so many pieces you’re sure you’ll never be out back together. He was a drug. A love I couldn’t explain, couldn’t deny and couldn’t let go of. He treated me like a dog. No, worse than a dog. He called me a whore in public while laughing and holding me knowing I was going to go home with him anyway. He did the whole f*ckboy routine. My relationship with him is an entire story within itself but I reached the bottom of the barrel. I was drinking more than ever, thinner more than ever and depressed more than ever. I had no respect for myself and loving him made me the loneliest I’d ever felt in my life. I couldn’t show up for my friends or family. I couldn’t get out of bed. Something had to break.
A girl at work noticed the black cloud over my head. She gave me her therapists number. At this point I was desperate for anything that would bring happiness. Therapy changed my entire perception of the world and myself. She told me I was dealing with depression and that I had been born with it. I learned it wasn’t something I could just change or turn off. I had a chemical imbalance. She told me I needed to cut my ex off and start taking care of myself. She made me promise her which meant spending time with my son, working out, eating healthy and not contacting my ex. This gave me motivation. Even if I’d cried all day I did what she told me to do. It helped and I was finding hope again but I was still heavy with grief. I was still agitated and I was definitely still anxious. After a year she convinced me to try medication. This. Changed. My. Life.
The reason I resisted taking antidepressants was because I feared it would change me. I feared I would be a robot or I wouldn’t be able to feel or I wouldn’t be able to create as an artist. Guys, it was the exact opposite. I finally became the person who I was always meant to be. I suddenly had joy I’d never felt. Setback didn’t bother me as much. Men didn’t bother me so much. I realized I didn’t need them. I didn’t need a person to be happy. I was actually pretty great. And the anxiety? Gone. Every medication I’ve tried except one has taken away the anxiety. I no longer have irrational thoughts or can’t sleep because my stomach is in knots with worry. I will tell you that there are side effects and not every medicine will work for you. But don’t give up. It took about a year of trying medications to find a combination that works for me. It was all worth it though. I wish I had tried it earlier. I know my life would have been different. But I know my story is for me to encourage others. To tell them not be afraid of being called depressed or anxious. Mental Illness is a thing and its important. You can be born with it. It’s not your fault but you can get help. You are capable of living on solid ground. Therapy, medication, exercise and healthy eating can increase your quality of life. I also learned you must surround yourself with people who bring light into your life. I believe 100% in forgiveness and second chances but if someone is robbing me of my peace I’ve learned to let them go. You are the protector of your joy. You are in control of this life. You really are. You just have to find the resources and search them out. I wasn’t searching. I was wallowing and I paid the price. My goal is to erase the stigmas surrounding mental illness. Never be ashamed of who you are and the mountains you’ve been given to climb. Just climb.
Raquel Franco is a wife, mother, friend, sister and daughter. A woman with the intention to connect and share her experiences in order to dare women to be brave, to find confidence and carry it within themselves. Her words are meant to show up when you may be feeling alone and spread the message that hope and love are waiting for you.