My Story Matters: Amanda
**Below is a story from a brave human being sharing their lived experience. Please be cautioned that, although we believe their story instills hope that recovery is possible, it may be triggering for some individuals.***
Hello, my name is Amanda and this is #mystory.
I am a 25-year-old UCF Alumni. (It feels awesome to say that.) I currently work as a substitute teacher and as an intern at the Mental Health Association, but I hope to return to school and earn my master’s degree in mental health counseling. Most of my free time is spent playing video games, chatting with my best friends on the PlayStation Network, and posting the dankest of memes on various social media platforms. I am also a daughter to two loving parents, a sister to three awesome siblings, and a very good friend. People have told me I am a kind, empathetic, and hilarious individual. I am definitely goofy. I’m never afraid to put myself out there to make others smile. However, there were many times where I remembered using those things as a crutch. Growing up in a household with two parents in a toxic relationship was definitely not a cakewalk. I would hear my parents screaming at each other constantly, things breaking, constant drinking and smoking, sometimes my mom would even take my sisters and I on late night “field trips” to try and hunt around for my dad. There was cheating from both sides and most of it was out of spite. Instead of ending things for the sake of keeping the family together, they chose to stay together in order to hurt one another. To escape, I drowned myself into the many worlds of my Super Nintendo and Playstation. But that’s where the issue lied. I tried to escape my feelings instead of facing them head-on and talking with my parents.
My parents finally divorced when I was about 15. Also right around the time I met the “love of my life.” The “love” that turned out to almost identically reflect the relationship my parents had. Countless times he cheated. An ex-girlfriend, two of his coworkers (one who he happens to be married to with a child right now), a prostitute in Texas, and many more that weren’t brought to my attention. He would break up with me on Fridays to go out and live the single life just to come back on Mondays. Constant verbal abuse about my physical appearance and just who I was as a person and sometimes even physical abuse. And I allowed it. I gave up my entire life to please him. I lost every single friend I had, I stopped watching anime, I allowed him to take advantage of my body even when I didn’t want to or if it hurt me (which was every time). This went on for five years and led to feelings of low self-esteem, self-doubt, depression. suicide ideation, and low self-worth. Self-mutilation took on a different form for me. I took routes that weren’t as obvious and could be easily covered up. I began pulling my hair out when I was about 16 and I still struggle with this today. Mostly eyebrows and eyelashes. I try to cover it up with make-up and regrow the hair, but most of the damage is probably permanent by now.
I finally grew the courage to say enough was enough and left him. I began to get my life back together. I started taking baby steps and was talking to my old friends again, but I still never faced any of my feelings. I bottled them up so tightly and shoved them deep into my mind thinking that was the solution. I made people laugh to hide what was lingering on the inside so people always thought I was happy and would never ask any questions. One thought I always had was “you’re not as bad as others. You don’t really need help.” As I grew older, I allowed these feelings to consume me and never once sought out help. These emotions had grown larger and hurt deeper by the time I was in my early 20’s. My last relationship was a huge wake up call. We were in love. We had planned on moving out together and getting married, but those plans came to an abrupt end. Communication is key in a relationship, and we suffered heavily because of it. Nine times out of ten I would bottle in my emotions so tightly out of fear of what he might think or how it may hurt him. I would lie countless hours in bed crying each day thinking, “He’s going to think you’re crazy and leave you. Don’t say anything.” “Don’t tell him how you feel. It may upset him.” “YOU don’t even understand what you’re feeling. Why bring it up?” There would even be times where we would talk on the phone and I would just sit there crying on mute so he wouldn’t suspect anything was wrong. I built up a wall so high and so impenetrable with the person I was supposed to trust the most, and made it so impossible for him to see his way in.
The issue was he saw through my entire act. He knew something was wrong but could never get me to speak. This led to frustration, fighting, and eventually, a break up on the day of our second anniversary. I thought I was broken and unlovable. The downward spiral that was becoming my life took many turns for the worst. After the Pulse tragedy, my life took many turns for the worst and my untreated feelings of depression and anxiety were heightened. Even though I wasn’t at the scene, I still struggled with feelings and thoughts of worthlessness. I would have thoughts to myself such as, “if I was there, no one would miss me.” My grades took a huge hit and I almost didn’t graduate college. I barely kept the job I had and found myself breaking down at random times of the day in random settings. Suicide ideation became more and more difficult to fight off, and with two close calls, I decided it was time to seek help.
Working at a safe haven like the Mental Health Association helped me immensely. Just the fact alone that I help connect people to finding help for themselves and wasn’t finding help for MYSELF was a huge push. Our slogan is “It’s okay to get help” for Pete’s sake and all signs were pointing to that direction. Also being around such a supportive care system really helped me in taking my first steps. The wonderful ladies who work in that office made sure I found the help I needed and supported me the entire way through. From researching different facilities for me and taking the weight of in my search, to just sitting with me one on one and just listening to me vent. Danielle, Charlotte, and Megan are three amazing ladies and I cannot thank them enough for all they’ve done for me.
And thanks to Danielle, I was able to be connected into the Orlando United Counseling program. I was able to start seeing a counselor free of charge and finally began to see the light at the end of the tunnel… The good kind… That is when I met my counselor Sharon. I have been seeing Sharon at Total Health Guidance since about late June or early July and I cannot stress how much this woman has helped me through my time of crisis. I actually was not diagnosed with depression or anxiety, but with low self-esteem, undealt grief, and mild PTSD from my time of crisis. Sharon has helped me come out of my shell and has allowed me to see myself for who I truly am. A smart, strong, and confident young woman. She helped me see that I am not broken or unlovable. That I should not carry such a heavy weight of blame and guilt and that I deserve more for myself. That this period of transformation I am in will not be in vain and that my mental illness does not define who I am as a person… Let me say that again… MY MENTAL ILLNESS DOES NOT DEFINE WHO I AM… We still have a long way to go towards recovery, but I can definitely say that I am definitely well on my way. I would like to thank OUC for giving me the opportunity to give myself the help I truly deserved without the worry of my financial stability. I was able to speak with a professional LMHC and was able to finally get my life back on track.
I have to admit, coming out to my family was very difficult. I come from a very traditional Cuban household and their ideas tend to be a bit outdated at times. When I first told my mom that I was going to seek counseling, she could not grasp why I was experiencing these feelings. I was young, beautiful, and had one semester left to achieving my bachelor’s degree. I should have been happy and she thought it was her fault that I came out the way I did. It definitely hurt hearing that, but with much communication, I was able to show her the correct ways to support me and educated her more about exactly what was going on inside me.
I have to give credit to my family for their love and support, and especially to my best friend Sharon, (another Sharon) for countless times a sleepover turned into a therapy session, for the support they’ve given me since day one and has never once judged me for my actions, for actually sitting there and reading the massive walls of text I send when needing to vent and actually listening to me when I speak, for constantly reminding me that I deserve better for myself and should NEVER settle for anything less, for being so supportive when I couldn’t even stand on my two feet, for being there when I felt like I had no one, for never shutting me out even when all my doors were closed. My only wish is for every single person on God’s green Earth to have a support system like I have. The sad part is that they will never know how much I appreciate her because it will always be much more than what they think. With the help of these wonderful people, I have learned different coping skills, such as positive thinking, redirection of thinking, mindfulness, and self-insight. I’ve learned to look inside of myself and pull back the confidence I once had and, if anything, I’m allowing it to shine brighter than ever before. I have learned that I am the driver of my own car (aka life) and I am in control of where I go and what/who I allow to ride along with me. This has definitely fueled the fire to where I want to go in life which is helping people climb out of the ashes that is their crises as a mental health counselor.
If you, or anyone that you know, or anyone in this world is going through a stage of crisis, I ask you, no, IMPLORE you to seek help. As much as you may think “other people are in more need than I am”, or “I don’t even know where to begin”, there are hundreds of people out there who would love to be there to help. People like Danielle, Charlotte, Megan, both Sharon’s, and my family. Taking the very first steps towards recovery will always be the hardest. It’s awkward, scary, and you don’t really know what to expect. But I can promise you this, once you’ve hit your lowest, the only other way to go is up. Never forget that you are your own person, you are the driver of your destiny, and your story matters.