My Story Matters: Jillian 

***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.***

My name is Jillian, I’m a part of the reflections program at MHACF, where I work to help my peers find confidence and comfort in themselves. I live in Avalon Park with my boyfriend, Jacob, and our two fur babies- a kitty named Maslow, and a puppy named Sadie. In my spare time I love to paint, read, or play video games. I also play soccer and do kickboxing.

In high school I was the captain of my varsity and club soccer teams, as well as the varsity track team, I held leadership positions as a student and made good grades. I had a great family and tons of friends, I was really active in my church… I had a lot to be proud of, but for some reason I just wasn’t finding worth in my own accomplishments. Instead, I thought my worth lied solely in the opinions of other people. I started getting in with bad crowds and making bad decisions, and allowing myself to be treated in ways I definitely didn’t deserve- whatever it took to feel loved, since I was having a hard time loving myself. I was bullied relentlessly by a girl in the grade below me, who also turned out to be the girl my boyfriend was cheating on me with. Even after finding this out, I stayed with that boyfriend because of my need to fit in. I tried to stand up to my bully and speak up for myself, but I wasn’t confident enough to get the help I really needed.

Once I started college at UCF I was excited to start over and make new friends. But, much to my surprise, my bully showed up to my first college party and confronted me there. At that point I lost all that held me together in high school, and I hit her. The next morning a cop showed up to my dorm room to serve me papers; she was pressing charges. I started probation and actually felt like I had reached a place to turn my life around. I started going to therapy and working at an animal shelter as terms of my probation, and I loved it! I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, which was actually very hopeful for me. At least it was an explanation! At the same time, I joined a sorority and made all new friends and I was ready to start again.

Then, my sophomore year, I was raped twice. Both times by boys who I thought were my friends. I kept it to myself for a while and unfortunately started trying to cope in negative ways. I struggled with an unhealthy relationship with sex and other forms of self-harm. But I still wanted to change my life, so I finally opened up and told my friends what I had been going through. I don’t know what I expected when I told them, but what I got certainly wasn’t it- a lot of victim shaming, taking the sides of the boys who had taken advantage of me, and acting like my mental illness was a burden on them. That was when I hit my lowest point. October of 2012 was the first time I seriously thought about suicide. Luckily, I had just enough sense to call my roommate to come sit with me and wait for those feelings to fade.

That was when I changed my major to psychology. I loved learning about the science and statistics of what I was going through, it helped me remember it wasn’t my fault and even more importantly, that I wasn’t alone. My senior year I got an internship at NAMI Greater Orlando and started telling my story to high schoolers through their Ending the Silence program. That opportunity changed my life. Getting up in front of a class and telling them my story, and then hearing their feedback about how much it helped them or inspired them, was the most empowering feeling I’d ever felt. They told me how strong and brave I was, and how they wished they could be like me.

Ever since then, my mission has been to help others to use the power of their story to change their own lives and the lives of those around them. Realizing the strength it took for me to overcome my obstacles has given me more confidence than I ever thought I could have before. Knowing that I can use my experiences to help others is the most validating and encouraging thing I’ve learned in my life so far. I am grateful and blessed for the opportunities I’ve been given to live a life that has opened my mind to the struggles people face every day, and allows me to understand them at a level that I wouldn’t have been able to without my own story. I truly believe things happen for a reason. So, no matter how hopeless, lonely, or awful I’ve felt, I wouldn’t change a single second of my story. I believe we all have a purpose and the more open and honest we are, the more that purpose will be revealed.