I guess I am fortunate enough to say my life was pretty normal for the first few years, or at least it seemed to be. As an infant, I was hospitalized for long periods due to a medical diagnosis of a rare condition, with many not surviving this or being impacted with significant impairments for the rest of their lives. Seeing as I got away with none of those, I guess I was pretty lucky. But it always followed me and several times I caught myself wondering, did I deserve this? I grew up in the international school system and ex-pat way of life. One could stay fortunate and privileged, the lifestyle and moving do have positives, but the negatives were often overlooked. Moving abroad for the first time when I was 2, and moving 9 times up until now has meant the longest time I spent in one place was 5 years. My childhood being affected by multiple hospitals stays due to allergic reactions and infections and several episodes of testing, my medical history was always very present and for such a long time I felt like it defined me. This is pretty much where my anxiety started, feeling terrified going to school and all the hospital stays, let alone moving to a new place and figuring out how it would be there, would I be accepted for who I was. As my dad had an international job, he would be gone for longer periods, creating difficulties for my parents. Even today I still catch myself, but I am slowly starting to realize that I need to tell myself that I am not responsible for difficulties between them and that I will not always be able to be the peacemaker. Anxious feelings continued and worsened but I never got a diagnosis at the time and didn’t think much as feelings of panic and fear slowly began to manifest within me.
Moving back to Switzerland 4 years ago was an immense challenge for me. At the time, I felt secure and comfortable in California, and despite the challenges, I was facing was able to feel happy and slowly build a sense of purpose. I have been a competitive athlete for the past 9 years of my life, dedicating, sacrificing, and creating countless hours, moments, and memories to swimming for my love of the sport and desire to become better. Missing nationals 2 years in a row due to injury, and 3 years ago I started plateauing with my times in racing even though I was training harder than ever before. Every time before a race I would fight a silent battle of my inner voice telling me that I’m not good enough to achieve the times I was dreaming and working for. Listening to music, talking to friends, nothing seemed to help, competitions started becoming a dread to me and my coach at the time started to stop believing in me. Little did I know about my underlying anxiety at the time as I still did not have a diagnosis then. Not only did this impact who I was in the pool, but it also affected who I was as a student, a friend, a volunteer, and an organizer. I was lost, overwhelmed, and insecure and after finally feeling the trust to ask for help by someone I trusted, this was broken. That summer I decided I would try to forget about everything and become stronger - as after that I was convinced I could manage on my own even though I couldn’t. The last two years - the most important ones - my grades dropped and every test or exam I took turned into torture - I was drained and believed I couldn’t fight the voices anymore. The school was lost, my parents confused and I was feeling worthless. I didn’t understand what reason I still had to deserve to live. I distanced and isolated from my friends and grades became the only measure of worth in my world. Looking back now as a recent high school graduate, this broke me and began tearing me apart. I felt like I couldn’t survive but had no choice than to find energy needing to push me through day by day. In the spring of 2018, my uncle committed suicide and my best friend lost her mom to cancer. I felt like a failure, and a let-down was convinced this was happening because of me and was so numb that I believed I could not be there for her. Again trying to meet expectations of being strong, I kept going supporting others wherever I could. I turned deeper and deeper inside of me and stopped seeing a reason to live. I was 100% sure I was not good enough to do anything and lost hope that I was any meaning to this world. My grades dropped again creating even more anger within my parents and myself that I could not show because I didn’t want to succumb to expectations. I had turned to an external contact for support as I was desperate in finding help in fighting and enduring this battle. Embarrassed and typing in tears, but on May 9th, 2019 I felt I couldn’t take it anymore and had a plan to end my life so I could escape the constant pain and suffering. Little did I know the months awaiting me at this point were going to test my endurance so significantly. When the police showed up, my parents were so unaware of what I had been going through, but I decided to protect them as even today they would never understand. They thought I was weak and crazy and incapable and looking for excuses. Thankfully my best friend intervened and saved me and I am here today.
A month later, I underwent testing and got a proper diagnosis for the first time. Simultaneously, a close friend of mine took her own life unable to cope with the pressure, immense stigmatization, and society’s expectations. I couldn’t process what had happened, but I had nowhere to turn to and was convinced I just had to manage on my own. I started to self-harm as I believed I didn’t have a right to live and could not deal with the pain. In the summer of last year, I was so out of it living in a world of masking, that only very few could see under as I got good at bottling up, pretending and faking. I believed these were the only ways I was going to be able to please and meet the expectations of others. Starting my senior year of high school, I lost hope in everything and felt so insecure with the new labels I now felt and saw everywhere. I was generally a quiet student - meaning people were less likely to pick up on something going on. My brain was still convinced I was strong enough to manage even though I knew I couldn’t. In the fall of 2019, I then lost a second close friend to suicide. She had disappeared and given up, and the message from the police sharing the news let my heart sink. It felt like a reinforcement of the negativity within me, of the many controlling and spiraling thoughts taking over. School continued to be a significant challenge, and tests were battles ending in tears and panic attacks as I so wanted to prove I could do it. My parents knew nothing about any of this, as I desperately was trying to avoid the anger, disappointment, and embarrassment I feared from them. I couldn’t get myself to open up. I loved them, but I knew they would never understand what I was going through. “A hard egg to crack”, a phrase used by our school counselor about me - a connection that was difficult as I was stubborn at the time, and terrified of my parents finding out about anything. I struggled and couldn’t open up, but continued to reach a breaking point several times that I felt I needed to start finding my voice so I could tell myself I can do it. A journey I have started - and still often struggle to believe this, working with and trying to focus on those moments that I can, to take the chance and learn from challenges and difficulties in the path of recovery.
I will not lie - I’m on a journey like many - that still hasn’t ended. Days or moments of torturous pain or others like now leaving me in tears or fear or those empowering are all along the journey. Times where I can barely move or laugh or feel because of the numbness taking control, but these times cannot be a consistent future. A month ago another one of my friends took his life. I’m still in great pain and shock and feel as lost as ever and yes it’s a setback. But I know it’s not over - but I am slowly learning that I can do it - to persevere and to live with what I can and can’t control. Even though it often has felt like the way to go, giving up does not provide a long term solution to enjoy and live the life I deserve. Life is a challenge and no matter how painful - and it’s a long process, it’s a fight. It’s a reoccurring choice we have to make, to choose the journey to answer problems or heal. I have never been particularly good at it, but am learning to accept help to know that I can do it. I know it can often feel like we can’t anymore, I’ve been there many times, but no matter what, you can do it.