April 13, 2018
From self-harm to a partial hospitalization program, junior Josie Woodward has encountered numerous challenges as she tries to successfully navigate her way through mental health issues that began more than a decade ago. Sharing her story, she bares her soul and tries to let other students in a similar situation know that they are not alone.
Wingspan Warning: some of the subject matter in this first person account is of a sensitive nature and readers are encouraged to take note of the various ways to seek help included throughout Josie’s journey.
Chapter One: When it all began
No longer am I ashamed, no longer will I hide; it’s time for me to step up and share what I’ve gone through as mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. My name is Josie Woodward, I am a junior, and this is my story.
Mental health awareness is something that isn’t talked about nearly enough as it should be. I know what it’s like to feel like you are the only one being put through so much pain on a daily basis. I know what it’s like to feel so alone. But, as much as it may seem like it, you are not alone.
One in four people suffer from anxiety disorders, and one in twenty people over the age of 12 (as of 2006) suffer from depression. As far as myself, I was officially diagnosed with depression and anxiety in eighth grade, but had been dealing with it for much longer than that.
When I was 4-years-old, my anxiety started to get out of hand. I had breakdowns every night, but my parents thought I was too young to go to therapy, so they went to different counselors learning about ways to help control my frequent anxiety attacks. By the time I was in second grade, my anxiety had subsided.
I had a period of about three years where everything was fine, but by the age of 10 it came back and along with it came extreme insecurity. I started crying every night because I hated my body. Rather than seeking help, I kept to myself because I didn’t want to concern other people with my problems. I felt like I deserved to be in pain, but at the time I was unaware of self harm methods such as cutting and burning, so at night I would claw myself until I bled and later continue to rip off the scabs. To this day my entire body is covered in scars, and I can never get rid of them.
But this wasn’t the end of things, only the beginning.
Chapter Two: The escalation
Throughout middle school everything just escalated. In sixth grade I discovered cutting. Resorting to cutting is one of my biggest regrets, because once you go down that path, it is very hard to get out of it. As explained to me by my therapist, it becomes a mental addiction because every time you do it, your brain releases chemicals called endorphins which momentarily make you happy, and when you’re in a dark place, you cling to anything that makes you happy, even if it’s just for a split second.
I regret turning to self harm rather than seeking help from somebody, because all it did in the long run was make thing worse. Every night I was crying because I hated myself and it was so hard to feel happy.
Throughout the years, faking it became the norm. At school, I seemed to be a normal, happy girl. People would even comment on how cheerful I was. I would slap on a smile and try as hard as I could to radiate positive energy. I constantly wore this mask of optimism and cheerfulness to hide what I was truly going through. To anyone else, I seemed fine, but on the inside I was broken. I kept everything bottled up. I cried every time I showered because I couldn’t stand to look at my body. I had panic attacks almost every night and lost the motivation to do anything. The idea of even getting out of bed was too much for me, and I had to battle every morning to force myself to go to school. Before long, I stopped doing homework or paying attention.
In eighth grade my parents finally picked up that something was wrong. They made me go to counseling, where I opened up about one thing only, my anxiety. I continued to pretend like everything was fine and that all I was dealing with was some anxiety. I started taking Prozac to help and by my freshman year my parents thought that I was doing a lot better. It wasn’t. I just quit opening up to them, they quit taking me to counseling, and then everything got worse.
Chapter Three: The start of high school
I lost my appetite and discovered that by not eating, I was losing weight. I was so uncomfortable with my body, largely because of a disorder called body dysmorphia, and wanted to be smaller so bad, that I stopped eating, except when I was in front of my parents.
It continued to escalate, and it got to the point that I wasn’t eating anything at all. I became very faint all the time and was constantly on the verge of passing out. Anorexia was added onto my list of mental issues. Occasionally I would try to make myself throw up, but a lot of times it wouldn’t work and I would scratch my throat and spend the next 30 minutes coughing up blood. The anorexia quickly spiraled out of control. When you don’t eat, your stomach physically shrinks and it becomes near impossible to eat at all. To this day, anorexia is something I have to battle on a daily basis.
On top of that, my depression was continually getting worse. I felt like there was constantly a dark cloud over me. I struggled doing anything, it took away all my motivation. Even playing soccer, which had always been therapeutic to me, was difficult.
The two most accurate descriptions of how I felt are dark and hopeless.
Thoughts of wanting to hurt myself turned into thoughts of wanting to kill myself. Thoughts turned into actions. I started regularly overdosing on acetaminophen every night, increasing the amount I took every night in hope that I would take enough to not wake up in the morning.
I even tried to hang myself once, but I couldn’t get it to work. My final attempt at taking my own life was done by cutting myself as deep as I could, in hopes that I would bleed out. When that didn’t work, I went back to overdosing. I felt like there was no escape from the darkness I felt encircled by. I just wanted the pain to stop, and didn’t think I deserved to live.
But soon, things would begin to get better.
Chapter Four: Help arrives
Around January of 2017, I made several really good friends and I finally felt comfortable enough with somebody to open up about what I was dealing with. It helped to have people I trusted enough to talk to, but I didn’t stop self harming or overdosing.
Eventually, one of my friends grew so concerned that he reached out to my mother. Initially, I was mad at him because I wanted to face things on my own, but looking back, I am very thankful that he cared enough to try to get me real help.
My mom called me into her room one night and told me to tell her what was going on. I had tried to keep her out of it because I knew she had enough going on, but she pushed me to tell her and it all came out. As much as I wanted to deal with it on my own, I couldn’t anymore.
Opening up to my parents was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It showed me that people do truly care about me. I started going back to therapy, adjustments were made to my medicine, and I was put on suicide watch for a period.
I eventually signed a No-Harm Contract stating that rather than committing suicide I would reach out to somebody for help. While therapy helped a little bit, my issues didn’t stop. Anorexia started seriously affecting my health. I was constantly light-headed and my hands often tingled. I would occasionally blackout for a few seconds, and I was significantly weaker.
My parents scheduled a meeting with an employee at a recovery center, and after consulting her, it was decided that I will be spending some time there in a partial hospitalization program as an outpatient. While I was very nervous, I was also happy that I was finally getting real help.
Chapter Five: In a better place
On May 1, 2017 I was admitted into Eating Recovery Center. Being in ERC was very different to my normal at home life. All meals were with the other patients and they were facilitated by milieu coordinators (MC). This process helped me get better as the other patients and my treatment team was so supportive. We got three hours a day to work on school work, and the rest was for meals and recovery therapy groups. I spent three months there, and on July 31, 2017, I was discharged.
Right now I am in a better place. I am still really struggling, but I am much better than I was a year ago. I still struggle completing meals, but I have been clean from self harm for quite some time. I still have panic attacks and suicidal thoughts, but I have not attempted suicide since I left ERC. I go to therapy and dietician appointments regularly, and I have many friends I turn to for support. I am not 100 percent yet, but I am on a path to recovery and hope to get there soon. For so long I have been scared to share my story as I felt ashamed and weak.
For anybody dealing with something similar, there is hope. I know what it’s like to feel helpless; like nothing will ever get better, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. As much as it feels like you’re alone, you aren’t. There are so many people going through the same thing.
So many people care about you and, even though it is very difficult at times, life is a beautiful thing that will have so many positive moments that make it worth living, even if you haven’t gotten to them yet.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and get help. One of the main reasons I didn’t was because I was scared of being weak, but after reaching out and opening up to friends who I really trust, I realized I wasn’t weak at all.
If anything, I felt stronger for pushing through this and finding a way to look past my fears and accept the fact that I couldn’t face it alone anymore. If you’re in a place where you feel like suicide is the only way out, please reach out to somebody, or call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline, open 24 hours a day every day (1-800-273-8255). You are strong, you are not alone, and your whole world is rooting for you.
My name is Josie Woodward, I am a junior, and this is my story.