TW: Mental illness mention, Dissociation mention, Suicide mention
Really, I had no idea what was in store for me after I got a D- on a test in AP Calculus AB nearly two years ago. The most obvious answer was that my grade, my precious grade, fell down to a C-, and I had only a month to bring it back up to an A. Little did I know that I would take this failure this badly. Denial and tears were a given, but dissociating? Feeling like there were multiple people in my brain fighting to take control of my mental processes? Not what I had expected.
The night I came back from school with the D- burned into my eyeballs, I immediately crumpled to the floor, my head swirling in excruciating pain as my body refused to budge. Suddenly, I heard a voice in my head say, “Hi.” It was definitely not my voice, or at least what I imagine my voice to be like.
“Who is this?” I asked.
“Laetitia. 17. So are you going to get up and do your homework or not?”
I had originally intended to lie on the floor until my mom yelled at me to get up, but unfortunately, she was right. I had to get ready for the next day. So I listened to this very wise person in my head, got up from the ground, and took out my laptop to start working.
The next day, I was at my free period when I suddenly got the same feeling of emptiness I had yesterday, and my brain started getting fuzzy and painful. I sat typing away at my laptop when my friends greeted me. I wanted to smile at them and say hi back, but oddly enough, my mouth wasn’t moving to form the words “hi guys.” For the first time in my life, I couldn’t talk when I wanted to talk. I ended up giving my friends a really unfriendly look before going back to my computer; I was screaming in my head for them to come back and that I didn’t want to ignore them, but someone else had taken control of my body.
Over the next year or so, more voices started popping up, and it would always be the same. Introductions, then yelling whenever they felt like it. It was awful, walking around with voices in my head going at it.
Unable to cope, I sought out my friend, who suggested that I was a system, a body shared by multiple identities or people. It was, of course, difficult to think of myself like this. Me, glued together by fragments I called identities instead of one coherent being like everyone else was? I refused to believe it.
With the help of Tumblr, I did some research into what I was going through and found many kids who could relate to me, and I took comfort in the fact that some people my age understood me and didn’t think I was a freak.
The research I did on my own ended up as self-diagnosis, in which I consulted online medical resources such as WebMD and took personality quizzes. Insights into my personality began to click together, and, for once, I had answers to the question: What on earth is wrong with me?
Borderline personality disorder (BPD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), paranoid personality disorder (PPD), psychosis, schizoaffective disorder: terms I initially saw as horrifying, monstrous. Nobody likes a person who has mood swings and violent urges. Everyone is familiar with anxiety and depression, and the general assumption is that nobody likes someone who struggles with those. Psychosis is the worst; the media simultaneously rejects and romanticizes psychosis. Have you ever heard someone say that one “puts the ‘hot’ in psychotic?” Or the fact that everyone finds the Joker, a twisted psychopath, hot, mainly because of Jared Leto in the recent film Suicide Squad? (Don’t even get me started on him.)
What hurts me more than those offensive stereotypes about mental illness is how my family deals with it. Even though my father struggles with anger issues and my mother coped with her mother’s death by bottling up her depression – which is how she copes with her stress nowadays – my parents refuse to acknowledge the possibility of their daughter being mentally ill.
Now, let me address the stigma around the phrase “mentally ill.” I don’t understand why it’s a big deal. If I have mental illnesses, I’m mentally ill. Nothing more to it. People have this idea that mentally ill means being put on medication and having to be locked up in an asylum, which is an extremely dangerous thought process. And an offensive one, too.
With my parents having this mindset, it’s impossible for me to talk to them about struggling with mental illness, let alone tell them that I am mentally ill in the first place. Here’s how a conversation with my mom about the voices in my head went:
Me: Mom, remember that math test I failed?
Mom: [with bitter disgust] Yeah.
Me: The next day, um, there was a voice in my head. She said her name’s Laetitia.
Mom: [expressionlessly] Really.
Me: Yeah. [nervously] Do you think I should… go see a psychologist or something?
Mom: [lets out an uninterested snort] Hmph.
After that, I was thoroughly convinced that whatever I had to say about being mentally ill would not get to her at all. Things are still the same, but we have conversations about mental illness from time to time. My sister struggled with anxiety and depression in college, so my family was forced to confront and have serious discussions about them. Although my mom occasionally tells me that “all high-achieving students have some sort of anxiety and depression, which is normal,” she has slowly become more willing to hear my sister and I talk about how stressed we are.
Last week, when I broke down over having too much on my plate, she asked me why I was acting so funny. I do have a while to go, but I don’t think the conversation is impossible.