Words by Eli (they/them), 21 NSW
The piece ‘Grow up’ contains themes about mental health, anxiety and depression which may be difficult to read or triggering to some readers. Readers in need can seek support from the following services.
I was six when I first told my mum I wished I was dead, or better yet never born at all. She shouted at me and told me that it was wrong to say things like that, wrong to feel that way. So, I locked my misery in a box, tucked away in my chest and felt wrong each time it sprung a leak.
I felt like a monster.
An other-worldly imposter slipped in to replace a normal child with normal thoughts and normal feelings and normal behaviours. I knew it was my fault I felt so bad all the time because I was just born wrong.
I was thirteen when the box completely shattered. My emotions were too big for the box, too big for my body, and they erupted, ricocheting through me. They ran into my bloodstream, polluted my thoughts and my actions and my words. Once more, I made it known that I wished I were dead, wished I didn’t exist, I wanted to kill myself.
This time, instead of anger, I was met with disinterest and irritation. I was told to grow up. That it was just teen angst. I was simply seeking attention. All of it whittled down to hormone fuelled dramatics.
Then I learnt the statistics. In Australia, 1 in 4 teenagers struggle with serious mental health issues.
I was one of them.
Instead of seeing this as a devastating problem needing drastic attention, I used it as a scapegoat for my mental state. There was no need to be concerned about what was happening to me because it happened to so many other teenagers. A quarter! Everyone had been right after all; it was just something that happened during puberty. I’d soon grow up and be exactly as I was meant to be. All I needed to do was survive the suicidal thoughts and dangerous acts of self-medication long enough that they would disappear on their own.
Only then I was 18. Legally an adult. Apparently grown up. Every negative thought and impulse still persisted to spin dizzily through my mind – ferocious and unrelenting as ever.
Two months before my eighteenth birthday, I suffered a particularly bad episode where I was certain I would end my life before the week was up. It was then that I finally sought professional help. I booked a consultation session at a well-known non-profit organisation and asked a friend to take me because I knew I wouldn’t go if no one held me accountable.
Fifteen minutes into the conversation, they referred me to a government-funded health centre that had no restriction on sessions. Here, they would be able to provide me with more intensive long-term care as I was deemed an extremely high-risk case.
When told I needed long-term treatment, I had to face the reality that I was suffering from an illness, and it wasn’t something I could simply grow out of.
This realisation paired with other challenges in my life at the time – such as anxieties about finishing high school and a relationship I hadn’t yet admitted was abusive – and I became certain I was going to die young and at my own hand.
The first time my therapist used the word depression, it felt like someone had lifted a weight from my shoulders only to drop it like a stone into the pit of my stomach.
I eventually admitted that my relationship was speed-running toward my death, and I found the strength to end it. I was hurled into a tsunami of complicated feelings and a new diagnosis of PTSD. Despite this, I felt like I could finally see a way out of the dark – even if it was only shifting into a slightly brighter shade of grey.
My friends organised a picnic as they could see how much I was struggling at that time, and it reminded me I wasn’t alone. It is impossible to pinpoint the exact moment, but I believe that day was one major turning point in my life, where I made the decision that I wanted to keep living.
Now at 21, my emotions and impulses can still be huge and overwhelming, but I have learnt how to swim through each wave. They no longer hit me as hard or as often. For over three years, I have been in and out of therapy and while I relapsed multiple times, each slowly grew further apart. I recently passed my eight-month anniversary of being self-harm free – a milestone I never expected to reach!
My condition is chronic, but it isn’t terminal. It’s something I can – and am – learning to live with. Tearing down the walls I built around my less admirable emotions brick by brick was painful and frightening, but necessary for me to embrace the process of understanding my mind. Allowing room inside myself for this part of me means I am able to better monitor and regulate my emotions and behaviours in healthy ways without being overcome by them. They have – and always will be – something I carry with me and accepting that truth saved me.
I didn’t need to grow up. I just needed to grow.