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How I Came to ‘Make Friends With the Dark’ of Mental Illness

I met Mental Illness when I was 13. She crept into my bedroom and decided to stay a while, but she overstayed her welcome. She started by making several rules and regulations I had to follow, like only eating once a day. I wasn’t allowed to weigh over a certain amount and I wasn’t allowed to go out without makeup.

I was curled into bed under the silky covers in my grey Nike sweatpants that, in fact, did not make me sweat, for I was quite cold. I was shutting my eyes, but not because I was sleepy. I was hiding from Mental Illness. Mental Illness is a tall, slender, wide-eyed woman that struck fear into my veins. See, she and I share a room, but she doesn’t sleep at all. During many hours of the night, Mental Illness would run around this crowded room, setting fire to all that rests there. I’m used to it, of course, but there was one night that kept me awake.

Mental Illness made several marks of self-harm under my yellow school sweatshirt, which I would later become ashamed of. Likewise, space filled up, and I migrated to my thighs, ribs and even the sides of my breasts. She kept whispering in my ear, “Sarah, end your life. Now. Now. Now. Now.” She threatened me, over and over, “I’ll keep hurting you until you do.” I just wanted her to stop.

I didn’t like to listen to Mental Illness, yet she kept growing louder and louder as if she were a hyena in the night. Her voice farmed chills down my back and made hairs on my neck stand until I gave in. I opened the end table before I got a cup of water from the sink. The swallow felt like sandpaper and my throat began to melt furiously as if it were incinerating down to the depths of Hell. Immediately, I knew Mental Illness had fooled me as I began to vomit and cry. She ran to my parents and woke them, only for me to face the consequences. It all faded to black.

When I came to, I saw Mental Illness sitting at the end of my hospital bed. I didn’t recognize where I was, but I was more concerned about the heavy-set nurse who came towards me.

She said, “Drink this. If you don’t, I’ll put a tube down your throat.” It tasted like chalk or playground dirt and turned my tongue black. Mental Illness’s laughter rang like a hyena once again. I think it was around 1 a.m. and I was too tired to fight. We stared at each other for the next 36 hours until a mental health crisis professional came to visit me. She asked a multitude of questions about my relationship with Mental Illness, all of which I replied in a negative manner.

The woman glanced up from her clipboard and spoke, “I don’t know what you’re running from,” she took a deep breath, “but you have to make friends with the dark.”

As she left the room, I looked over towards Mental Illness. Somber read all over her face and she softly apologized to me in the sincerest manner.

“I’m sorry,” she paused, waiting expectantly. “Sarah. I need to treat you better than this,” Mental Illness whispered, “because you deserve better than what I’m giving you in your life. You are worth so much damn more than what I tell you that you are.” I couldn’t talk to her anymore, for my voice was mute.

We went to a facility called Lake Side in Tennessee, once I recovered. I was fragile, but she was too. I went to classes and therapy to learn how to communicate with Mental Illness, and she transformed from a violent forest fire to the kind of fire that would be at a summer camp. Mental illness explained to me that she was only here because she couldn’t leave, but it was best if we learned to work together to live our best lives.

When we came home, we got along well, yet we would still argue like sisters from time to time. We communicated and expressed ourselves diligently to each other. We compromised to share our personal items instead of being greedy, explained our unstable and complicated brains, and put two and two together for the better. Awareness has actively risen from the dead in our relationship and it is what intertwines both of us in prosperity.

Mental Illness now tends to realize whenever my mood is declining or suffering. She always offers to help me improve myself and promises not to let the worst side of herself take over, and I promised this as well. Sometimes, though, we both slip a bit and catch a glimpse of our old life, but we never let ourselves deteriorate completely.

Because of Mental Illness, I am brave, I see the beautiful (and the worst) moments in life in such an intensified way, and I genuinely connect with people. I attribute everything to her.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Photo by Tomasz Olszewski on Reshot