The Mighty Logo

When Leaving Where You Grew Up Is the Best Thing for Your Mental Health

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you’re looking for creative inspiration, check out the Daily Inspirations group on The Mighty.

I used to live in Michigan for 13 years, where the cracked pavement and the thick air made my 4:30 a.m. walks to school brutal. I lived in a hunt house on Reed St. It was located in the ghetto/slum. On a good day walking into the house you could smell spic and span, the sun lit up the root beer walls of the living room and the two orange bedrooms weren’t so bold or suffocating, the color was light. My mom’s bedroom door was open and her bed would have been made. She would most likely be cooking her special mac n’ cheese, it was everyone’s favorite.

On a bad day standing in the front door frame your eyes would go directly to the recliner chair that was upside down in the kitchen. Your eyes would then look up and see my mother’s bedroom door shut, but it wouldn’t block out the yelling and the sounds of things hitting the walls. The room would become quiet after hours of hiding on the basement stairs and pacing back and forth, walking into the first room and out by the washer and dryer and entering the second room with goosebumps of being alone and then repeating over and over again.

While my sisters would yell at me to come into the room while my brothers and Papa would sit and play video games. I sat on one of the beds and looked through the small basement windows and made up stories in my head. A few hours later, some of my siblings and Papa would go back to my father’s house, and my mother and her husband would call CPS because they were done. CPS would come and write up a report. They always wanted to know why I didn’t want to be with my birth father and I would always give the shortest response that was possible, “He’s an alcoholic.”

The nights were long but quiet. It only felt like I fell asleep minutes ago but my alarm would be ringing in my ear, it was time to walk the cracked pavement and breath in the thick air that made the 4:30 a.m. walk to school numbing.

School was painful for me physically and mentally. I was at a third grade academic level when I was in eighth grade. I woke up early to walk my siblings and myself to school. We went to school out of town. We had to take the long way because the short cuts through the back alleys got too dangerous. I was absent most days for multiple reasons. One being I was a mother figure to three kids before I was 8 years old.

I was especially distracted by my mother. When she had money, I would leave school to walk with her to the grocery store. Once we made it home I would put the groceries away and let her rest before she had another seizure. When her seizures got bad she ended up in the hospital for days at a time.

My mother was in a crucial car crash when she was younger. The accident reshaped her life forever. She was diagnosed with with bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression and a traumatic brain injury (TBI). She used this as an excuse to leave town for weeks at a time followed by physically abusing me and my eight siblings. It wasn’t the only dangerous thing in our lives though, our ex-stepfather was extremely dangerous and he put us in harm’s way along with my birth father. The doctors said the seizures were caused by head/body trauma. Due to her ex-husband. I was always watching out for her and my younger siblings. Nothing mattered to me, I didn’t have a choice nor a voice. My reality was being left without water and electricity for weeks at a time.

I remember my 12th birthday. My mother was leaving that night to go to Detroit for the weekend. We didn’t have any water or electricity. Our very generous neighbors let us run an extension cord from their house to our house so that we could have lights. I hooked the oven up to the bright orange cord to make a birthday cake for Gracy and I. Even though Gracy was with my father I still wanted to show her I cared. After mixing the batter and putting the pink mix in the oven I waited and waited. Nothing ever happened to the cake. It didn’t grow and it didn’t expand. My mother walked through the kitchen to put her bags by the door. She looked in the oven and said, “What are you doing?” I replied, “Making a cake, but it’s not working.” She told me to unplug the oven because it’s not gonna bake because we have no gas. I ripped the cord out of the plug very slowly so that when I turned around she wouldn’t see my tears. At this very moment I realized something; I would never grow if I stayed.

I made a decision that would change my life forever. My sister’s half sister’s mom and grandma came to Sawginaw, Michigan to pick up my youngest siblings because after years things got too bad. The night before they left I was packing my things to live in my cousin’s unfit house. My mom called me into the living room, I walked in on them, staring at me with tension in their necks. I sat down and my grandma asked me a question, “Do you want the extra spot in the car?” I turned to look for reassurance from my mother, I replied yes. I packed what I had and got in the car, we left. I never looked back. Survivor’s guilt never made more sense. I told my twin sister and my other siblings that I left once I was out of state.

That summer before eighth grade I decided to stay. We lived in Waterford, CT. I was at a third grade level for all of my academic classes, but my street smarts were strong and so were my survival skills. That year I worked my hardest. I knew that I had to work harder as it was with a hearing disorder and an eye deficiency. Throughout the school year I stayed after every day to catch up on years of missed work. I needed a better education and that was one of the main reasons why I stayed. I never wanted to lose track of my point of views on education or regret my decision because then it would be like I left my twin sister and siblings behind for no reason.

I never knew what survivor’s guilt was until that summer. I also never realized that after being dehumanized for years, you could only make yourself love smarter. After dealing with the mental disturbance of my past. I am now a part of the Tutoring Knight Center in my school library. I also joined the Unified P.E gym class. I work with the mentally and physically disabled teens in my high school while changing the stigma behind physical/mental disabilities. I am also a teacher’s assistant in an contemporary literature class. I’m glad I left so I can look forward to my future.

Getty image via tammykayphoto

Originally published: May 19, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home