Allie, 23, New York, US

allie firefly“For almost 3 years, I’ve been battling Generalized Anxiety Disorder and OCD. It has definitely been a rocky road, but I’m learning how to cope while still reaching for my dreams.

My illness came on suddenly and severely just days after my 21st birthday in May 2013. People seemed shocked that I developed a mental illness because I didn’t “fit” the description of someone with a psychiatric disorder.

I had a good childhood and loving family and friends. In high school, I was a cheerleader, had the lead role in the school play, had an active social life, and I graduated with high honors. In college, I was employed by the university as a tutor in writing and microeconomics. I had a long-term boyfriend, and I never touched drugs or alcohol.

Life was going smoothly, and I was one year away from graduating college with a degree to teach secondary school social studies. How was it that, within a few weeks, I could’ve possibly gone from writing 15-page research papers in one night to barely being able to read or write because it was too mentally stimulating? Those who knew me quickly learned that mental illness can happen to anyone.

The next few months were a whirlwind. I was lucky to have an amazing support system. From June to December of 2013, I was hospitalized 5 times, spending over two months total in the hospital. Between brain tests, several medication changes, and more blood draws than I could count, I was feeling weak and hopeless. I tried going back to school, but the work was still too much for me. My relationship didn’t work out, and I was struggling to find my place in the world as a single young woman who wasn’t in school or working for the first time.

My life turned around in the beginning of 2015. I learned about psychiatric service dogs, and I was incredibly blessed to have found my Joey. He restored so much of my confidence and independence. I began documenting his training online and connected with people near and far who I could relate to. That summer, I began interning for a family member who is a fashion designer. I felt needed and proud of myself for completing projects while working on improving my focus. Later in the fall, I joined a writing group, the TMI Project, where we wrote about parts of our lives that we felt afraid or ashamed to talk about. At the end, we read our pieces publically, and at that moment I stood in front of the audience, I knew that writing and sharing my experience was what I was destined to do.

This year has been incredible for me. I began writing all the time and blogging about mental illness and my service dog. I will be traveling next month to read a piece in front of hundreds, and another piece I wrote will be published in a book next year. Each day, I feel thankful that I didn’t give up on myself.

You can handle whatever life throws at you. Remember to breathe deep and take time out for yourself. You are not your mental illness; you are still you. You are powerful.”

 

 

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