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Struggle Forward

by Kristen Mitchener

Struggle: this is a word I am familiar with. Sometimes too familiar. Sometimes way too familiar.

Hourly I find myself asking, “Will my struggle always be real?” Talking with my counselor earlier this week, he said something very Oprah-esque. “You either struggle backward or you struggle forward.” As my counselor and Oprah would encourage me to do, I reflected on this statement.

Since childhood, I have struggled with severe depression as well as general and social anxiety—terms and conditions describing the taboo subject of my mental illness. My chaotic home life with an emotionally absent mother set me on course of self-destruction. My mother’s messages played on repeat as I internalized her negative words (“you are selfish and a bad sister”).

She was also sometimes downright mean. She would ignore me for days because I had committed some “terrible” childhood infraction.

I have long tried to hide my mental illness. But the unfortunate beings who have been around me watched as I wreaked havoc on my life. Good grades, great friendships, positive choices – I would experience the sweetness of living well just long enough before I lost it again. Setback after setback followed my poor choices. Binge drinking and drug use, missing classes, failing courses. I would throw away friendships for the smallest of infractions, if any infraction at all. This left me bitter, drained, and alone. I made those choices with my untreated mind. It was in those times I was struggling backward.

Yes, today I struggle but the difference is in the direction. A therapist and psychiatrist work in unison to help heal my head and heart. I have a few trusted souls who will listen while I cry and speak about my childhood hurt.

And I have my writing, which is my dear old friend that is always in reach. Writing gives me the courage to share my story. Like a ribbon-less helium balloon on a windy day, I am releasing the burden of hiding my mental health secret with every word I write. With my reflection complete, in this sweet moment I understand I am struggling forward.

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