Ten Years

By Mary Anne MesserJuly 6, 2017

I can remember thinking about this day since day one. ‘One day it’ll be ten years. One day I’ll be self-injury free for longer than I’ve self-injured.’ I wondered what my identity would be when that became my reality. If I’ve gone longer without self-injury than I’ve self-injured, who will I be? If I’ve been healthy longer than I’ve been sick, where does that leave me?

Ten years of recovery have since passed and questions of identity do plague me.

As a counselor and now psychologist-in-training, I fear revealing my full self to those I spend my days with. Will they think I am unfit to help others? Will they be watching nervously—waiting—for me to break? So much secrecy, and yet, in previous social circles this is how I was known: The Girl Who Got Better™. Here, who am I?

I wonder if being a good counselor means advocating for mental health. And I wonder if advocating for mental health means I need to challenge the stigma in my own circles.  I used to think everyone was sick. I grew up sick; grew up spending time in psychiatric hospitals with what felt like my whole town watching and whispering.  The day I realized that wasn’t true, suddenly the jokes stung a lot more—the comments that I was “unstable” or would never find someone who would put up with me actually hurt. People saw me as sick, and I was sick.

Who do those people see now?

Usually on anniversaries I think back on my memories from darker days. Today, I find myself thinking about a male technician at one of the hospitals I was sent to as a child. I was so meek; so sheepish; so scared. I begged him to tell me if I was going to have to go to a long-term facility. ‘How many people usually go? I know you don’t know what my treatment team says, but usually? Is it normal?’ I don’t remember what his response was, but I know I wasn’t relieved. Now that I’ve been in his shoes it’s hard not to wonder what he saw. If it’s anything like what I see in my clients, he saw desperation. He saw a young girl whose body was destroying her from the inside out. Her mind was cloudy. She was trapped. The girl was far away and he couldn’t reach her.

Recently, a woman came for an intake. She recounted stories from a lifetime of unimaginable trauma. She pleaded with me, “Please just tell me if I have a chance. If I have a chance—be honest—if I have a chance, I’ll stay. I’ll try. But don’t lie to me. If I don’t have a chance, let me go. I can’t keep doing this.”

I felt tears in my eyes as I paused to collect my thoughts. Who am I to say what anyone’s future holds. Despite what we all hope, we can’t make those guarantees.

“You have a chance,” I said. I hear her voice crack. “I promise. I believe in you. I believe you will get through this. Please don’t give up.”

When I think about the stigma surrounding mental health, I think about how hard it is to describe these moments accurately. I wonder if other counselors can experience these feelings with clients even if they haven’t lived them. I try to think about what it must be like to be a counselor in a hospital when you have never been admitted to one. I wonder if it’s easier to distance yourself from their stories. I wonder if it’s easier to let go of their pain when you have no physical reminder of your own. And I realize, part of my identity rests within the same walls that bear my patients’ art therapy.

So why can’t I be honest with my colleagues and friends? Why can’t I celebrate ten years of being self-injury free with them instead of feeling alienated and confused?

So instead of sharing my recovery with just my colleagues and friends, I’ve chosen to share it with you, too. Because as I make calls to my representatives—pleading with them to keep our health care resources intact—I realize that I am not alone. I am one of many. And the value of mental health treatment does not only allow me to keep my job, but to keep my life.

And I will not let stigma prevent those from getting the help they need. I refuse to let stigma keep me, or you, in the shadows.

We are worthy of hope and help.


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Comments (9)

  1. Janet Robertson

    Happy Birthday. So glad you’re helping people as long as you help yourself. Such a long road and it’s like what now? Who am I now? You are the same sensitive person who survived beautifully, who must have some great counsellors along with the crappy ones. It’s one thing to learn about “the right things” it’s another to save yourself. I think I’ve just written a double letter- one to you and one to my partner who just maybe, in 10years will be thinking the same things as you are now. Love

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  2. Tia Richardson

    This is beautifully written. I had a similar experience when I reached the point where I was clean for as long as I had been addicted. I had always described myself as a “self-injurer”. I’m not sure if I will ever not be that in my own mind.

    I am also a mental health professional and I have those moments where I am not sure if I should advocate or keep it a private part of me. My co-workers are very understanding, but the stigma hangs over me daily. I appreciate you for sharing your story. Thank you for reaching out to let all of us know that we are not alone. The same can be said for you. You are not alone in this.

    I’m quite proud of you for making it this far. There is so much more for you here.

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  3. Anne

    Congratulations on 10 years, what an accomplishment! I hit 15 years in January and couldn’t believe I got to that point, simply because I remember when going 13 days self-harm free was my “record”, then 43 days was the longest I’d held… 15 years seems unimaginable.

    And yet, I still struggle with the urges. Normal, I know, but at times it surprises me. I will always carry it with me.

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  4. Lola

    I sorely needed this today. It was perfect. Working as a psych tech and being 6 months safe, this deeply resonated with me. So thank you.

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    1. TWLOHA

      Lola, this is cause for celebration! We’re so glad this resonated with you, and we’re so glad you’re safe. Thank you for your love and continual support. Always remember that you’re not alone. Today or any day. We are with you!

      Reply  |  
  5. Anonymous Duckling

    Very well-said. Thank you for fighting stigma ☺

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  6. Merridith

    I needed to read this now, today. I recently (about 7 weeks ago in fact) finally managed to stop self harming… id done it for a bout half my life and tried multiple times to stop. Today i came across something i used to use – i thought id gotten rid of them all but turns out that sick me was sneaky! As i sit here tonight i have battled alot with questions of should i keep going or is it better to give up now, ive already proven to everyone i can do it… so now i can stop right? i have multiple people i could reach out to right now but i know what they would all say and tbh i dont want to hear it form them. Reading this post reminded me that there is still hope for me yet. SO thank you.

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    1. Becky Ebert


      There is most definitely still hope for you. Find strength and courage in your ability to recognize all of this. And if you feel even the smallest urge to reach out for help, know that you should. You are worthy of help, always.

      If you are not comfortable/wanting to reach out to those closest to you, you can always email us at [email protected]. Our team reads and responds to every message. We are here.

      You can also use the services that Crisis Text Line provides. Just text TWLOHA to 741741 and you’ll be connected to a trained counselor via text. It’s available to you 24/7.

      We’re so grateful to be in this fight with you, Merridith.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  7. Nora

    Thank you.

    Reply  |  
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