Real Life Stories

Real Life Stories

All of us have a story to tell. Hearing others’ stories can help us grow, learn, and feel accepted as we journey through the ups and down of life. Here you will find real-life stories from some incredible people telling their tales of challenges, emotions, growth, resilience, and love. We hope you find that you are not alone and support is out there.

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Manny’s Story

Growing up I had a lot of pride in my ability to get things done and that pushed me through many challenging situations. I have an amazing support system and an incredible mom who has always been there for me, throughout every step of my journey. She has always done everything she could to keep me safe, but believe me, I never made it easy. My whole life people have always told me how smart I am. Achieving advanced in all my MCAS scores and I was even picked first on my high school basketball team because of my willingness to grind it out and succeed. I might not have been the most talented, but it didn’t matter. I would dive for a loose ball if it meant my team had a chance to win, even when winning seemed impossible. Most importantly, I consider myself a team player, supporting my teammates, my loved ones, and those closest to me. One of the reasons I am so willing to help those around me is because I know what it’s like to feel isolated and alone, as if you have no one to turn to.

All my life I’ve struggled with mental health challenges. I’ve been hospitalized numerous times and on some occasions even arrested because of my paranoia, mood disorder, and psychosis. At times, I have felt that I couldn’t trust those around me and that I wasn’t safe. My mom did the best she could to help me but that wasn’t enough. She didn’t have the tools to help me. We needed clinical support. After my second hospitalization, I started getting meds that alleviated some of my symptoms. Though I didn’t quite feel like I was completely all better, it was the first time in a long time that I could think clearly. When you’re living with psychosis, your experiences may be different from the reality other people tend to find in common. Reality testing is when I put my experiences to the test by asking those around me if my beliefs and thoughts made sense or if there has been any changes in my behaviors. Often, I hear voices or see things others don’t. This can be very fun and simultaneously very scary. I do not mess around with substances because they worsen my symptoms. My father has a history of addictive behaviors and alcohol dependency. I understand that if I am to break the cycle of addiction I have to be intentional about the things I choose to put into my body. That means being extra cautious to not fall into the same patterns. As a teenager, however, I didn’t always have the same depth of perspective. I experimented with substances to fill a void. I know now that I could never escape my pain through the use of substances. That my efforts to fit in would have been more effective had I just been myself and stayed in school. I was only making things worse. Some folks learn by observing the mistakes of others, but I was determined to make all the mistakes myself. I wish I would have listened as a kid. But with time, I did learn to take better care of myself.

Over the years I have come up with coping strategies, such as shaking my body and meditation, that help me ground myself if I become overwhelmed or experience severe anxiety. I’ve learned that by taking care of my body and exercising regularly, I can fight my mental illness. That, and a good night’s sleep works wonders. I sleep on average 9 hours every night, and though everyone is different, I’ve learned that this is my sweet spot. Positive self-talk has also done amazing things in my life. I am basically like my own hype man in my head. When I hear anything hurtful the voices might say to me, I set them straight by letting them know that I am not the things they say I am. I am still learning every day about myself.

As I continue to grow and find new ways of looking at my mental health, I am more willing to talk to friends and family when I need help. At first this was hard because people couldn’t experience the same things I heard and saw. When I finally did open up, I learned by talking about my psychosis I could receive support and my family became more understanding. They assured me that other folks go through similar experiences and that I was not alone. “We gon’ get through this together,” they said. Some may even view what I experience as spiritual or divine. Sometimes the voices do help me by providing insight on how those around me are feeling. I also learned that many of my friends actually did want to talk and support me through my challenges. They wanted to learn more about me and how they could help. This has made a huge impact on the way I go about life.

For a long time I thought, “woe is me.” But I no longer see myself as a victim to trauma, but rather a survivor. And that I can overcome any obstacle that is thrown at me. I just have to give it my 100%, and when that isn’t enough, reach out for help. I understand the pandemic has been extremely difficult for many people. However, because of my support system, my strong coping skills, and the privilege I have to basic resources, I have been able to take advantage of the time. I take walks around my neighborhood each day, and there is very little traffic when I do have to get out. I can see my kittens throughout the day, and I can wear sweatpants while I am working. I love wearing comfy clothes! I am hoping that as I continue to grow that I can share my story with others.

I know feeling like you don’t have anyone to turn to can be frustrating and depressing, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Talk to a trusted adult, it can be your favorite teacher, a family member, a coach, or a friend. Therapy has done wonders for me, but not every therapist I’ve seen over the years has clicked. Try out different ones until you find a match. For me it was finding the one who could really listen to me and ask questions that truly made me think. I didn’t need any answers, I just needed to debrief what was going on. Understanding that and clearly communicating it has been extremely helpful. You won’t know what works for you until you try it. Finally, I am extremely fortunate to have this opportunity to work with the NAN Project, where I am surrounded by a team of folks who all care about the well-being of others. Even though I am not on the court as much anymore, I can still be a team player at work and support my co-workers when problems arise. I am around individuals who I can feel comfortable asking for help from, and I now see the benefits to that. My coworkers can also count on me when they need an extra hand and I am happy to be there for them.

My motto is, “We ride out. From day one to infinity we gon’ be alright. We gon’ get through anything together.” That is my story, thank you for listening.

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Alison’s Story

My name is Alison, I’m 29, and I deal with depression, anxiety, ADHD, and have a history of an eating disorder.

I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and anorexia nervosa at age 14, but looking back, I struggled with mental illness far before I was actually diagnosed. As a child, I felt sad and lonely all the time. I would always feel like something bad was going to happen when there was no logical reasoning behind my thinking. I placed a lot of pressure on myself to succeed, and I felt like I was never good enough. I never liked the way I looked and I desperately wanted to change that. I began to focus on food more in elementary school, looking for ways to lose weight, and that continued for several years. In my teenage years, I saw food as a method of control when I felt like I couldn’t control anything around me. Dieting turned from a habit into a compulsion. As I say in my comeback story, these actions, emotions, and self-deprecating thoughts created a “perfect storm” for my eating disorder to develop.

My road to diagnosis of my eating disorder was unique, because I actually went to my pediatrician on my own accord and told her that I thought I had food issues. She said that most people with eating disorders were brought to the doctor by a loved one and were unwilling to admit that they had a problem. At this time, I knew I had a problem but didn’t want to get better. It wasn’t until I entered residential treatment for my eating disorder and was forced to face my eating disorder head-on that I broke down and realized how much damage this was doing to my mind, body, and soul.

I reached out for help when I decided to go to a residential treatment center for the first time. I came out of an appointment with my dietitian, who had given me a meal plan for one week, describing foods to eat and the portion sizes. I realized that it wasn’t just that I didn’t want to eat all of this food – I couldn’t eat all of this food. I saw my therapist and she encouraged me to call a treatment center.

My family members (mom, dad, and twin sister) were the first ones to know about my eating disorder diagnosis. They wanted more than anything to be supportive, and they tried everything. They didn’t understand though, and that’s no fault of their own. They had never been exposed to eating disorders/mental illness of any kind. The most important thing is that they were there for me when I needed them and tried their hardest to support me. One of my primary supporters was my middle school guidance counselor, who knew how to support me. She let me eat lunch in her office, and helped me come up with strategies to manage school and my recovery. She could see past the eating disorder when I couldn’t, and that was so valuable and touching.

I have gotten a lot of support and learned healthy coping skills by attending therapy since my eating disorder diagnosis. I still remember the therapy session where I came to realize that I was a lesbian. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but I do remember that she asked me about my sexual orientation, and it honestly caught me off-guard. It wasn’t something I had ever thought about concretely, but over time, I did realize that this was a part of me that had subconsciously existed for quite a long time. I came to see that one of the functions of my eating disorder was to hide my sexuality, because I wasn’t exactly comfortable with it at that time. I began to open up about it more in therapy, then to my family. For the next step, in true millennial fashion, I took the huge risk of coming out in a Facebook post. So many people offered their congratulations and support. These days, I can openly talk about it, and I’m proud of it. I am so grateful to have a supportive group of family and friends that accept me for who I am.

One strategy that really helped me reach a place of solid recovery from my eating disorder was exercise. For many people with eating disorders, exercise can be a maladaptive coping skill. I initially started exercising because of a fibromyalgia diagnosis I received in 2018, because my doctor said it could help with pain management. Not only did it help with that, but I was able to see my body in a new way. Instead of setting calorie limits or weight loss goals, I set goals to be able to do push-ups and strengthen my core. Instead of tearing my body apart, I could build up strength. I had fun going to Zumba, barre, and yoga classes, and I was able to get out of my own head for a little while. I didn’t care what the number on the scale was. I felt good and at home in my body, which was something I had never felt before in my life.

The things I struggle with the most today are depression and anxiety. I struggle with fibromyalgia and am currently dealing with an undiagnosed illness that really impacts my quality of life, as well as my mental and physical health. These experiences have made my mental health challenges significantly harder to manage. As a part of reaching a diagnosis, I have tried various elimination diets (under a doctor’s supervision) to see if there were certain foods that were causing gastrointestinal distress. This has impacted my eating-disorder thoughts. While I have not really acted on the behaviors, the amplification of my eating disorder voice causes stress and frustration.

I currently manage my challenges with medications – I take depression, anxiety, and ADHD medications every day. I also have a cat, Iris, who always makes me laugh. Caring for her helps me take better care of myself. I also write about my experiences, sharing pieces through my personal blog, as well as social media. I have even published a few pieces on The Mighty, a website for people facing health and disability challenges.

I am attending Boston College to earn my Master’s in social work. I am passionate about doing advocacy work and hope to use my experiences to help others in some way. I am also passionate about animal welfare, which I hope to incorporate somehow into my social work career.

Reflections for myself & others

If I could I’d tell myself that there is no timeline in life, and that milestones do not necessarily have to occur when they are “supposed to.”  I graduated college a year later than I intended, and I switched schools. I thought I wanted to work in education, and then I had a job that made me realize that education was not the right field for me. I worked several jobs that were not the right fit before I found The NAN Project. While I’ve had a lot of adverse experiences, I have also had opportunities that have changed my life for the better, like The NAN Project, going back to school, and getting the right help to deal with my mental and physical illnesses. I would remind myself that, no matter how many curve balls life throws my way, there will always be good things ahead.

A phrase I like to tell people is: be mad at the disorder, not the person. A person with a mental health challenge may do things that make you angry, upset, or scared. But remember that this is not intentional.

Finally, remember to seek help for yourself if you feel like you need it. Watching a friend or family member struggle can be painful and upsetting. By talking to a professional, you can let out your feelings, and it might help you not to let out your feelings on the loved one, even if it’s unintentional.

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