By Bailey Lewis

I’ll never forget the rose-colored shirt I was wearing that day. 

I’ll never forget the relief I felt when my mom drove me to school, and only I knew it would be for the last time. I went through the motions in my classes and laughed with my friends who had no idea they would never see me again. 

I’ll never forget numbly walking to my mom’s car after school in the crisp, chilly November air. I answered my mom’s questions as if it was just another ordinary day. When we walked inside of our home in Flower Mound, Texas, I gazed into my mother’s sky blue eyes as I slowly wandered upstairs, knowing she was oblivious to the fact she would later find my body hanging lifelessly in my closet. 

I’ll never forget how meticulously yet absent-mindedly I arranged my death. 

I hung my favorite brown leather belt between two shelves. I put the step stool designed to help my petite frame reach those shelves under my feet. I watched my hands tremble as I wrapped the belt tightly around my neck and positioned my body. I then shut my eyes and took a deep breath as I struggled to kick the stool out from under me.

I’ll never forget how almost an instant later, I was lying on my closet floor, bruised and cut from falling but alive.

I’ll never forget closing my tear-filled eyes that night before falling asleep — the only person who knew I just tried to end my life — hoping to feel what death was like at least until morning.

My mom was told when I was 3 years old I was the “textbook case” of someone with severe anxiety and depression — a mix of helplessly misconstrued DNA I was stuck with forever. She knew the life of struggle I had ahead of me because she had it, too. 

I was about 7 years old when I figured out I wasn’t like other kids. I regularly saw a psychologist and realized it wasn’t normal. I knew I would carry the burden of not thinking and feeling like everyone else my whole life.

I thought it would never end. I thought I was trapped in my mental illnesses with no other way out.

When I would look into the mirror at my 13-year-old self, I felt disgust and disappointment. I loathed my reflection — not only the outside but the inside. I absolutely hated who I was, from my skin to my genetics.

Five days after my 13th birthday, I knew it was time. I knew what I was — a scared, sick and defeated waste of space. 

I came home from school and sat down at my white desk, stained with the makeup I used every day to hide my face, and wrote notes to my immediate family and friends:

I don’t think that life is cut out for everyone, and I definitely don’t think life is cut out for me.

I don’t want you to ever blame yourself for what I have done.

I am so sorry for doing this to you because I know you do care about me, I just can’t do this anymore.

I was so lucky I had a mom who was open to any resource she thought would help me and wanted nothing more than my pain to stop.  

But my depression hit at the worst time possible.

It was 2010, and my parents were still dealing with the financial hit from the 2008 recession, which put extreme stress on my parents’ relationship and ultimately resulted in the loss of college funds for my brother and me. 

I watched my parents, who had been in love my entire life, grow to resent each other. They fought relentlessly, and my home that had been full of love slowly became full of tension. 

My mom still drove me to therapy every day, but she was fighting her own battles and unable to see mine progressing.

My previous psychologist also retired that year. I started seeing a new psychologist, and the idea that my mental illnesses were the result of my personal failures was planted into my head. I thought it was my fault I was suffering, and I didn’t know how to make myself stop. 

It’s not that I hadn’t already been sick my entire life, though. From the minute my brain had fully developed, I was petrified of everything around me. As a child, I watched my friends ride bikes, swim, roller skate and play on the playground, but all of those things terrified me because of the possibility of getting hurt. 

I was constantly trapped in fight or flight mode, and it would’ve taken getting hit over the head to make my thoughts stop racing. To add to it, my body was slowly shifting into adulthood, and my susceptibility to depression emerged. 

For the first time in my life, I wasn’t just anxious. I was also hopeless.

I began burning myself first by heating a bobby pin with a lighter and pressing it against unseen skin to distract myself from the emotional torture. When that didn’t give me relief anymore, I started brainstorming. I remembered seeing a TV crime show where a man hanged himself. I decided that was the answer. 

But then one side of the belt that was supposed to relieve my pain slipped free. I fell into the closet wall in front of me, the textured paint scratching my legs and hitting my arms in ways I knew would create bruises. I remember sitting on the floor for a few minutes, and after the initial pain, I thought: I can’t even succeed at killing myself.

I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel remorse or relief. I didn’t even feel sad. 

I just felt the same hopelessness as before — only this time, worse. I was almost at the finish line but still didn’t win.

In an almost drugged-like state, I stood up, walked to my bed and sat down, staring blankly at the wall. I sat there completely still for a while, waiting to see if anyone had heard me fall.

No one did.

Nobody knew what I had done, and I decided to keep it that way. 

I didn’t want to see the looks on my parents’ faces if I told them — seeing the tears roll down my dad’s usually expressionless face and watching my mom blame herself for not knowing. I couldn’t bear to multiply the stress my parents were already going through by adding on mental hospital bills.

I didn’t want to see the look of heartbreak and terror if my friends found out. I didn’t want their parents to think poorly of me and not allow them to hang out with me anymore.

I was scared my life would be altered too drastically for me to handle. 

Not telling anyone was what ultimately led to mental anguish in the years that followed. I wonder what would’ve happened if one of my parents or my brother had heard me fall and saw what I had tried to do. Maybe I would’ve received the help I needed at 13 instead of 19. 

But that moment of failure sparked momentum inside me to keep going. 

As hopeless as I felt afterward, there was something about experiencing moments that weren’t supposed to happen — my hands touching my soft comforter, hearing tree branches lightly tap against my windows, seeing the night sky through cracks in my blinds — that filled in some of the brokenness I felt. 

I subconsciously saw the beauty of the reality I was living in, even though I so badly wanted to die. 

I never attempted suicide again. 

I wish I could say the moment I hit my closet floor was the moment I knew suicide was not the answer, but it was not even close.

I kept living in silent agony, hoping someday things would be better. Every year it was two steps forward and one step back.

Over the course of those years, I was addicted to self-harm, hated my body, had suicidal thoughts, was bullied, lost friends, cried constantly, was always anxious and regularly fought with my parents. I felt unwanted, incompetent, broken, unnecessary, depressed, fragile, worthless and lonely. 

And I hated who I was.   

But also over the course of those years, I made lifelong friends, started dance classes, laughed a lot, met the love of my life, graduated high school, got accepted into college, started writing again and found my passion. I felt loved, peaceful, capable, optimistic, whole, intelligent, valued and strong.

Those beautiful, euphoric moments in between all the suffering gave me the strength to keep going, but they only masked the symptoms.

I came home for Christmas break after my first semester of college 20 pounds lighter than when I started.

My mind had been in shambles for years, but now my body reflected it. 

I looked in the mirror, and I saw that 13 year old again, only this time she had dealt with eight years of more pain. Years of hiding the depth of my brokenness had fully surfaced.

That moment of failure again sparked something inside me to keep going — but this time, I took control over my mental illnesses instead of letting them control me.

At 19, I finally threw in the towel and started taking medication and seeing a new psychiatrist.

And I accepted who I am. 

The change did not happen overnight, but I will never forget the moment I was sitting in my apartment alone with my thoughts about nine months after I started treatment, and it hit me that I wasn’t that 13 year old anymore. 

Now, I look back on that day — the darkest moment of my life — a year clean of self-harm, in the best mental state I’ve ever been in and finally understand I am worth something, and my mental illnesses do not define who I am. I will battle with mental illness for the rest of my life — and that is a promise I will keep. 

I’ll always remember that the moments of joy during the misery kept me going, but the moments of failure saved my life. 

I’ll always remember the rose-colored shirt I was wearing that day. 

And I’ll always remember that life is worth living.

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