Shattering Stigmas: The War Within by Tamara Basic

Welcome to the fourth day of Shattering Stigmas! From now until October 22 I’ll be highlighting voices from the book community on mental health. I’m co-hosting this event with Taylor from Stay on the Page, Shannon from It Starts at Midnight, and Amber from YA Indulgences so make sure to check their blogs out each day to see different content.


Content Warnings: war, suicide, self-harm, suicide

War.

A state of an armed conflict between states, governments, societies, paramilitary forces.

At any given moment, there is a war somewhere. Those affected know it best; those on the front lines breathe it in with lungs full of smoke, hear it echo in their ringing ears, taste it with every drop of sweat, tears and blood. Its impact echoes through miles and miles of land, from the ones who start it, to the ones who bring it to an end.

It rips holes in the ground, in the air, in homes and schools and stores and hospitals and churches; it rips into limbs and skin and hearts and minds.

It shatters the earth, and it shatters lives; peace. Shatters through history and every lesson history’s tried teaching us.

It latches onto civilians, those who had never touched a weapon, those who wanted no part in it, those who kept dreaming of a better tomorrow, day after day after day until a stray bullet or a deliberate bomb robbed them of a tomorrow, and they dreamt no longer.

But.

War is not just a state of an armed conflict between states, governments, societies and paramilitary forces; there is not just one type of war.

At any given moment, there is someone battling a war against themselves. No guns, no bombs, no cars, no helmets and shields, no armies. This war is lead entirely between four walls; on a bed with the blanket pulled up, aimlessly wandering down streets, on the cold bathroom floor. No generals, no soldiers, no colonels.

Just one person, against their own mind.

Sometimes this war lasts for a little while, sometimes for a lifetime. Some people win; many do not.

And like the war you hear about on the news, it affects not just those directly involved in it. From the parents of children gone too soon, groups of friends now one less in number, to empty seats in classrooms that hurt too much to even look at, all the way to a passerby grabbing someone at the last second to stop them from jumping. Pain and memory and grief and worry and guilt, all living among us. 

Yet unlike the ones on the news, this war is kept hushed.

The truth is, this war feels impossibly lonely.

Because I felt like I was unable to say these things to the people around me, I started writing in a diary at about nine years of age; I would (unfortunately) often go months and months (cough two years cough) without writing a new entry, which in turn led to a diary that chronicled ten/eleven years of my life among cheerfully colored pages. Due to my lack of consistency in keeping the said diary, I can’t pinpoint when and how exactly things began spiraling out of control, but I can see the obvious change in those entries. At nine years old, I would write little reports of what TV shows I had watched that evening, or how I had seen my crush that day – these always included plenty of exclamation marks and smileys.

By the age of fourteen, they turned into this: “And I don’t know why I’m crying now, but I always get sad when I think about the future. So many fears and doubts, you know? Every day I ask myself what if it all doesn’t work out? What if I get trapped in a dark room with no doors, no windows, no way out, just blackness? How will I get out?”

And it only got worse.

Starting high school proved to be a task more difficult than I could’ve ever imagined – I quickly went from an A-student to being on the verge of failing several classes. Bad grades were piling on, and I didn’t know how to admit I had a major problem, so I kept it all to myself, at first believing I would be able to fix it before anyone found out. But things were spiraling out of control, and the amount of stress grew, not helped by the guilt I was feeling. I mean, my family was expecting me to do well at school, I was viewed as this shy, quiet, smart girl, and now I was anything but that. Something must’ve been wrong with me, I figured.

I felt like an utter failure.

In retrospect, I can see that dyeing my hair red, dressing in mostly black, listening to angry and sad music, and the self-inflicted scratches on my arm were outward signs of my depression. The problem was, I knew to hide those very well. 

“Sure, sometimes someone asks me if I’m alright, if something’s wrong. I just smile, shake my head and say, “It’s fine.” Well, it’s not.

I’m not.”

At the beginning of this post, I wrote about the war we lead against ourselves.

I led my war with fake smiles, crying myself to sleep, and guilt dragging me deeper down with each passing day. This went on for most of freshman and sophomore year. 

To be honest, I don’t remember large portions of those two years. I remember actually looking forward to going to school so I didn’t have to be at home with my parents disappointed and angry at my awful grades, I remember finding solace in books, and I remember one particular evening, not being able to fall asleep, when I thought, for the first time, about going to the kitchen and taking a knife to cut myself.

I wish I could now tell you that I’d finally opened up to family and friends, that I’d gotten any type of professional help, but those would be lies.

Truth is, quite unexpectedly, I’d fallen in love. And by some miracle, that was enough to temporarily lift me out of the gutter. 

Please don’t think that everything was suddenly perfect, because it wasn’t. But things were much better – I was feeling happier, bouncy, more motivated. I brought color back to my clothing. I started caring more about my appearance.

I had won the battle, but not the war.

In the following years, life was a rollercoaster.

There were periods of time in which I was perfectly fine, or at the least, I wasn’t unhappy. But there were also darker periods – in those bad times, I remember taking so many online mental health tests, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I knew I had been exhibiting signs and behaviors of depression and anxiety, yet still I felt like those diagnoses wouldn’t be quite right. I started suspecting bipolar, but that didn’t feel quite right either.

Then, two summers ago, things started changing again. I was struggling with college, taking hit after hit with my exams; I was feeling more and more anxiety, the kind that not only makes you nervous about a certain task, but actually prevents you from doing it, as if chains were physically holding you back. I was losing myself bit by bit, my heart feeling empty and hollow. I struggled more with my misophonia, began experiencing quick and sharp bursts of strong anger, and took my self-harm a tiny step further. 

I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I am not really doing much better.

I still don’t have clear answers, but somewhere along the way I “discovered” personality disorders and began suspecting I might have either avoidant or borderline personality disorder, or traits of both. 

And while it is good that I have at least a sense of what might be the case here, I am none the wiser and no closer to making any improvements than in my high-school years. That period of time was filled with guilt and sadness, almost despair; now it all feels more like an aimless emptiness.

The healthy part of my brain knows what steps I should be taking toward recovery; my illness keeps convincing me I like it better when I’m hurting. 

But, there are things that make it better. Sometimes I’ll isolate myself with my misery, but then a conversation with a friend or two will make the day better. Sometimes songs and movies will remind me of the beauty of being alive. More often than not, writing is the best outlet I have.

I’m working on poetry and prose and falling in love with writing over and over again and, despite the hardships and disappointments, my goals and dreams keep me going. I’m trying to be more open and honest about mental health, include these topics in my writings, because so many people are affected, yet the conversations are still painfully lacking.

To those of you who are struggling with your mental health – you are not alone. It feels like you are, I know, but that’s just your illness talking. The truth is, there’s always someone who cares. Maybe it’s family members, maybe it’s friends, maybe someone you barely even know, or maybe even a complete stranger online.

And I know now I’ll ask you to do the one thing I’m still unable to do, but – please do seek help from others, whether it be professional help from a therapist/doctor, or just opening up to trusted adults/peers.

To those who don’t struggle with mental illness, but know others who do – be there for them. There’s a good chance they’ll try to push you away, but under that defensiveness lies loneliness. Show them your support, show them you don’t think any less of them because of their struggles, show them that you’ll be there for them whenever they need someone to talk to.

To those who don’t struggle and don’t know people who do – I think you’re wrong. Someone is your life is likely struggling, but you don’t notice it. If you’re reading this, open your eyes a little wider from now on; educate yourself about mental health more, notice things a bit better. Be there for them. Break the stereotypes you’ve been told to believe are true, and help spreading correct information.

One day at a time, one person at a time.


Thank you for reading – I wish you all nothing but love and support and happiness.

You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. As well as my (sadly only little more frequently updated than my diary) blog. And Wattpadd, where I have some poetry collections available to read for free (and more writings to come).

Want to win two mental health related books? Enter through the Rafflecopter form and good luck!

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