Reflections on a Lost Youth

I’m not young anymore. I have accepted this—mostly. I mean, I do involuntarily tell cashiers “Bless your heart” when they (so infrequently) card me, and I creak like an old wooden table when I get up off the floor now. It’s obvious that I’m creeping up to the top of the proverbial hill, though according to friends, I’m “young at heart.” That’s just a nice way of saying I act my shoe size instead of my age, but I’ll take it. The point is that I’m older than someone you might expect to contribute to such a blog, which is intended to get the voices of the young with mental health disabilities out there. Well, mental health issues I have in spades and have had them for quite a length of time now, since I was young in fact, if I can ever be said to have truly felt young. This is why I decided to contribute: it occurs to me that as a youth with mental health issues, there can be very little room to actually feel or be young.

At almost 17, I finally came out to myself and decided that I was not going to Hell
because I am gay. Shortly after this, I was outed to the general high school population, creating a whole new set of problems, but this initial personal acceptance came on the heels of at least five years of intense and damaging issues stemming from a very specific type of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder called scrupulosity. (Basically, it is a form of OCD that is centered in religion, and though some mistake it as simply hyper-piety, it is much more serious.) From around age 12, when I discovered my burgeoning lesbianism, I had attempted to “pray away the gay” and scourge the “evil” out of my adolescent soul with extremely structured and controlled schedules, constant prayer and scripture reading, and what I like to call being the terminally redeemed. I probably could have won some sort of award for the number of altar calls I answered in those years. I shudder to think at the rate I was saved. I got very little if any sleep, as dreams offered too much opportunity for slippage into that pit of sin. I almost drove a very dear (and very out) friend absolutely bonkers trying to save him as well. There were several pathetic and unsuccessful suicide “attempts,” and to this day, I’m not sure anyone really knew what was going on as OCD sufferers learn early on to conceal, conceal, conceal. As you can see, my teenage years were tumultuous at best and torturous for the most part; add in the family drama, clinical depression, and manic depression, and well, you get the point. But that isn’t really what I meant to talk about here.

In the midst of all this, I was a teenager. According to young adult novels, I should have been most worried about when my period was going to show up or whether the cute boy three rows over in math was looking at me or not. I was not, from all accounts, supposed to be doing the math on how many pills would kill me but not make me throw them back up. I was also not supposed to be rocking back and forth at 3 am clutching a Youth Bible, but I was doing all these things and so much more. I did not have time to feel or be young in between scriptures and prayer and your basic freaking out. Had anyone—parents or otherwise—realized what was happening at the time and gotten me some help, it’s likely that I could have enjoyed my youth more—or actually had one. However, I can remember very clearly overhearing the hushed tones of discussing someone who had (horrors) seen a psychiatrist or started taking meds of some kind. I would never have thought of saying to my mother, “I’m suicidal.” or “I can’t breathe if my papers are out of order.” or “If I don’t read that page 77 times without an error, my baby brother will die or get sick.” There was (and still is) too much attached to that idea of being “crazy” or damaged in some way.

For someone young, the stigma can be even worse, not just because let’s face it, high school is an evil place a lot of the time, but for so many, any problem can be dismissed as “oh, they’re a teenager.” or “It’s just their hormones.” Youth are not taken seriously, and by extension, their problems are not taken seriously either. So, you have 12-year-olds who are forced to deal with problems for which 30-year-olds have to seek professional help. There’s no possibility of a childhood or feeling young. This next statement dates me horribly, but if I had had access to the web communities and blogs around now back then, I might have had a very different experience. The ability to name and discuss one’s “insanity” makes all the difference in the world. So, I make it a point to say now what I could never say then: I have problems, world. Serious problems that are not a result of hormonal imbalances or my age. Help would be nice, but a sympathetic ear is even better. Peace.

by Dawn. Dawn blogs at The Askew Police.