Wednesday 9 August 2017

My Journey Through Anxiety, Depression, and the People That Changed My Life, by Jay Chirino

Nine years old. That was my age when I experienced my first depressive episode. Some people throughout the years have told me that this is impossible; no nine-year-old, especially one with a good family and loving parents, has a reason to be depressed. It still bothers me sometimes when people willingly display blatant ignorance on a subject that they are not experts on. But through the years I have learned to overcome the frustration and I’ve utilized whatever resources I’ve had at my disposal to inform and educate those that really want to have a better understanding of the mental struggles that so many of us, of any age, are challenged with every single day.

The truth is that, at the time, not even my parents believed that there was anything seriously wrong with me. They thought that my severe dislike for school had drove me to implementing new and creative ways of staying home. Yes, I did loathe school and the anxiety that dealing with the kids and the teachers brought me, but I would have chosen that burden any day over the hell that I was unexpectedly going through.

You see, I woke up one morning and my world had turned completely black and white. There were no signs of color, or optimism, or hope. There wasn’t anything to look forward to, anything to smile about. I began to question my reality and my reason for being. I started to convince myself that there was no purpose to life, that I was just a piece of breathing flesh that would bounce around the world for a few years and then begin to rot, just like everyone else. There was no reason to put one foot in front of the other and do anything; everything was useless, nothing would change the inevitable outcome. Except for the occasional trip to the toilet that would ensure that my bedsheets stayed dry, I did not much else than lay in bed, slightly more alive than dead.

I think it was about a week later that my parents began to take things more seriously, not seeing any progress on my behalf. The questions they started to ask had evolved from the basic, run-of-the-mill stuff, like, why can’t you just snap out of this, you have your entire life ahead of you! or the classic, what do you mean you don’t know why you feel like this? There must be a reason! Even though their concern was growing and they were taking me more seriously, they still refused to get me professional help. In their eyes, taking me to a psychiatrist meant that I was crazy, and I wasn’t crazy, just really, really sad. So, they resorted to the only thing they knew; prayer, bible passages, a strong effort at increasing my faith in God. Although the comfort of knowing that a higher power cares and pays attention can definitely be reassuring, in my case, at least, it wasn’t enough. I spent over a month bathed in deep sadness and worthlessness, not much else. No school, little food, no personal care, no positive thoughts, no optimism, no hope. I was basically a vegetable that entire time, and please remember, I was nine.

Then, just like it all had begun, without warning or explanation, it all started to gradually dissipate, and I could see a faint beacon of light at the end of the tunnel. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get me feeling better. When I was able to finally get out of bed and re-incorporate myself into society, we all thought the worst was now behind me, and boy, were we wrong.

The anxiety that had always plagued me (even before the depressive episode) began to get bigger and stronger, almost like a monster that is getting well fed on a daily basis. By the time I got to high school that monster had gotten so strong that I was getting an average of three panic attacks per week. Mornings were the worst; having to wake up and get ready, physically and emotionally, to face the day ahead was a monumental undertaking. My heart would palpitate vigorously and sweat would engulf my hands. I even became proficient at a little swallowing exercise that I taught myself to avoid regurgitating, although the truth is that it wouldn’t work one hundred percent of the time. I was constantly afraid, constantly alone. Interacting with classmates was nearly impossible, being social was not an option, neither was enjoying school. When I got home all I could think about was the dread of the next day. It was constant torture, something I could not escape. I lived in a prison of my own mind and did not know how to break free. I eventually accepted the fact that this was going to be my life; this was something I would have to deal with for the rest of my days, until I died.

And then alcohol came in the picture.

I still remember my first drink: a cup of chilled, sweet sangria. I chugged the whole thing, thinking that you were supposed to drink it just like any other refreshing drink, to the dismay of the people around me. Needless to say, the buzz came on pretty fast, and it was as glorious as if God himself was reaching down from above and caressed my back with his hand, while assuring me that everything was going to be ok. The fear that I had carried with me all those years disappeared, my insecurities went away, the way I saw the world gained bright colors. I knew I wanted to feel like this all the time, and from that moment on I worked hard at making that desire a reality.

Fast-forward a few years and there you have me, two broken marriages, plenty of lost jobs, no money, no future and still no hope. My physical health was declining and my mental stability was gone. I was now a full-blown drug addict and alcoholic, and the only thing that made me happy was the prospect of my next buzz.

Twenty-five years after my parents first refused to take me to the doctor, they now begged me to seek professional help, and when your mother gets on her knees, with tears in her eyes and begs, you have no choice but to oblige.

They took me to a nearby hospital with a well-known psychiatric unit. I was there for five days, five days that changed my life in immeasurable ways. First, I learned that I was not broken beyond repair, and with the right therapy and medications I could thrive and succeed. Second, it was there where I realized that I wasn’t alone. I met so many wonderful people that had gone through similar things or worse, much, much worse. Yet there they were, fighting, doing their best to survive. I learned a lot from them, not only from their illnesses, but from their incredible hearts. I came out of that hospital a changed man, and I have to give those patients a lot of credit for that.

Fast-forward another few years and there I was, sober, employed and happy, but those patients would not escape my mind. It was as if they were asking me for help; they needed me in some way. They were screaming out but no one could hear. They had something to say, but no one cared. Then it hit me.

I needed to give them a voice.

“The Flawed Ones” is the story that I share with the wonderful people that I once met, people with considerable mental deficiencies and even bigger hearts, people that I feel fortunate were a part of my life and my recovery, people that I now present to you in my novel, and that I hope will have a similar impact on you as they did on me. For the first time in my life, I have hope.

These are “The Flawed Ones.”


About the Author

Jay is an author, mental health advocate and recovering addict, who spent over ten years battling his demons. Today he focuses on sharing his story and the story of others like him in order to create awareness and help eradicate the stigma that has always surrounded mental illness. He lives in Tampa, FL with Ana, his cat.

You can connect with Jay on his website/blog, also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

You can find his book The Flawed Ones on Goodreads.


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