With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my own mental health journey. My journey started before I could even comprehend what exactly it was I was embarking on. As an infant, I was challenged with circumstances beyond my control. Doctors began running tests because I was on the lower end of the growth chart for my height and weight. They tested for Celiac Disease and Cystic Fibrosis. Fortunately, both tests came back negative. When I was nine months old, I was diagnosed with Failure To Thrive, a term used by pediatricians to describe poor physical growth of any cause.

Throughout elementary school, I was small, just like the doctors said I would be. This presented challenges within itself, such as people constantly picking me up, being judicious and mocking me. I felt inarticulate, insecure and unsure of myself. I was always below average on the growth chart, and during fifth and sixth grade, I fell off the chart for both height and weight completely. As a result, my pediatrician sent me to an endocrinologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Once I met my endocrinologist, more tests began. My doctor ruled out chromosome abnormality and anything that could stem from my family history. At this point, I was faced with a difficult decision: to remain short statured, or to start taking human growth hormone. My endocrinologist highly suggested taking human growth hormone because she was worried about how my short stature could affect my future [for example, it would be very difficult to bear a child]. After much thought, deliberation and hesitation, my family and I thought the prudent decision would be to try the treatment.

I finally convinced myself that I would have to give myself a shot each day. During the injection training, I got a text from a family friend reassuring me that I was strong enough to do this, she was hopeful it would work and prayed for me. This was the exact support I needed during mychallenge.

The ominous part was that the injection had to go in a fatty area, which was difficult because I was underweight. I could only rotate the injection in four areas, and I would usually have bruises and scar tissue there, which caused the injection to burn. I was never allowed to go on a vacation without the injection. In fact, I had to train one of my teachers to give the injection to me so that I could go on my eighth grade Washington D.C. Trip. Another side effect I experienced from the injections were migraines. Due to the severity and amount of migraines I began to experience, I started another prescription to take at the onset of every migraine in hopes that it would not last as long or be as severe.

I continued taking the growth hormone until my sophomore year of high school, when my growth plates had closed. I was always worried and nervous about what people thought of me, and my physical struggles were no exception.

Due to my unforeseen circumstances with growth hormones and bullying, during my junior year of high school I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. When I first realized I was struggling mentally, I was ashamed. I didn’t know how to tell my parents or how to even fathom the idea of asking for help. I coped with my depression, alone,  until this year- my sophomore year of college. This year, my anxiety became very obvious, and I finally had an open discussion with my parents about what I was dealing with. Both my mom and my dad were loving and understanding, but they were still hesitant to start me on any medication due to the negative effects my mom has experienced in a similar situation. Eventually, my doctor convinced them that this was what was best for my health at this time.

While reaching out and asking for help was a difficult conversation to be had, it benefited me in the long run. Now, I’m such a strong advocate for mental health awareness and firmly believe someone should never feel ashamed about how they are feeling. It’s okay to not be okay. Sometimes you just need time or to lean on friends. Other times, you need to take time for yourself and remember not to compare yourself to others. Challenges will always arise, but depending on how you face the challenges, the outcome can be more profound than you have ever imagined.

While I have learned lessons from my experiences, I still have a lot of growth to do. My mental health is more positive than it has ever been before, but it is not just because of the medication. It took a lot of work to get where I am today and a huge part of that is the CHAARG [Changing Health Attitudes + Actions to Recreate Girls] and the LVNG Limitless community.

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