It was the tenth day at the mental health facility, and I sat at across from 5 doctors giving me the same lecture.
Doc: “Hannah, we are not releasing you, until you understand that you have bipolar II disorder and agree to following up with treatment.”
Me: “I do understand. I just want to go home.”
Doc: “No Hannah you dont understand, you will go home, the first few days will be fine, maybe even a couple months, then you will go back to pretending nothing happened. You will bottom out, and this time you may not be so lucky.”
Me: “Lucky? I am in a mental hospital being told that I am mentally ill. I am not sick, this was a mistake.”
I stormed out of the room and headed to group therapy where I would meet my new roommate. There she was, a young African American girl. I could not believe how young she was. I took it upon myself to do the awkward introduction, “Hey I am Hannah, your roommate. If I catch you creeping on me or telling me the CIA is watching me like the girl before you, we are going to have a problem.” She fell into my arms crying. I felt awful, and realized that it might have been too soon for a joke being that she just arrived at a mental hospital.
We sat outside during recreational time and she told me her story. She told me about her broken home, her mother’s disregard for her diagnosis of schizophrenia, and how she has spent most of her life in a mental hospital.
The following days we spent all our time together, and I took on the role of an older sister. She didn’t have much experience with life outside of white walls. I always took my cliche high school experience for granted until I met her. She wanted me to constantly talk about the crushes I had, friend drama and specifically about prom. Every night my heart broke when she would wait for her mothers call that never came, but I would pull her aside to sketch out prom dresses.
Then one morning, we had a deep conversation about mental illness. It was at this point that she showed me her scars. We were sitting in our room at the mental hospital, and she lifted up her sleeve slowly. Carved with a butchers knife into her arm and across her body, were the words, Help Me. She was 13 years old. When I saw the words engraved on her arms, I realized that we lived with a disease that was more than real, and if I didn’t take care of myself I would die. I woke up to the fact that I was sick just like her. The next day, I went into the Doctors office, and told them I accepted the fact that I had a mental illness. I told them I would follow their instructions for treatment after the hospital. I was released five days later, leaving behind my good friend, but taking her story with me.
The stigma of mental illness is not just a problem; it is the most deadly part of our condition. My friend at the hospital was one of the kindest and most vibrant individuals I have ever come across, but because of stigma, she was imprisoned behind white walls. She was punished for being sick and silenced by shame. She would never go to prom or live out a teenage dream as she deserved, and this is not her fault, it is our fault. It is society’s fault that children like a 13-year-old girl are in such desperate need of being heard that they would go to the extent of carving words like, “Help Me” into their forearm. I am reminded of that moment every day, and so grateful that I met her. She will always be an angel in my eyes.
I am forever thankful to her, the girl who sacrificed her scars to help heal mine.