Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
By: Alexandra Bjornson @alexandrabjornson
I ultimately detest this question, but the idea of compartmentalizing life into tiny little chapters in years of 5 excited the author within. And so the typewriter behind my eyelids ignites furiously transcribing my epic tragedy thus far, and I see one of those cheesy timelines with awkward pictographs interspersed, that we were forced to make in grade school, but the subject is my life.
Let’s get some perspective: I am now 24 years old, and 5 years ago I can honestly tell you I had no intentions or idea I would be here today.
Most people didn’t expect me to survive my 17th year, which is when I was officially diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder; however I had been suffering for many years before then.
My story is not exceptionally significant, and I had an incredible support system through my family most people are not fortunate enough to experience. I was loved, I am loved and I love my family.
The purpose of this disclaimer is to normalize and further understand that I don’t choose to be this way, and it is not because I had a bad childhood.
The chapter in my timeline that I want to share with you begins at age 14…
I am sitting in front of a tribunal of disappointed elderly strangers who work for the school district, whispering to each other and intermittently staring at me, as if I didn’t already feel paranoid and uncomfortable. Not that I was showing it mind you, my angsty teenage face was in full effect. They were deciding my fate after another impulsive case of misbehaving at school, apparently after 3 strikes they really do kick you out.
One of the women looks down her nose at me, clears her throat to indicate I should listen, “This is very serious, Miss, your future is in jeopardy and you seem apathetic. Care to explain yourself?”
I lift my gaze and look right through her. I have a million things I could say but I physically can’t get them out, and either way she looked at me as though she had already made up her mind.
Often teenagers are incorrigible so naturally this propels the huff of disappointment and these cronies further their interrogation, they wanted cooperation.
“You are very smart young lady, don’t you want to make something of yourself? Let’s take a different approach: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” asks a man who has yet to have addressed me by my name.
I burst into a fit of hysterical laughter.
I was expelled.
Truthfully, I couldn’t see myself in 5 years; I couldn’t even see next year. I was an avid daydreamer but the dreams consisted of outlandish, imaginary worlds that I understood were never a real possibility.
The system did not recognize mental illness when I was in it. It’s not their fault that I was unable to control my behavior, but I was not another rebellious kid acting out. I needed help and my teachers, peers and faculty had no idea how to treat me. My family did everything they could, and I saw many specialists outside school, but those who have experienced any kind of mental war understand that the illness can take over and you won’t accept the help until you really want it. Notice the distinction, I definitely NEEDED help, but at that time I didn’t want it, or maybe I didn’t know how to want it.
The five years that followed were turbulent at best and I have no desire to trigger any others who are suffering so I will not share those details of the journey.
But if I were to summarize, it looked a lot like a graph of a heartbeat in Atrial fibrillation. Highs and lows to the nth degree, without reason. There are many gaps in my memory from those years as the mind has this pesky little switch that releases a fog over moments too painful to recall, repression of the depression. There were periods of manic depression, and manic hyper-active, substance use, self-harm and hospitalization. Every relationship was subject to the desperate girl in pain, literally crying for help, and the passenger in her head.
Feeling alone is the worst part of any mental illness and has been perpetuated by the stigma that the battle you are fighting is something wrong with you instead of what it actually is: a sickness, something you are going through, and you are not the only one. Many unrecognized mental illnesses are now being understood and this is a step towards a positive future, but it is so much more than just talking about it. I had many “best” friends in school, the sole benefit of being an ultra-sensitive empath was being a good companion. But when kids are ignorant to illnesses you can’t see, they ostracize and ridicule, activating the loneliness that exists in a room full of people. I lost many friends that I never thought I would because they didn’t know how to treat me. For the record, the way to treat me is with kindness, like every other human being on this earth. With or without mental illness, being a teenager is exhausting and at times, terrifying and cruel. I don’t blame them for not understanding or having the tools to talk about it, but the war in my mind would have been a lot less wearisome had there been a level of respect for one another as people, to not kick one who was down.
Life is one day at a time, and in complete presence. We are driven by time, never having enough and wishing we could get moments back. Anxious with tomorrows, or five year plans. The only good my timeline did was show you that progress exists for people like me. There are good days ahead, but there are bad days too. I have no idea where I will be in 5 years, because that doesn’t matter.
I can tell you that when I was 14 I would have never believed you if you told me in 5 years I would be travelling Europe by myself. That I would make it through school and even attend college. That I would fall in love and have someone love me back. That I would fail at things and still manage to keep going. That I would survive the war going on in my head. But I did, and I am.
It has been incredibly challenging. That chapter was the hardest of my life so far. I fight every day, and sometimes I feel very proud of that. Some days I can’t bring myself to feel much of anything. And at times I’m not okay, which is okay. This is a lifelong battle. I stand with those suffering. I love you, and if you can’t bring yourself to be proud today, let me be proud for you.
The Maddie Project is a community effort in support of youth struggling with depression and other mental health related concerns. Driven by community collaboration and events, the project’s goals are to raise awareness by sparking conversations about youth depression and mental health concerns as well as to help provide uninhibited access to support for youth and their families.
The Maddie Project was founded in April 2015 in memory of Madeline Grace German Coulter. To date the project has engaged millions in active conversations around youth mental health and has raised over $1.3 million dollars towards the development of Maddie’s Healing Garden and support of other child and adolescent mental health services in our community.
If you would like to contribute to our blog series please email firstname.lastname@example.org