Finding My Voice

At fourteen years old, I found myself sitting across the room from a therapist who was recommended to my mother by my pediatrician. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair and tried to answer the questions that were being hurled at me while awkwardly petting the therapy dog sitting under my feet. Not knowing what to say and wanting my therapist to think I was “normal”, I gave answers I thought she wanted to hear. Becoming increasingly frustrated after weeks of not being able to get truthful or thoughtful answers from me, my therapist finally said, “You seem to get upset and do stupid things. I mean, cutting yourself is stupid… you do know that, right?” My heart sank all the way into my gut and I wilted into the dark green chair that I already felt so small in. I looked back at this woman who was staring at me demanding an answer. Feeling defeated, I nodded my head yes and tried to move on with the session.

After my session was finished, I got into the car to drive home with my mom. She asked me how it went and I said it had gone well. Lie. I held back tears the whole 35 minute drive home and when I got there I went straight up to the bathroom and cut myself. “That will be the last time I go to therapy”, I told myself. The next week when it was time for my appointment, I told my parents I was fine and did not need to go back. Both my mom and dad believed me and we all moved on with our lives as if my self-harm had been nothing more than a phase. But inside I was begging for something to make me want to live.

As years passed by, I carried a hidden pain inside of myself. I feared rocking the boat again. Even when I was diagnosed with panic disorder in my sophomore year of high school and the anxiety that wreaked havoc on my mind every day was apparent, I somehow managed to pull through and convince the world that I was fine. I did not want to seem as if I was grabbing for attention when so many people seemed to have it worse than me. After all, my brother had a physical disability; I had no place to complain about my mental disability, right?

During my years as an adolescent, I stifled my voice. If I did use my voice it was in all the wrong ways, like demanding at the age of 18 that my doctor take me off of my medication even if he felt it wasn’t medically the best thing for me. I self-medicated and continued to physically harm myself anytime I felt that I needed a visual expression of my pain. I did not ask for help when I needed it and because of this I ended up being hospitalized at 21 for my Bipolar I Disorder. I was not hospitalized just because I had Bipolar Disorder; I was hospitalized because I did not ask for help at the first signs of my manic episode. It wasn’t until I was at the point of no sleep, constant tears, complete isolation and a big old head full of pink hair that I realized I needed to speak up. I entered that hospital with fear and left that hospital with courage.

During my hospital stay I was asked by a therapist why I said yes to being discharged to a psychiatrist that I did not want to go to instead of requesting a different one. I had no answer for him except that I did not want to cause any trouble for anyone. That is when he explained to me that my life would be totally different if I could just tell people what I needed and what I wanted. He said that my fears of asking for help would not only hinder me, but the people around me. After we spoke I went back into the office of the social worker and told him I wanted a different psychiatrist. I thought I would get an eye roll or told that I needed to accept what I got, but instead I got a, “Thank you for telling me. I will call around today and see who we can set you up with.” I smiled and started to look forward to my after care, because I had just taken full control of it.

My healing process after being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder was not easy. I struggled to stay above water some days but I made it through those days by telling people what would work for me. Instead of having people tell me what to do, I told them what I needed them to do. I had never seen the people in my life so happy to have a specific step to take in order to help me get through the bad times. They gave me their undying support with so much ease because they knew what I needed them to do. No one felt burdened by me and no one felt helpless. They just wanted to be there for me in the best way possible. The comfort they felt from this and the strength I felt from them would not have been possible had I continued to stifle my voice like I did during my childhood.

I not only used my voice with my family and friends, but I began to use it in the services I received. I became more and more comfortable calling a doctor when I felt a medication was unhelpful and I felt more and more comfortable transferring to a new therapist when one did not seem like a good match for me. My fourteen year old self, afraid to ask for help and tell someone my therapist was not helpful to my specific situation, was gone. And when I did find that therapist who was a great match for me, I set the goals in my sessions and I told my therapist what coping skills worked for me and what coping skills didn’t, instead of her telling me my goals and what skills I needed to use. I was finally told that cutting myself was not stupid, but a negative coping skill that I needed to replace with a positive one. I utilized my voice in a healthy way for the first time and despite being in a deep and lengthy depression, I never felt so powerful in my life.

I now speak to and work with youth who are currently struggling to find their voice, mostly because I wish someone had told me it was okay to ask for help in the way that I needed it! It would have saved me so much heartache. I find that people look at me often and say, “Yes, but no one will understand what I am going through.” And I always look back and say, “No, they will not understand your situation because they have not lived it, but they CAN understand how you need them to help if you would just tell them.” Don’t be afraid, speak up! People are so much more willing to help than I ever realized if you would just give them something to do for you. They will feel healed knowing they are helping your pain and you will feel healing from the love and support of someone else. YOU HAVE A VOICE! Use it!

-Kristin Nordeman