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To Hell and back … and back … and back: Amanda’s story of depression, addiction, abuse and strength

The following article was written by our guest blogger Amanda Emery. Amanda is an award winning journalist who lives in the Flint-area. When she isn't writing, knitting, or making art, she's hanging out with her husband and rescued huskies.

Photo by Sarah Elkins

No one expects it from the funniest person in the room.

The one everyone gravitates to at parties because they make everyone laugh. The one who is the loudest and talks to everyone in the room.

So welcoming. So happy. So confident.

So fake.

I have hidden my depression so well until recently people didn’t even know I had a problem. No one knew about this darkness inside of me that screams every second that I just don’t really need to be here anymore. This disgusting box filled to the brim with everything I hide about myself – my pain, my anger, my self-loathing.

The first time I thought about killing myself, I was 13-years-old. The first time I attempted it I was 17. All of the times it has crossed my mind since is immeasurable.

Let’s go back and look at that 13-year-old.

Sometimes people are broken, and it hits them at different times. My depression hit me in my pre-teens and escalated from there. Luckily, my mother picked up right away that something wasn’t right, that the light inside of me was beginning to flicker – it was beginning to go out.

She got me into therapy, and it helped to talk to someone, but it wasn’t enough. I ended up being put on Prozac in hopes it would help me, but it didn’t.

I went from thinking about suicide to planning it out. I would write notes and try to plan it out. But I couldn’t do that to my family. I would picture my older brother finding my body, and I couldn’t do that to him. He’s my big brother and my best friend and I knew it would tear him apart. I could never think about what it would do to my mother.

I obviously stopped taking the medication.

At this time, I started to dabble with drugs and alcohol. Nothing too strong, just a little weed here and sneaking the liquor I could find.

By the time I was 15, I was more heavily smoking pot and drinking whiskey. Back then I couldn’t stand the taste of beer, but cheap Yukon Jack whiskey was the better option? If that wasn’t a sign that I was trying to self-destruct, I don’t know what is.

I hid all of this well. Not even my closest friends or family knew I had a problem. Just like my depression, I started hiding all of these negative things about myself.

I crammed it all into this rotting box and shoved it deep inside. This pain was only for me.

I thought I was ugly, worthless, a failure. I couldn’t keep it together, and I was constantly floundering inside, trying to keep myself from drowning.

'I deserved it'

Photo by Sarah Elkins

I’d had my heart broken by my first serious boyfriend. He was also the first experience I had with abuse. This much older boy didn’t hit me. He was emotionally abusive.

He was jealous and used me. He wanted to keep me from my friends because his last girlfriend cheated on him. I felt bad for him, so I let him control who I could and couldn’t hang out with.

I chose to give my virginity to him because I just wanted to feel loved. There wasn’t anything romantic or loving about it. It was aggressive and painful. There was no emotional connection – just me laying there under the weight of him and my poor decision wishing it was over.

This wasn’t love. This was pain. I assumed that was what it was like until I went to my doctor.

I had so much tearing and bruising that my doctor asked if I had been sexually assaulted.

We were together a few months before he decided to break up with me since he was turning 19 and wanted to date a girl his own age. He just ghosted me. I got through to him twice, only to have him berate me and tell me what a stupid bitch I was.

Some people experience it and can move on, but not me. I took this rejection and hurt as I had done something wrong to deserve this.

I deserved to be treated like a piece of meat and disrespected because who could ever love and respect me? I was worthless.

I was in a tailspin and self-destructing.

About a year later, I reconnected with an old friend from elementary school and it became a whirlwind romance.

The first month was amazing. He adored me and wanted to spend every second with me. I didn't see that he was herding me away from my friends. He was isolating me so that when I finally saw his true colors, I would feel like I was alone and had no one to turn to.

I allowed this because I didn't see what was coming. I was naïve. I had heard he had gotten physical with two of his exes, but he said they were lying, and his behavior at the beginning of our relationship didn’t scream abusive at all.

The first time he hit me, I was dumbfounded. I sat there looking like a deer in headlights.

I couldn't wrap my head around it. How could someone who loved me so much do that?

He was smart enough never to leave bruises on my face or anywhere visible. I remember walking to class with a friend and the sleeve of my t-shirt came up a little and she saw dark blackish-blue bruises on my upper arm where he had bitten me.

I lied. I told her I bruised easily and got the bruises wrestling around.

The abuse continued. He’d scream in my face, shake me, bite me, hit me. I was in Hell, and I believed I deserved every bit of it.

I’d done something to make him mad. Each time I’d think, “I shouldn’t have done that. I hurt him and made him mad. I deserved it.”

Two days before my 17th birthday, we were at school, and I was trying to get to gym, but he wanted to fight with me about a slumber party I had planned. I refused to cancel because I wanted to be with my friends.

He grabbed me by the throat and slammed me into the lockers. He started punching me in the stomach. The thing I will never forget – a teacher saw us and did nothing. He just looked at us and closed his classroom door.

I was utterly alone, and every time he apologized, I figured he meant it. I didn't think much of myself, not enough to realize I didn't deserve this.

I think people had suspicions, my friends, anyway. My family hated him but didn't know what was happening. Not because they didn't care or were oblivious, but because I hid it so well. It was another thing to put in that box and hideaway.

A month later, in November 1996, I tried to kill myself. I took whatever pills I could find and waited. I started to feel sick. It was like I was on the outside watching someone else do this. It was happening before I really thought about it.

The night before, he had gotten into trouble with the police. I was questioned but wasn't in trouble because I didn't have an active role in what he did.

All I could think was I was a fuck up. My mom and brother were so disappointed. Rightfully so. In my broken head, though, I couldn't take it.

The family that knows thinks I did it because I was told to stay away from him. In reality, it was because I hit rock bottom — months of abuse on top of my severe depression on top of drinking and drugs. I just felt like there was no coming back from that.

You’re not alone

Photo by Sarah Elkins

I was okay. I got back into therapy, but I was still keeping secrets. I was still seeing this boy and spiraling.

The final straw was when he had me in my car pushed against the door, kicking me and using a spiked collar while punching me. I finally got my door open and he snatched my keys. I went to grab my keys and accidentally hit him in the face.

Something in him turned animalistic and snapped. He came at me, and I punched him in the face, grabbed my keys, and left. I thought I was free.

I was wrong.

He started stalking me. He started harassing me at school, threatening me. Everywhere I tried to go, there he was. It doesn’t help when your abuser goes to the same school, and their father works in law enforcement.

Teen Dating Violence, or TDV, happens a lot more than people may think. Millions of teens are affected by this each year in the U.S. Twenty-six percent of women and 15 percent of men experience intimate partner violence for the first time before they are 18 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Did the abuse and toxicity lead to what came next? My descent into a bottle and putting whatever I could find up my nose? My depression and anxiety were already there, but it didn’t help. People who go through being abused by their partner experience depression, anxiety, and everything I started to develop.

I became a ticking time bomb. At that time, I didn’t think I would ever let someone put their hands on me again. I was aggressive.

I started drinking heavily, popping pills, smoking pot, and putting drugs up my nose. I dropped out of school and tried to avoid going home. I was a mess.

I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone what had happened to me. I was ashamed that I let someone hurt me like that – to put their hands on me like that. I went through it alone, because I couldn’t stand the thought of anyone knowing what I had allowed.

If I had to do it over again, or if someone is reading this and they’re in the same position, you don’t have to stay. It’s scary. It’s dangerous. And it’s ultimately going to escalate.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 in more than 200 languages. This hotline has resources to help people get away from their abusers.

Locally, here in Genesee County, there is the YWCA Safehouse Shelter that provides free safe, emergency shelter and a support system for victims of intimate partner violence, as well as their children.

I did this all alone, and I didn’t need to. It didn’t cause my spiral, but it did contribute.

As my drug abuse escalated, I hurt some of my closest friends. I used them up and threw them away. I broke the hearts of people who genuinely loved and cared about me. I was reckless. I destroyed everything I came into contact with.

This went on for months. I was down to 97 pounds and had almost burned a hole through my nose. To me, I was nothing but less than.

After several months I decided I was done. I had all but gone into hiding to get away from my ex. But with the help of a dear friend, I sobered up.

I went cold turkey, and when I tell you withdrawal is Hell, I'm serious. I thought I would die. I kicked it and got my shit together. I got my GED before I would have graduated and enrolled in college. I was on a roll and then tragedy hit.

My aunt Sue was like a second mother to me. She was my everything, and she died in October 2000. I started drinking heavily again. I hadn't ever stopped, but I had it under control.

I would drink and drink and self-medicate until the cows came home. I would stay out partying until 6 a.m., go to work at 9 a.m., and start all over again. I dropped out of college and had no ambition except not to feel anything.

The crushing grief overwhelmed me, and I don't think to this day I have dealt with it. Sue's death became another thing to put inside my box to tuck away.

Years went by, and I decided to get my shit again together. I decided to change career paths and go back to college.

I ended up in shitty relationship after shitty volatile relationship. I let people treat me how I felt - like I was nothing.

I gave up. I started working in shitty retail jobs. I held it together, but I was just coasting.

Then tragedy hit again. My grandma Ada died. Another woman who was my everything was gone, and I fell down the hole again. Drinking and self-medicating, not dealing with the grief. Shoving all that hurt down to a place where it was slowly eating away at me.

I was out of control. You couldn't take me anywhere. I would pick fights and look for trouble. I was like a wild animal looking for any sign of weakness to pounce or to make sure everyone around me knew I wasn’t to be messed with. I was crazy and would do just about anything to make that point to any person who got in my way or dared to test me.

There is more

Amanda and Chris got married on Oct. 5, 2013. Photo by Megan Crimmins

My life until 2006 was up and down, pretending to be okay. Pretending to be care-free and wild when on the inside, I was rotting.

Then there was my husband. I can't say that I got my shit together when I met him. I was drinking all the time and doing "casual" drugs. Of course, I was hiding it the best I could. I was never going to let this amazing guy know what a disgusting mess I was inside.

I was back in college and doing well, but no matter how well I did, it wasn't enough in my head and heart.

A few years in, I really did get my shit together. I was accomplishing great things at school and in my career. I was with a person who lifted me up and supported me.

Tragedy hit me several more times. I lost my papaw, my dad, and my beloved Toxie dog. The depression and anxiety came back, but I was working in healthy ways to combat it. I wasn’t drinking and using drugs to dull the pain, but it always finds a way to creep back in, especially when you bottle everything up and refuse to deal with it.

I go for extended periods where I feel amazing. I feel proud of myself for the things I’ve accomplished and I can see that light inside of me that everyone else sees. But then there are times that I don’t see that light. I only see the rot, the pain.

Things could be going absolutely amazing, and a switch flips in my brain to remind me of who I think I am sometimes. This worthless piece of trash that doesn’t deserve love or happiness. This ugly person who has done ugly and horrible things to people who were dumb enough to love her.

Sometimes, I just feel like I don’t need to be here.

The most painful loss in my life happened in June 2019, when my mother died unexpectedly. She was my best friend and my world. She was always there when I hit rock bottom to help me find my way back.

My mother was strong and a force to be reckoned with. People were always drawn to her, much like people are drawn to me, because she was outgoing, funny, and strong.

This loss sent me spiraling into a darkness I still haven’t gotten out of. Every day since has been dim for me, and I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but that’s how depression works.

I don’t talk about my pain, my grief, this overwhelming darkness inside of me because that’s not how I’m wired. I don’t cry, and I don’t emote – I shove it all into the black, rotting box that lives inside my chest.

I started this off by explaining that people don’t expect this kind of depression from someone like me, and it’s true. This is why it’s important for me to speak up and tell my story, to tell people how I got here.

I’m here to tell you there is more.

No matter how many times I think I’m done, I’m ready just to be done with all the pain I think about my brothers, my husband, my pups, and my dearest friends. I have a support system many other people don’t.

The thing to remember is that you matter, even when it doesn’t feel like it. You have to be here, even when giving up feels like the best option.

Trust me, I get it. I struggle with it every day. I make myself step outside of my comfort zone to admit that I am struggling and that I get in these dangerous mindsets.

The thing to know is no matter how you feel about it, you’re not alone. There are people out there who are struggling just like you. This is why I’m sharing my story to help people like me, who are broken and don’t see an end in sight.

I’ve been where you are, Hell, I’m there now. Be honest, open up to someone you love. Seek help. If you feel like you can’t share what you’re going through with someone you know, there are other options.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, every single day. You can chat with someone online or over the phone at 800-273-8255. Suicide doesn’t have to be the end of your story, because it is sure as Hell not going to be the end of mine.

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