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Mental Wellness: My 7 Year Journey

I haven’t ever fully shared this story, but I want to do so today, and I think it may help somebody, so here it goes...

It’s my 26th birthday. I’m sitting on my deck having coffee, reflecting on this past year and my life. I am so lucky for everything I have gone through because it made me who I am today.

The first eighteen years of my life were close to perfect. Sure, it had its awkward times and ups and downs, but I was fortunate to grow up with a loving family in a great, safe town.

The last seven years of my life have been hard. They have taught me about myself and how to care for my mind, body, and emotions.

It started the last week of August 2011, a week before I was to return to SUNY Brockport to begin my sophomore year. I, like a lot of college freshmen and friends of mine at the time, was drinking quite heavily, and I was smoking pot pretty much daily.

That week, I made the worst decision of my life. After partying for a few consecutive nights, two of my friends and I went to watch my buddy get a tattoo. Next to this tattoo parlor, there was a new smoke shop. We went in and saw this packaging on the front counter, “Supernova,” which I would later learn to be one of many brands of K2/Synthetic Marijuana. You have to remember that this is summer 2011. No one knew about this stuff, how dangerous it is, and all the chemicals that are sprayed on it to “mimic” (more like exemplify by 20X) a THC effect. So, because it was on the counter legally available in a colorful package, we bought some. We could smoke it in the parking lot if we wanted to, ha-ha, we thought.

Thinking it was just like pot, I smoked some and then some more over the next two days. This caused me to go into what I now know as a “drug-induced psychosis.” I was manic, with rapid thoughts, thinking I was having “epiphanies,” moving fast, talking fast, and not sleeping. After a whole night without sleep and waking my parents, I confessed everything to them. I was worried. I didn’t know what was going on. But I knew I needed real medical help.

I saw my primary doctor, and they gave me a manic depression test. It's a 10-question form that I checked off on the manic side for every question (Are you thinking grandiose thoughts? Do you think everything is awesome? etc.).

She didn’t do anything or know what to do/know what synthetic marijuana was. Deep down, I knew something was happening and needed real medical help. I told my parents I needed to go to the hospital, and we went to the emergency room. When I got there, I was talking fast and trying to explain what had been going on and what I had been smoking. Again, in Summer 2011, I honestly think I was one of the first cases of this in the region and most likely the first in Saratoga. The doctors had no idea what it was or what to do. So, after a long, emotional few hours of talking to doctors, they decided to keep me overnight and admit me to the hospital's Mental Health Unit.

This overnight stay was almost a whole week and was the most dramatic and scary week of my life. I had no idea what was going on. They “snowed” me with medication. Heavy-duty mood stabilizers, a white wall, stagnant air environment. Thankfully, they had a small courtyard with a basketball hoop. (Which is now removed, and there is now no courtyard or place for people in the MHU to get fresh air, which to me is mind-boggling.)

When I was released, I started to see a psychiatrist who had some knowledge about how synthetic marijuana had recently affected a group of Marines. This was the first doctor we dealt with who had any understanding of K2.

This ongoing process from September 2011 to now has been a roller coaster. I have seen more doctors and have been prescribed more medication than I can count on two hands. I admitted myself to Four Winds Hospital in October 2011 and the Saratoga Hospital MHU in the Summer of 2015. All while trying to complete my degree, going in and out of school, with medical “leaves of absence.”

I have learned a lot. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder, given a slew of medications to go along with various “labels” slapped on me by doctors who did not hear my full story or get to know me for more than 30 minutes before labeling me. It is just a label, so what? I am not saying these are bad people or bad at doing their job; I am incredibly grateful they were able to help me.

Today, June 30th, is my 26th birthday. I am proud to say that I have gone through this. I am proud to say I have been off all medications for over a year. I am proud to say I am using food as medicine and exercise to maintain a clear and healthy mind.

I am proud to say I celebrated four months of sobriety earlier this week. I know what you may be thinking and what I think about looking back on it. I went through some intense stuff, and my brain took a toll. Yet, for some reason, being in my early twenties, I wanted to be like everyone else. I wanted to go out on Caroline St for my 21st birthday, and I was curious and stupid to keep testing the waters with weed. I wanted to enjoy a joint with my friends like I used to; I am okay, doing better now, I can do it. But it led to addictive behaviors, especially with weed, getting into trouble, making poor decisions, and treating those around me, those who were there for me during hard times, without respect. I didn't want to believe I had a problem; my brain is sensitive to this, and that's okay; it affects everyone differently. I have since made the decision that I do not like who I was or how I treated people, and I am heading down the path of sobriety.

I created the idea for Let’s Chat About It in November 2016. I was on a walk with my mom during the fall semester of my final leave of absence from Siena. I was coming out of my most recent bout of depression. Let’s Chat About It has been great therapeutically for me to start speaking about what I went through and how I want to connect with people going through similar struggles.

25 has been a fantastic year. I graduated from Siena and have been enjoying more genuine connections. I have even found a beautiful, loving, supportive girlfriend in Gabby.

For my birthday today, I wanted to share this with you so that everyone can see that there is light if they are going through tough times. It will get better. I also ask my friends and family to please be respectful and supportive of my sobriety and mental health. Please share this story with anyone needing to hear something like this today.

Here's my number: 518-469-2369. Please reach out if you or someone you love needs to talk.

Here’s to 26!

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