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by Darren Kendal

Growing up in chaos is the greatest gift I have ever received. But, when I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder it surely did not feel like a gift. I thought my diagnosis would follow me everywhere I go and limit me in everything I do. Little did I know, my struggles with mental health would allow me to feel completely empowered. 

For the first twelve years of my life, I was living in survival mode. I grew up with a mentally-ill, drug-addicted, father who made me believe everyone was trying to hurt me. Then, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and I was told I had a rare bone disease. I felt like life was just never-ending chaos. 

As time passed so did the hardship. But, I felt so stupid because although everything around me was peaceful, it was far from it inside my head. After living in survival mode for so many years I was unable to simply turn it off. I felt stuck in a mind that I wanted to do anything to escape from. 

For so long I kept trying to run from my problems, but how could I run when I was trying to hide from my mind? Once I came to this realization, I understood that although facing my issues would be uncomfortable, I was uncomfortable anyway so I may as well put myself in a situation that will help me. I finally chose to stop running and face my issues head-on.

First, I addressed my problem of being unable to attend school. I could not go because I kept reliving the abuse in my head while I was there. To fix this, I began by imagining myself at school, pretending the abuse was replaying itself in my mind. I did this over and over, continually putting myself in the situation so by the time it actually happened, it was not as shocking. It became predictable. With each day that I was able to go to school, I became stronger.

Then, I had to face my biggest fear: the hallucinations. Whenever I experienced them I became paralyzed mentally. To overcome this I re-framed my perspective. I told myself that the thoughts I consciously think of are ‘me’. Everything else that automatically came into my mind (e.g. the hallucinations) was not ‘me’. This re-framing allowed me to detach from the hallucinations by pretending they were happening to someone else. Now, I earned back control. 

My goal was always just to achieve a state of normalcy. What I did not realize was that in learning to overcome my struggles it gave me the tools achieve more than I ever imagined. Recently, I graduated high school, applied to College and received a full-ride scholarship. But more importantly, I am no longer held back by my mental health. I now feel fully empowered.

I wholeheartedly believe in the Anxiety and Depression Association of America's mission. By breaking the stigma that surrounds mental health, and showing others they are not alone, I knew I needed to broadcast my message through the ADAA. Mental health is a serious issue that must be addressed, I thank the ADAA for creating immeasurable progress in support of this.

If you would like to hear how I learned to overcome my struggles you can watch my TED Talk here: https://youtu.be/1SMwvpeWhMM
 

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