by Alicia Brennan
I didn't cut myself often, and there was never a sense of ritual about the process. I’ve used whatever was at hand over the years- knives, scissors, broken glass, wire, and even my own fingernails. My boyfriend patched me up afterwards several times, although harming myself was something I only did while I was alone.
I think I started harming myself when I was sixteen or seventeen. I can't actually remember the first time, but there is mention of it in my journals from that period. Sometimes I wouldn't do it for six months or so, and then it would be twice in a week. There was no way to predict it and I never tried to control it.
I continued to harm myself until I was twenty years old. I'm proud to say that I haven't felt the need to hurt myself in many years now.
I still bear a few of the scars today, but most of them have faded to the point where they can no longer be seen. I know that they are there though, visible or not, and they serve as a reminder to me of how far I have come from who I used to be.
At the beginning of this year, nine and a half years after I first became ill, a new specialist I had gone to in sheer desperation actually found evidence that I really did have something wrong with me. After doing every test he could think of, some of them using very recent technology and techniques, my results came back in. My specialist was absolutely speechless. My blood work and other assorted tests had come back fitting the profile of a supremely healthy professional athlete- despite my weight and health problems. They were the complete opposite of what was expected for me. My results were perfect in every test except one- a type of isotope brain scan. They showed that there was an imbalance in the chemicals in a part of my brain, indicating a diagnosis of a major depressive disorder. The specialist had told me before I was tested that I didn't fit the criteria for a depressive disorder- he was actually testing me for forms of attention deficit disorder.
When I realised that I actually, for the first time since I became ill, had a substantiated diagnosis, I broke down and cried. I have no idea how I drove home from the specialist that day- all I remember is that I sobbed the whole way home. Mum was waiting for me when I arrived home and was out the door as soon as I drove up. The only words I managed to get out were
“They found something.” That was all- I lost it.
All Mum asked was
“Can it be treated?” I simply nodded and Mum hugged me- we stood in our front yard and cried. After nine and a half years of searching for proof of something that most people believed wasn't there, we had found our answer. I cannot describe the feeling- I think it was almost pure relief that we hadn't been fighting for all of those years in vain.
For a few weeks afterwards I experienced a euphoric sense of renewed hope, followed later by the sinking realisation that my fight was not yet over. Although I now knew what I suffered from, over the years I had been on nearly every anti-depressant known to mankind- to no avail. I also had to face the huge stigma that is still associated with having a mental illness. People tend to have this stereotype of people who suffer depression. For the record, I don’t cry often, I don’t feel sad more than any other person and I laugh and sing a lot. Many people who have known me for years have never even realised there was anything wrong- my illness mainly seems to affect me physically these days, not emotionally. I don’t mind answering questions from anyone who is trying to understand the illness- if I can help people to comprehend what it is like, then perhaps someone might not decide who I am based on a health problem.
These days, I still occasionally have moments of uncertainty, where I'm no longer sure when my illness ends and I begin. I'm trying to define something that I never truly knew was there, but which I realise is an integral part of who I am.
Alicia Brennan is married to a wonderful, supportive man, whilst keeping busy looking after three amazing kids. Making cakes in her past time and volunteering as a basketball scoretable official is something Alicia does regularly, all whilst deaf in one ear and slowly losing her hearing in the other. Living with MDD,CFS & other health issues for the past 20 years, Alicia has taken the opportunity to get out all of her pain onto the page - so she could 'accept it, let it go, and live her life to the best of her ability'. What an incredible woman!