Megan Rotatori, originally from Medway, MA, is a student at the University of Vermont. She was 20 years old when I interviewed her in Boston, MA on April 5, 2014.
When I saw your project, I knew I really wanted to do it just because of the the stigma around mental illness and mental health. I feel like that’s really important because I feel like there is still a huge stereotype about what someone with a mental illness looks like and what they are supposed to look like. I feel like most of my friends and family—even the people who know the things that I’ve been through—I feel like they still don’t think of me as a person with a mental illness. I was diagnosed with mood disorder NOS. I had a bunch of different diagnoses. I was diagnosed with depression and then they thought possibly bipolar disorder. But I guess the overall one then at the end was that they couldn’t figure it out.
I think I started to realize I was depressed, probably, when I was 13 or 14 was when I first started getting it bad. But I feel like my whole life, there were times when I just felt sad and I didn’t know why.
I feel like people would always tell me, “Oh, but you don’t have anything to be sad about. You have a great life. How could you be so depressed if you have such a great life? There’s nothing wrong with your life,” which I also feel is a big problem, because that’s what depression is: it's feeling that way with no reason. Sometimes reasons feed into that and could make it worse, but sometimes it’s just there, I guess.
I do feel like I did have a good life, but I feel like my life was a lot harder than a lot of other people in a lot of ways. I was sexually assaulted when I was 14, and I never told anyone until last year. I kind of repressed it in my mind. In my own mind I didn’t even think that I thought about it, because I just convinced myself that it wasn’t a real thing. I’d say that was a big event that made my depression a lot worse.
That was when I was 14, so after that, I feel like I always had a really hard time coping with life. Whatever would happen, I always needed some obscure coping mechanism, like I couldn’t get through it just on my own. I had to either self-inflict or things like that to just try and feel normal, I guess. And no one ever knew about any of that stuff, either. I never told anyone. Even my parents sent me to counseling, but I don’t think they realized how serious things were. They just thought I was a moody teenager, but I think my parents now have handled things a lot better fully knowing what’s going on and kind of accepting that there was a real problem going on.
I feel like, sometimes, things get swept under the rug, like, “Oh, you’re just a teenager being angsty. That’s normal.”
But I could tell that how I felt wasn’t how my friends felt about being mad at their parents or normal drama. It was a lot deeper than that.
Fast forward to my senior year in high school. I had gotten a lot worse with self-inflicting and self-harm and then, at that point, I was just basically spiraling out of control. I was on medication for depression, but I abused it, I don’t know, just to make myself feel better. I never considered myself a drug addict, but looking back on it, that’s kind of what it’s about. I would just take things to try and escape when I really wasn’t supposed to be taking certain things and stuff like that—mixing things—just trying to do whatever. I went through periods of drinking and smoking—now I’m going to stop, starting again, and just trying anything. Then, at a certain point, I just feel like I didn’t have anything left, which was obviously really hard, and that’s when I ended up in the emergency room. I overdosed on my prescription meds.
I think that was a big wake up call to me. They actually let me go home from the emergency room because I talked myself out of it.
I was like, “No I’m totally fine. It was a mistake.”
Not to say I was disappointed, but I didn’t feel better. Even though I got through that, I didn’t feel better. That was definitely more painful than I thought it would be. In movies and stuff, they make it look like you just take these pills and drift off, and that’s definitely the opposite of what it was. I knew I never wanted to feel like that again. I knew that being in the part of the hospital where you’re locked down... I knew that would have made things worse for me at the time and the state I was in. My parents kind of let me decide what I wanted to do from there, so I actually went back to school the next week, just like nothing had happened. No one knew about it except my boyfriend.
My parents looked into a few things, and I decided I was going to go into a women’s program at a hospital in Rhode Island. Basically, I wouldn’t just be on lockdown so I wouldn’t hurt myself, I would actually learn skills to try and deal with things. It was a DBT program only for women. I was the youngest girl in the program because I wasn’t even 18 at the time and technically you were supposed to be over 18, but they made an exception so I could get into it, so I did that. I think I did that for a week. I got to come home that night and sleep in my own bed, which was really nice, and then I would be there all day learning skills: how to deal with things, talking to therapists, getting medications fixed, and stuff like that. That was the literally the best thing that has happened to me.
When I do tell people what I’ve been through, I always say that I’m glad that I did [attempt] suicide, just because it brought me to get the help that I really needed. Obviously, I wish I could have found it without doing that, but I feel like I’m such a stubborn person that I needed that wake up call to be like, “Okay, this is out of control. I need to do something about it.”
That was so great. I mean, obviously, I do still struggle with a lot of things, but the amount better that has gotten, I never thought that I could feel how I do now. It’s pretty crazy. I’m in nursing school because I really want to help people. When I was in the hospital or in the emergency room, all the nurses were so nice to me. I feel like if I could be that person who is there for people, that would be so cool.
Des: Do you think that you have a mental illness? Do you believe in mental illness?
Megan: Yes, one hundred percent. I don’t know if this is the right word, but it’s almost like I would say mine is in remission right now, just because I’ve gotten so much better than I was. I feel like I’m a different person and I’m not on vacation anymore. It’s just that I know there are some mental illnesses that will stay with people their whole lives, and I know that part of it will always stay with me, but I think that, when I was in the midst of things, I 100% did have a mental illness. Now it’s kind of like I’m hoping it’s just staying in remission. Hopefully, I can say that I’ll never have to deal with it again, or at least to the severity that I had to, because I feel like it’s a predisposition—that I was genetically predisposed to have that and then certain life events triggered it to get a lot worse. Maybe I could manage it better if certain situations hadn’t come up, but I feel like overall I’m a stronger person now because of it.
Des: Tell me about DBT. How did it save your life?
Megan: It was so different than when I had gone to therapy for so many years. I never thought that the therapy helped me at all, because it was just talking about how I was feeling and all of that, whereas with DBT, it was actual skills you could use. It was all about mindfulness and radical acceptance. Like, when there is something you can’t change, you just have to accept that that is how it is, and being mindful of how I actually felt, and then they just taught you how to have support systems too. I really kept it all to myself, I didn’t have any real support, I felt like...
Des: Tell me about the self-injury. When did you start?
Megan: I think probably when I was 14, and when I first started, I tried cutting but, I don’t know, I never wanted people to see. I don’t think anyone wants people to see, but I was extra careful about not letting people see. I eventually started just burning myself all the time and I feel like that, in itself, is an addiction. It started with a really bad day, and I would feel the need to do it, but as time went on, it was the little things I couldn’t deal with without doing that. That’s another thing—it makes sense because it’s chemical endorphins that are released, and so it does make you feel better. It physically does. It’s hard to get away from that when you know there is something that might give you that slight little boost to get you through your day. And to have to stop that completely is really hard.
Des: How long did you do it?
Megan: Probably since I was 14 all the way up until when I was in the hospital, and I don’t think I have since then. It's probably been like 3 years.
Des: How did you stop? Just being in the hospital?
Megan: I feel like, when I actually used the radical acceptance and stuff like that, and the coping skills that I had learned. Obviously, it was still hard to stop, but I just found other outlets. I used meditation a lot and stuff like that when I was getting in those moods. I also better identified when I was going down a bad road, which, it was easier to stop if you could identify at the beginning, rather than when you are full-blown on a bad path. It's way harder to stop when you’re all the way down at the end, rather than right at the beginning.
Des: Yeah, I got to a point where I got rid of anything sharp, so it was like, "If I'm going to do this, I have to go to extraordinary lengths."
You said you your parents were good about it?
Megan: I feel like, at first, it was really hard, because it was like nothing they had ever dealt with before. My mom has seasonal depression, which is very mild for her and her case. I think she kind of thought what I was going through, when I would say "depression," she thought, “Oh, like what I go through.” I think it took her [awhile to] realize, "No, it’s a lot worse."
I never wanted to come out and tell my parents how bad it really was, because I am also an only child. My parents were always worried about me, and I didn’t want to worry them. I didn’t want them to have to worry about me. At the same time, I was a teenager, and what teenager wants their freedom taken away? That’s probably what would have happened if I'd told them. It would've been a lock down situation, monitoring 24/7, and I knew I didn’t want that.
I still haven’t told them everything, everything, but I feel like they basically know 99% of everything that’s gone on with me.
Des: They know that you attempted to kill yourself?
Megan: Oh, yes. Yeah. Yeah.
Des: Do you guys talk about it?
Megan: Sometimes when the anniversary goes by, my mom will call me.
I'll be up at school and she'll be like, “Oh, how are you feeling today?”
I'll be like, “What are you talking about?” 'Cause I don’t remember the date and she does. She has it on a calendar or something, so she always calls me asking, “How are you doing?”
I'm like, “Whats going on?”
I know around the time it was, but I don’t keep it on a calendar. I don’t need to be celebrating that day.
Des: A lot of people remember it.
Megan: Yea, I don’t know…
Des: I do.
Des: Oh, yeah. I do.
Megan: I don’t know if it’s just that I try not to, but I just didn’t make a point of it. Even whenever that happened, that wasn’t really when I got help. I remember when I was in the hospital for the program getting help. I feel like, even after being in the emergency room, I really didn’t feel better at all at that point. So, to me, more of a celebration of that was my last day of being in the program.
Des: What was being hospitalized like for you?
Megan: In the ER?
Megan: Scary. Really scary. I was home with my boyfriend. We had gotten in an argument, and there were a lot of factors going on. My parents were in Rhode Island at a family event that I had refused to go to because I was in a terrible [mood], and my boyfriend didn’t know what to do. He was the one that found me and had to call the ambulance and stuff like that. My parents literally got from Rhode Island to the hospital in like 15 minutes. My dad must have been going like 100 miles per hour on the highway.
Des: They move quickly when you need them to.
Megan: Yeah. It was just so sad, though, having my parents have to see me like that and stuff. I didn’t want them to see me that way, or my boyfriend either.
It was very scary, especially because, when I was in the ambulance going there, I had asked the EMT, I was like, "Am I going to die?"
He said he didn’t know which, I think, is a horrible response for emergency medical personnel.
I was like, "Oh my God," 'cause I feel like, at that point, I actually did really want to die. But as soon as I felt how horrible I felt—I mean, I literally felt like I was dying because I was dying—and I just felt so horrible, the most pain in my whole life, and I couldn’t even think about the reason why I had did it. I was just in so much pain.
I was just like, "Oh my God, I just want to feel better right now. This is terrible."
As soon as I felt physically better, I was still mentally not okay. I was just glad I didn't feel like that anymore. I was glad about that.
Des: So, you lied. They did a psych eval and you just lied all the way through it?
Megan: Yeah. Yeah. It was a lady from the psych ward or whatever, and she came in and she asked me if I regretted it and if it was a mistake. I told her that it was, and she asked me if I still felt that way. I told her no, 'cause Ijust wanted to go home. I didn’t feel that bad that I was about to go do it again. I just wanted to go home,' cause I was so miserable. I think I knew in my head it was time for some drastic changes to be made, like, "I can’t live like this anymore," because I feel like, even on a day to day basis, I was just underlyingly miserable. There was always this underlying mood. I just was unhappy. I didn’t want to live like that, either. It wasn’t just the ups and downs of those really, really low moods—[it was] just the everyday wearing on me, not ever being able to be 100% happy.
I was just like, "This needs to change."
Des: What does a suicidal person look like?
Megan: I think they can look like anything. Literally any race, religion, ethnicity, anything. Any age.
I feel like a lot of people... I don’t want to say [they] don’t believe me, but for an example: when I was in the hospital for my woman’s program for a week, I didn’t tell any of my friends at school while I was there. But, of course, I was getting a bunch of texts, like, “Where are you?” “Are you sick?” “Why aren’t you in school?”
So, when I did see them, I didn’t tell them the whole thing. I just kind of glazed over some details and basically told them I was just going there to figure some things out, and I had just been really depressed and feeling suicidal. I also always had really bad body image too, so I was also having some troubles with that, some troubles with abusing my medications.
I just kind of told them, "I need to figure out a lot of these things right now."
And they didn’t care at all; not at all. I'm not friends with a single one of them anymore. One of them was going through a breakup and everyone was just caring all about that, which was fine. I understand breakups can be really hard, but I was just like, "Okay, I think what I am going through deems a little more than an, “Okay, cool,” kind of response." I don’t know if it’s that they didn’t know what to say, they didn’t know what to ask or what to say, because I’d rather have people ask me about it than be afraid to and just have misconceptions.
My roommate in college now, I upfront basically told her everything so she would know. I didn’t want to have to hide it or come out piece by piece with my life story. I kind of laid it all on the table.
I was like, "If you are confused about something or anything, just ask me. I am not going to be offended by your questions. I’d rather you want to understand than just keep it to yourself and be like, “Oh, my roommate's a crazy person.”" One of the things I hate the most is the stereotype of "crazy," "psychotic," or whatever, 'cause I have definitely been called that by some people.
I feel like, when you are diagnosed with a mental illness, then everything you do comes back to that. It’s like, "Maybe I just felt like being a bitch today, and it has nothing to do with that."
Des: Not actually crazy, just a bitch!
Megan: Exactly. I feel like everyone's like, “Oh, you are acting this way,” or, “You are having a bad day,” it’s because you’re "psychotic" or whatever.
It’s like, "No, I’m just having a bad day like every other person in the world does."
No one has good days all the time.
If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. If you don't like the phone, check out Lifeline Crisis Chat or Crisis Text Line. If you're not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.
Thanks to Tiffany Nash and Amy Burgess, volunteers at the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, a Live Through This partner organization, for providing the transcription for Megan's interview.
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