While there could be a whole tome the size of the DSM to chronicle all the mental illness-tinged happenings in the life of Mary L. Sukala, that, to me, speaks as much to who I am as the fact that I weighed less than three pounds when I was born (another story for another day–I’m a preemie and triplet). It’s my medical history, nothing more. So for this piece, I’m zeroing in on what my mental health experience has ultimately made me: a mental health advocate by way of writing.
My freshman year of high school was not an easy one. The bipolar disorder and anxiety that had been lurking in the background up to that point finally decided to slink out of the woodwork. Every morning in gym class, my heart rate would skyrocket, sending me into the most severe panic attacks. By afternoon, the mood swings would march in. I would literally bounce up and down in the line for lunch, then skip on the way back to class, and crash right around Algebra, two periods later.
I was desperate for an outlet, a way to siphon some of this pain out of my chest. So I started writing poetry. I showed my first poem, “Depression,” to some of my friends and they loved it.I posted my poetry online in a Teen’s poetry site and it resonated with the few faithful readers I managed to garner. Almost every poem was centered on what I was going through: the psychosis, the anxiety, the mood swings and disordered eating. It was just a natural subject; something I knew I needed to speak about or it would surely kill me.
Since I stumbled upon Marya Hornbacher’s Wasted, I had been an insatiable reader of the mental health memoir. Thus the desire that welled up in me around the age of 17 to write my own memoir was no surprise. I had gone through an ample amount of life by that point, and had acquired more than enough experiences to compile into a book. But even in my eagerness to pen my own book, I realized that I lacked the wisdom and insight needed to create a memoir worth reading, so I settled for a blog under a pen name instead.
I wasn’t particularly good at blogging at that point. I hadn’t grown into my writing voice yet and I didn’t understand the technical side of constructing a post. But I had something to say, a passion that shone through the poorly crafted scrawlings. Over the course of a few months, I put up everything from short musings to lengthy tangents on a variety of mental health topics to snippets of my latest poetry. My readership was sparse, but every so often someone said I had touched them, made them think, and made them feel less alone. It sparked a fire in me.
Two years later and leagues more prepared, I started up a new blog as a means of helping others who were struggling called The Deep End Diaries. It reached a wider scope of readers than my first one, and over the year and a half that I have kept it running, I have collected a whole host of notes from people saying that it gave them hope or inspiration or even just a laugh when they needed it the most.
I went to college for a few months following high school graduation and wrote for the student-run newspaper. I discovered that I had a knack for entertainment writing. I covered movies, music, television, new literature—you name it. But none of this felt like it could make an impact, and my heart still tugged me to the one subject in which I found endless muses. My last story was on Patrick Roche’s “Perfect Panic Attack” slam poem, true to my niche of choice.
While I was away from home, full-blown psychosis slammed into my world. I checked myself into the hospital twice in a two-month span. This forced me to withdraw before the semester ended because I couldn’t catch up on all the work. Turning lemons into lemonade, the experience gave me more self-awareness that in turn sharpened my personal writing skills.
Since leaving traditional school in the dust, I have written for The Mighty and xoJane about my experience with mental illness. Commenters often nod in appreciation and understand my thoughts all too well. I have adopted the role of “mental health advocate,” and it’s one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my short life. It takes all of the psychological grime and makes it art. There’s nothing more exciting and rewarding than that for me. I’m going to start taking online classes towards an English degree this fall, and I intend to continue growing my writing career and doing my best to connect with people who have no one who understands the crushing pain wrought by their psychological ailments.
These nine hundred-odd words do not contain even a large percentage of my full story. But the moral of this tale is more important than the infinite scenes I have left out: there is value underneath all the dirt. I am here with a steady heartbeat and hundreds of ideas waiting to be released into the wild.
Despite all of the pain that mental illness has sown in my life, it has deepened my empathy and made me the compassionate, understanding person I am today with millions of moments in my arsenal that I can write about to help other people in a similar situation. To trade even a smidgeon of it could easily mean deleting dozens of documents off the face of the earth. More importantly, it would mean that a handful of people might not have felt that kindred spirit they found when they read my work. And it is because of this that I wouldn’t give up my skirmishes. Not for the world.
By: Mary Sakula, AiT Contributor
ATTENTION! Are you currently a college student and passionate about reducing the stigma of mental health? We’re opening our Summer program soon! Apply here: http://anxietyinteens.org/write-for-us/