Escaping an abusive home and domestic violence, Mei had several mental illnesses brewing before she made the decision to attend therapy.
With her eloquence and passion for the mental health community, this beautiful soul truly believes that vulnerability is the key to unlocking stories and reaching perspectives we would never have known.
Read Mei’s empowering story of resilience and empathy below.
Name: Meiyi Kiyoko Angel Wong, a.k.a. “Mei”
Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?
While my mental illnesses had been brewing for years, they made their grand entrance during an extremely stressful, traumatic period in my life—spring 2015. I was nineteen and finally escaping my abusive home, just a year after escaping domestic violence. Living on my own for the first time, attending my second semester of college, working long hours at three jobs, having my sister in psychiatric hospitalization, and trying to separate myself from toxic, dysfunctional relatives pushed me to a breaking point.
I consider myself a fairly eloquent writer, but I don’t have the words to describe how terrifying and overwhelming the onset of mental illness felt for me. I didn’t know much about mental illness then. I just knew that I was different from before, in a bad way. I felt like there was something—everything—wrong with me, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I had been plunged into boiling rapids without knowing how to swim. I was alternately flailing and gasping for air, and sinking beneath the surface. All the while, the noise in my head was the only thing I heard.
I began to suffer from nightmares, so many that I woke up four to five times a night sweating and screaming. I could not bear to be alone. I felt desperately alone, abandoned, and it was like this emptiness within me was suddenly awakened and raging. I felt that the inside of my bones had been eaten away, that I needed to be tethered to something or I would float away. At the same time, I felt immensely heavy. I was having breakdowns almost daily; I don’t remember how I got through that time.
My dad eventually recognized that I was in the midst of a genuine crisis and moved in with me. His support and steady presence helped stabilize me to some extent, but my symptoms were still untreated. I started restricting my food as a coping skill, which would soon take on a life on its own. I would eventually be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and anorexia.
What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?
I don’t know if there was a single resounding moment that changed my mind about getting help, or maybe I don’t remember. It was more the accumulation of everything going on at the time, and realizing that whatever I was doing or not doing, it wasn’t working. I knew that I had to try something different, because I wasn’t living.
Sometime that summer, I told my dad that I wanted to attend therapy. I’d resisted the idea for a long time because of the stigma. I thought that seeking professional help would paint me as the “crazy” person of my family, negating everything that had happened to me. What would it look like if everyone found out that the girl who had claimed to be severely abused was now attending therapy, while the rest of her family (who had denied these claims over and over) were happy, sane, and living their lives? I also didn’t really believe in therapy—the way I saw it at the time, it was paying a stranger to listen to your problems. I told myself that I could just vent to my friends for free if I needed to so badly. In addition, I was and still am fairly reluctant to try new things, and this would be a big change in my routine. But I was out of options, and I figured I should at least give this a shot.
I had absolutely no idea how to start. I found a therapist on the Internet whose office was near my house, dialed the number on the website, and set up an appointment. I saw her for a few months before deciding that she wasn’t a good fit for me. In October, my dad referred me to his work colleague, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in treating trauma. We “clicked” almost instantly, and she’s been my therapist ever since. (I don’t even know how to express how much I love her, even after/because of all we’ve been through…) In December of that year, she arranged for me to be evaluated by a psychiatrist so that I could receive medication. I was also intensely researching trauma and mental health around that time, partially for school and partially for myself. For this reason, I agreed. I already knew that I had multiple illnesses, but I wanted confirmation. I received it, along with a completely unexpected diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.
How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?
My mental illnesses continue to affect every aspect of my life, but they no longer rule it. They’re more like pesky children I have to deal with, draining me of energy, causing my mood to fluctuate, popping in with intrusive thoughts. Unlike children, they do not bring me any joy or fulfillment, and I am working my hardest to eventually eradicate them.
I must battle constantly to function as a “normal” person; I’m aware that there’s no such thing, but I know that life should not be this difficult. Take school, for instance. I’ve fought like hell to earn my Associate’s Degree, and I know that my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees will be even tougher. It’s hard to be a full-time or even part-time student when getting out of bed before noon is a feat of brute mental, emotional, and physical strength. Don’t even mention showering, getting dressed, and transporting myself to class. Taking online classes has helped a lot with that aspect, because I can complete assignments and take tests while lying unwashed in bed at 11 PM in my underwear. However, I still have to study whether the classroom I’m attending is physical or virtual, and that’s another huge challenge. Most of the time, I just want to sleep, and it takes enormous effort to motivate myself to do anything.
My go-to coping skill for studying is to bring my homework to work. I work on it when I have down time on the job or between clients, and due to the stimulating environment I usually get a lot more done than I would at home. Another skill I use, for both school and daily life activities (housekeeping, personal hygiene) is taking advantage of my “bright spots”. Every now and then, I experience a tiny burst of motivated energy amid the days or weeks of MI fog. During these precious few hours, I strive to get as much done as possible that I couldn’t before due to being bogged down by mental illness, or I work ahead to make up for when I’ll be unable to. The time of day can also make a difference for some of us. I’ve found that it’s easiest for me to be productive at night—for some reason, I feel “safer”. While I don’t understand my mind’s reasoning behind this, you bet that come sundown I’ll be sitting at my desk or on the couch furiously typing away on my laptop, taking lecture notes
I’ve also found it helpful to speak to my professors about my mental health issues. Many professors are willing to extend deadlines or provide more flexible coursework options to help struggling students. Because my professors are also social workers, they’ve been especially understanding. But no matter your major, your professors should want to help you succeed and adapt to a way of life that’s stressful and demanding enough for neurotypical students, let alone those facing the added obstacle of mental health issues. It can be hard to be open and honest with professors and other authority figures (bosses, supervisors, etc) about such topics, but I remind myself that they’re human too, and chances are mental illness has touched their lives as well in some form or another.
How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you?
Living with mental illness has benefited my life by helping me to connect with so many others who are suffering from similar, or even dissimilar disorders. I’ve met so many amazing people in the online recovery community, and I’ve grown tremendously not only in matters of mental health but all-around. I am not the same person I was before mental illness. I’ve gained a new layer of depth, of strength, of resilience. I’ve become more empathetic, more human.
Obviously, I wouldn’t ever want or choose to be mentally ill—that would make my life so much easier! But I also wouldn’t want to give up the beautiful friendships and innumerable fleeting heart-bonds I’ve fostered through sharing the experience of mental illness. Having mental illnesses has taught me that vulnerability is the key to unlocking stories, to softening exteriors, to not only seeing but reaching worlds beyond myself and allowing them to reach me. And with that key in hand, I’ve made more meaningful connections in two years than I have in all my previous ones. I anticipate making many more.
What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness?
Reach out. Reach out, even though everything in you wants to withdraw. Reach out, despite believing you don’t deserve support and love. Reach out, because there are others. Not everyone will “get” you, not everyone will make it a priority to be there for you. But once you find those who do, you’ve struck pure gold.
Mental illness is a compulsive, serial liar. It tells each one of its victims that they’re alone, that they’re “freaks”, that no one could possibly grasp what they’re going through, how they think, who they are, and still want to associate with them. Reaching out to the right people, in a safe, accepting, recovery-oriented community (and there are so many out there who wait to welcome you) will free you. Don’t shrink from that light. Run toward it. Or walk. Or whatever you can do to get there and stay there. You don’t have to go this alone. Please, do not go this alone.
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