***** Trigger warning: sexual assault*****
Since she was just 11 years old, Sanya has been combatting suicidal thoughts. Moving from the U.S. to India at a young age, she was forced to adapt to countless changes. Suffering through anxiety with school, depression and sexual assault, Sanya eventually made the decision to focus on her mental health.
Diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, she still has her low days. The difference is, she now has the tools to save herself when slipping. Raising her voice and sharing an important story of strength within the mental health community online, meet Sanya.
Name: Sanya Singh
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?
The first time I thought of committing suicide was when I was 11 years old. My parents had moved us from the US to India and the cultural shock was too much for me to handle. I was bullied in school, I didn’t know the local language and basically everything sucked. While going through puberty I had a lot of angst, I started self-harming and even attempted taking my life multiple times. I thought all this was normal teenage angst. I didn’t realize that this was not the norm. I struggled with body image issues throughout high school, more bullying, erratic relationships and a mess of other things.
I thought going away to college would solve all my problems. I enrolled myself into Boston University. The first semester there, I tried drinking away my sadness. I felt isolated, misunderstood and like my soul was being sucked out of me. Second semester I tried taking several pills, I tell everyone that I stopped because my mom called me but in reality I called her. I didn’t want to die, but I also did? The summer after my second semester I went to a psychiatrist – he diagnosed me with depression and anxiety. I didn’t like him at all, I was defiant and found him to be callous and kind of smug, but I went. They wanted me to start medications but I was resistant, I would skip doses and eventually stopped taking it completely. I went back for a third semester, thinking maybe things would be okay. But they were not.
I started smoking pot everyday. My grades were slipping and I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly. Winter 2011 I went back home and had a major breakdown when it was time to head back to Boston. I think that was finally when my parents realized I needed more help. So I withdrew from college, started going for therapy and Reiki healing. I started feeling better, but I still had a lot of emotions I couldn’t deal with. Therapy helped, but when I started college in Delhi, I stopped therapy. I convinced everyone I was okay, I didn’t feel like my soul was being sucked out, so I must be better. I still had intense mood swings and anxiety attacks but I thought those were just normal now.
Three years of college, with a lot of ups and downs, more self-harm, but all this was kept a secret – to everyone else I was better. I didn’t need medication or therapy anymore, I was over my depression. After I graduated, I took a gap year and was working at an organization and out of nowhere all those thoughts came back.
“I hate this job, maybe I should hurt myself so I can quit. Maybe I should die so I don’t have to deal with this? I am worthless, I am useless.”
I spent hours crying on the bathroom floor wondering “Why am I like this?” I told my parents and they kinda freaked out, but were far more supportive. So I met a new psychiatrist who I loved, and he referred me to a therapist who changed my life. She did a bunch of tests and diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. I loved working with her, she didn’t put up with any of my bullshit. I worked through a lot of issues with her, including some trauma I had faced as a child. I had been sexually abused by my grandfather on visits to India when I was younger. And when my family moved back to India, I had to see him and pretend nothing happened. That was one of the major issues I always struggled with, and even then I didn’t come to peace with it. I spoke to her about my past relationships, one of which was emotionally abusive. I told her about all the issues I had with my body and self-worth.
For a few months I worked on therapy, I was doing well in general. So I decided, “Hey let me apply to grad school!” I did, and got into University of Chicago, which was so unexpected. I was ecstatic, I thought “YAY! I am gonna go to Chicago, it’s gonna be awesome cause I am well now.” I got here, and I thought things would be good. But two months in, I started feeling isolated again. I stopped taking medication, again. I stopped therapy, again. I met this guy, and we were in a “non-relationship,” but I would spend all my time with him. And he would drink and smoke pot a lot, so I would drink and smoke pot a lot. By a lot, I mean five to six times a week. Sometimes, even every single day. I wasn’t eating well; I wasn’t sleeping well.
I went to visit my parents in Malta for Spring break and I had to spend the week sober. I also got news that I had failed a class that week. When I got back to Chicago after that week, I broke down. I spent hours crying and called my uncle and told him I need help. I got to Naperville on Wednesday night and Thursday morning I admitted myself into an In-Patient program. During program, I told myself, listen to what they say, do what they say, tell them what they want to hear. I started medication again and went back to campus. Two weeks in, I still hadn’t made any appointments for therapy, I was taking my medication but wasn’t eating. I was sleeping 14 hours a day. I wasn’t bathing or taking care of myself. I had a presentation in class which I broke down during and I knew I was not ready. I went back to Naperville, and then admitted myself into a Partial-Hospitalization Program. I took a leave of absence and decided that I had to focus only on my mental health.
What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?
I was in class, trying to give a presentation on material I knew, but I was so tongue-tied and anxious that the professor told me to stop talking. That day I knew I had to do something. I didn’t want to suffer my whole life. I wanted to do so much to help so many people, my goal is to become a teacher and I can’t do that if I am not well. I decided I needed to get my shit together.
How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?
The last few months after getting discharged from the program have been relatively easy because I have been spending time with my family. I still have days when I get extremely anxious. I still have days when I worry I won’t be okay or that I am not good enough. There are days when my thoughts overwhelm me and I lay in bed wondering if everything I am doing is wrong. I have my sob-fests. But now, I know what to tell myself, I know that I have to use positive self-talk, that I have to be self-compassionate. I know that I should just ride the wave and let the emotions flow. I’ve been reading a lot about DBT and I have been practicing my skills and they actually help! I never thought they would but they do! I am going back to school in a few weeks, and I know a lot of stressors are going to come my way. But I feel like I have an arsenal ready for all the stuff that life can throw at me. And I know what I have to do if I feel myself slipping. I am also getting a cat, so yay!
How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you?
I think that it has given me the ability to empathize with people. I feel like when you struggle so much in life, you have a little bit of an understanding of other’s struggles. I also know that it has given me strength, if I can survive all the shit I have done to myself, I can survive anything. It has also helped me figure out what I want to do with my life, I feel like I could really use my experiences to help adolescents with their struggles and plan to pursue a career in guidance counseling.
I also think that it has given me a new voice. For a long time, I was silent about my struggles, but recently I have started speaking out through Instagram. The mental health community on Instagram has been so supportive and kind. We all cheer each other on and it is so beautiful to see. Mental illnesses can be so isolating, it is important to see that you are not alone.
What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness?
Do not give up. Things actually can get better.
Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below to be potentially featured on the blog!