I have wanted to start blogging for a while now. I created this blog almost a month ago, hoping that by now it would be filled with wise words, poignant posts, and beautiful stories. As you can see, this is not the case. I’ve been stuck trying to find the “perfect first post,” that magical combination of words that would attract readers and say everything I wanted to say. After nights of googling “how to make your first blog post” and lying in bed trying to find the right words to say, I have come to a realization…
I sure don’t. My life has, thus far, been filled with so much worry and anxiety. I’m always worried about what people of think about me, what people will say, what people will do if they find out. I created this blog in hopes of sharing my stories, my laughter, my joys, my sorrows, and my pains. I created this blog because I’m tired of hiding. I’m tired of not being able to express myself because of the fear that’s been holding me back. If you care to continue on reading, I’ve decided that it is time to share my story. I’ve always said that these things happened to me so that I could help those who are going through the same things. But, let’s be real, how can I expect myself to help others if I cannot even find the courage to share my feelings and my story? It’s time to change that.
My name is CJ Ochoco. I have clinical depression. This is my story.
I can’t believe I just wrote that. At this very moment, my heart is beating fast and my hands are shaking. I’m highly tempted to just close this document, shut off my laptop, and forget about this blogging thing. I’m scared. I’m afraid of sharing the things that need to be shared. I don’t know if I can do this. But, you know what? I must. I need to do this. Ultimately, I need to do this for myself. I need to defeat the fear that has weighed me down for so long. I will not let this disease overpower me.
I’ve also come to a point in my life where I’ve realized that hiding my feelings isn’t helping me. It isn’t helping anyone. I think part of the stigma surrounding depression and mental illnesses is that people are so afraid to talk about it. I know I am. I’m not saying that we should all stamp our illnesses on our foreheads or demand that Facebook create an option that says “In a Relationship with my Depression.” I just know that for me, personally, I need to share my story. I think I’ve said that about 20 times now, but honestly, I’m still convincing myself that’s what I need to do. It is. It really is. Okay, enough rambling. It’s time to get to it.
If I think about it, there are so many places to start. I guess we can start with the moment I first picked up a box cutter and wrote my feelings on my skin. It was my senior year of high school, almost 5 years ago. I can’t even remember why I was upset, to be honest. All I remember was that I was upset, I saw the box cutter, and then at that moment, I became a cutter. Obviously, I’m not going to call this the “magic moment” my depression began, but it’s a pretty good place to start. I won’t go into the details, but from that moment, my struggle with self-injury began. (SIDE NOTE: Now I’ve heard all the arguments about how people who self-injure just want attention, blah, blah, blah. I’m just going to say this now: this is not the case. We can get more into that later. Regardless, self-injury is a real issue, and if you or someone you know is struggling with it, don’t write it off. Get help.)
I was 17, a senior in high school, and I was addicted. I was addicted to inflicting physical pain upon myself in order to deal with the emotional pain, the stress, and just life in general. I’d like to note that I have had far from a terrible life. I have grown up on this beautiful island of Guam surrounded by loving family and friends. All my life, I have been blessed beyond measure. Unfortunately, my depression didn’t care about any of that. Depression strikes whether you live in a mansion or on the streets, whether you like it or not. That’s just the way it works.
I spent the rest of my senior year struggling on and off with self-injury, refusing to get any professional help, and inflicting frustration and grief to those close to me. I began seeing my counselor at school, and things were looking up. I decided to attend college at Azusa Pacific University, a small Christian university about an hour away from downtown Los Angeles. I spent the summer after my high school graduation falling in love with my island again and again. Then, in September of 2009, I left to study pre-med in California, one of two places I said I would never move to (the second place is Florida, in case you were wondering).
Right, well, let’s get back on track. The first semester there was amazing. I made new friends, I did well in all my classes, and I was having fun. There were a couple self-injury incidents here and there, but it seemed like I was doing so much better. My life was in motion. I had my classes planned out up until graduation. Four years at APU, then off to med-school. That was the plan. And of course, as most stories go, things didn’t go according to plan.
I started to doubt my desire to be a doctor. Yes, I was excelling in my classes. I had amazing grades, and I was doing really well. I began to question if I really wanted to become a doctor, or if I just wanted to please the masses and make money while I was it. So, in the spirit of “discovering” myself during college, I spent my spring semester taking different classes on different topics to see what I really wanted to do. I guess this is the part of the story where I’d say “and that’s when things started going downhill.”
I started cutting again. A lot. I’d break light bulbs, glass deodorant bottles, mirrors, anything. My friends were a huge beacon of support at this time, even forcing me to see the school therapist. It helped. A little. I told them that I was not suicidal. I wasn’t stupid. I had a great life. The cutting was just my way of coping with the stress and the pressures. Some people had alcohol, some people had drugs, some people had writing, and some people had sports. Me? I had cutting. At least, that’s what I thought.
On the afternoon of April 30, 2010, I broke. Alone in my dorm room, I pulled out bottles of medicine I still had from when I had the stomach flu. One by one, I swallowed the pills, hoping to end my life. I was tired of being tired. By the 9th one, I freaked out. I realized that I didn’t want to do. As I looked around my room, I saw the pictures of my family, friends, and youth group. I zoomed in on two pictures: one of my little sister and I, who was at ten at the time, and one of my youth group. Even if I was so unhappy with my life at that very moment, I couldn’t bear the thought of my sister growing up knowing that her older sister killed herself, or of my youth group finding out that one of their best friends had committed suicide. At that point, I had read enough books, watched enough movies, and heard enough stories of how hard it was for the family and friends of someone who committed suicide. I could do it to myself, but I couldn’t do it to them.
I’m already on my third page of this word document, so let me speed things up a bit. Long story short, I ended up being put on a “5150.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with California law, this meant that I was put on a 72-hr psychiatric hold in a mental facility because I was perceived to be a danger to myself or others. Basically, I was thrown in the loony bin.
I spent five days in an adult acute psychiatric ward. It was only meant for short stays. My companions were others who were put on 5150s for their own personal reasons. There were also some alcoholics and drug addicts who were detoxing, and this was their first stop before heading to rehab. The time I spent there, the people I met there, and the stories that were shared are things that I can never forget, and I will always hold them close to my heart. After growing up in an extremely sheltered environment, literally in religious private schools all my life, this was a shocker. But, it changed my life.
I think I’ll skip over my time there. There’s so much to tell, that I’d rather save it for a future blog post. I think it deserves that much. This was the first time that I was diagnosed with clinical depression. It finally had a name. Thanks to the help of my fellow patients, the various medical professionals, my family, and my friends, I made it out, feeling refreshed, renewed, and of course, drugged up. (I first refused to go on anti-depression medications, but some friendly people warned me that the more I refused the medication, the longer they could keep me there. PS: I’m joking about the “drugged up” part. Well, technically, I was drugged up on anti-depression meds, but I now realize I needed it at that time.)
After, I finished off the semester, I went home, and life continued. I think one of the hardest parts after that event was telling those close to me what had happened. Thankfully, no one shunned me, but rather, I was offered a myriad of support from all my loved ones. I spent the summer relaxing and taking time for myself. I headed off back to Azusa for summer school, ready to catch up on my science classes so I could continue in the fall on my pre-med track. But of course, I hit a speed bump. If I hadn’t, I’d probably be in med school right now. Obviously, I’m not (which isn’t a bad thing, but we will get to that later).
I was in my apartment alone, and the depression attacked yet again. I pulled out whatever medicine I could find lying around, but as the pills hit my mouth, I stopped myself. I spit them out, flushed them in the toilet, and I found my roommate. I got helped, and I checked myself back into the same mental hospital that I resided in about two months from that day. It was mental hospital visit #2, but this time, I was there willingly. I spent about two to three days there, gathering my bearings and figuring out what I needed to do. The answer was clear: go home.
And so, I did.
In the fall of 2010, my life took a drastic turn, and I began attending the University of Guam, undecided on my major. My friends and my family supported me during this transition. Of course, there were “incidents.” A lot of them. There were fights, crying, screaming matches, you name them. Even though I was home again and not thousands of miles away, the depression still had a hold on me. In the two years that followed, so many things happened.
I started doing theatre again, and I first met the people who are now my closest and best friends, practically even family at this point. I grew as a person. Like I said, the incidents continued. I ended up at the mental hospital a third time (the story of the state of the Guam Mental Health Department is another long story for another time). My psychiatrist began putting me on different medicines in an attempt to find that “perfect” combination to keep me sane. I was placed on anti-psychotics along with my anti-depression meds. I started to gain so much weight, but that’s another story (I know I say that a lot, but whatever). I regularly saw a therapist at the UOG Isa Psychological Center (an amazing program, by the way). Even still, the incidents continued. The depression raged on.
During the summer of 2011, in the backroom of the store that I worked at, I tried to kill myself for the fourth (and what I had hoped to be the final) time. I took the pills and continued on working, hoping that it would all take effect soon. Then, something that I can only deem as “divine” happened. The head of the UOG Isa Psychological center walked right into the store. He probably doesn’t even remember me, and I won’t mention any names, but he saved my life that day. My heart was pounding, but I knew I sign when I saw one. I walked up to him and told him what I had done to myself. He immediately dropped what he was doing and took me to the emergency room to get help.
If you’ve been following along, you probably know what happened next. I ended up at the mental hospital for the fourth and final time (when I say final, I mean it). At this point, my family and friends were so angry at me. They were tired of it. I was too. I was tired of the back and forth, of the padded walls, the confinement, and the pain. I was sick of this game, and I was sick of letting the depression win. My therapist visited me as often as she could, helping me develop a plan to fight this. The psychologist who took me to the hospital visited me too, and he gave me “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, which to this day, is one of my favorite books. I still have that copy he gave me. During that stay, I realized that the core of my depression came because I wasn’t happy with myself. I hated myself.
That was it for me. I was done. I picked myself back up, and I decided to fight. I wanted to fight for my life, and I did. The months that followed were not easy. I was worn down and beaten, but I kept on going. That fall of 2011, I found where I needed to be. I became a theatre major. I joined a group of people who were just as certifiably insane as I was, people who accepted me for who I was. I began dating my boyfriend, who knew my past and my struggles yet still wanted to be with me. My family and I began to work on what we needed to. Our relationships grew better and grew stronger. I began to take a journey towards “self-love” and “self-acceptance.” Things were looking up, and this time, I’m not going to continue the story with “and that’s when it all went downhill.”
I’m not saying that because things have been perfect these past two years. They haven’t. I’ve just had a perspective change of sorts. That October of 2011, I “fell off the wagon,” and I cut myself. I didn’t cut myself again until July 3, 2012. It’s been 593 days since that day. One year, 7 months, and 12 days. Now, let me be clear. Not all of these days were perfect. I did get off the majority of my medicines, though I am still on one of my anti-depressants. I sometimes still spend nights crying over my body issues and the random things that plague my mind. I get tempted to cut, just to see if it will still help. I’m winning this battle against depression, but it is still a battle nonetheless.
What I am about to admit now is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to write thus far. Three hours ago, before I started writing this post, I attempted to cut myself again. It’s funny because I’ve had nights where I’ve been so low, and today, I wasn’t even that upset. I was stressed out over some things, but they aren’t monumental, life changing-things. Still, today was the day it finally happened. I cut myself again. Right before the mirror shard hit my skin, all I could think was “oh great, after this, I’ll be back to day zero. Is it worth it? Yes.”
As I started with a handful of shallow cuts on my upper thigh, I stopped.
And I laughed.
I didn’t laugh because I have some morbid obsession with pain and blood. I laughed because the cutting did nothing for me. It didn’t hold the same power over me as before. It didn’t help. The short few seconds I was inflicting pain on myself, all I could think was “What am I even doing? This isn’t helping. I don’t need this anymore. I haven’t needed it for over a year and a half. I’d rather be playing guitar right now or even writing.” With a smile on my face and tears in my eyes, I threw the mirror into my trashcan (I missed and had to pick it up anyways, but whatever).
I lay in bed after, and contemplated what this meant. I realized something. I am not at day zero. I am still at day 593. It’s been 593 days since I cut to make myself better. It’s been 593 days since cutting “helped” me. On July 3, 2014, I will STILL celebrate with my loved ones the two year anniversary of me giving up cutting. Today does not mark “day zero since I last cut.” Today marks “day zero of when I finally, for the last time, realized I no longer need to cut to make myself feel better.”
I am not a cutter. I am a survivor. I am an OVERCOMER.
I’ve decided to share all this with you because, in my heart, I knew it had to be shared. For the past two or so years, I’ve been so afraid to tell people how I feel because I’m afraid I’m just a phone call away from getting sent back the mental hospital. It is my worst fear. I’d rather hide what I’m going through than get sent back. I’m afraid to be trapped, to be confined, and to be defeated. But I am no longer afraid. Yes, I’ve had my moments, but I am no longer under the power of my cutting and of my depression. Today showed me that. Today showed me that I am stronger than my disease.
This post isn’t meant to be a “look at me! I have depression! Feel sorry for me” post. It’s not even a “I’m so proud because I’m awesome and I overcame things” post (Hopefully it isn’t “this girl is crazy, I’m never speaking to her” post either). This is post is exactly what it is. It’s my story. It’s a story that quite a few people know already, and now, if you’ve read this far, you know too. I hope to use this blog to help me express my thoughts and feelings. I hope to use this blog to show those that are struggling with depression and mental illnesses that they are not alone. I hope to use this blog to give hope. I want to use my experiences to help others, and I hope to use this blog as a starting point to do just that.
I’ve been hiding my past and my depression for too long, because I am afraid of what people will think of me. I realize now that this is nothing to be ashamed of. Depression can happen to anyone, and it really does affect so many. It’s time to stop stigmatizing mental illnesses just because we don’t understand it. It’s time to open up and accept that we are human. We are broken, we are flawed, and we are vulnerable. There is nothing wrong with admitting that you are suffering. It’s time to get real with each other. I’m choosing today to share my story with you, in hopes that others will begin sharing their stories too. The first step in fighting this battle against depression, against mental illness, and against the stigma surrounding it all is admitting it and accepting it. We are all in this together. We don’t have to hide anymore.
My name is CJ Ochoco.
I am NOT my disease. I am NOT my depression. I am NOT a cutter.
I am broken, flawed, and vulnerable. I am beautiful, I am worthy, and I am loved.
I am ME.
I am Girl, Uninhibited.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression or thoughts of suicide, please do not hesitate to seek help. If you need someone to talk to, I’m here for you. Talk to someone. There are many resources available. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be ashamed. You are beautiful, you are worthy, and you are loved.