We became acquainted when I was only 12 years old. I can’t remember why you began visiting in the first place but I never anticipated you would grow to become so dangerous. At first the visits weren’t frequent. You would sit at the edge of my bed in silence as I felt defeated after a long day. You were pessimistic and shy, just like me, so I let you stay.

The visits became more frequent. You began following me like a shadow throughout the day. I was fragile and you convinced me that I didn’t have any friends — so I began skipping school to spend time with you. As time went on, I found myself fulfilling all of your requests even if they left me drained and isolated from everyone else. Despite how badly I wanted you to leave, I didn’t have enough strength to make you. No one else seemed to notice how much your presence consumed me.

You went from convincing me to skip school to convincing me to physically hurt myself. It started as one or two cuts, but would turn into a habit that I could not break until graduating high school. I really wanted to join cheerleading, but you had also convinced me to stop eating. You can’t perform a routine when you can’t remember the last time you’ve eaten. I’ve also learned it is difficult to wear a sleeveless uniform when you cannot show your arms.

Frail, vulnerable and broken — you convinced me to endure abuse at the hands of someone I cared for but who did not care for me. You made me act like the people my mother warned me about as a child. I began to open the door of my bedroom to anyone I could find with hopes that maybe just one of them would hold my hand as I began to sink. Everyone I cared for had left in fear or had been pushed away at your hands. There wasn’t anyone left except you. I could not fathom the thought of you leaving because without you, who was I? I thought things would never get better, and I truly thought that because of you, I would not live to see my high school graduation.

But then after years of torment, something began to grow inside of me. As impossible as it once seemed, things began to look up. Instead of waging wars with you each morning, I began to make decisions for myself. I cut all my hair off because we looked too alike for comfort. Food was not the enemy anymore, you were. The wounds on my wrist would become a battlefield of scars that represented the war I found against you. These were only small steps, but they were the start of a recovery. Your constant presence turned into weekly visits, then monthly and so on.

That was a long time ago and these days I don’t hear from you too often. Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I can still see you as I once did. Your eyes are vacant, your hands are shaky and you have a difficult time speaking anymore. The damage you have done cannot be erased, but I have built a new life on top of it. Through missed opportunities and lost adolescent years, I have learned to forgive you. I am capable of loving everything about myself that I once hated, and that includes you. You are part of my story and the person I once was when suffering through these years of mental illness. You spent years trying to kill me, but you failed. Unbeknownst to you, I graduated high school with every chance at success. My life is beautiful, thriving and alive — just like me. Some days are harder than others and sometimes I just need a hand to hold, but never again will it be yours.