The Truth About How 2016 Changed Me

The Truth About How 2016 Changed Me

It has been a tough year, but I am glad to be here.

In 2016, I had no choice but to change or let the year take me down along with everything and everyone else it destroyed. So, I did what I had to do. I changed. After years of trying to cram my big ideas and strong personality into my small, shy life, I finally blossomed. I grew too big for my cramped, unfulfilling existence. So I changed it. How does a reserved, angry girl turn into an open, easy-going woman?

She lets go.

That’s vague, isn’t? What does letting go mean? What does it look like? For me, it was letting go of the judgment from others and the grudges I held against the world for not understanding me, for not listening to me, for not taking me seriously when I needed help. I was angry at my family, my friends, the doctors who misdiagnosed me, the counselors who didn’t have time to treat me, the teachers who didn’t believe in me. It was their fault that I didn’t get the help I needed, right? They should have known. They should have noticed something was wrong. They should have…

But life doesn’t work like that. No one had any way of knowing that I was experiencing symptoms of a mood disorder and schizophrenia. I am not surrounded by psychiatrists. The world does not revolve around me. People didn’t know. They didn’t understand. And that’s okay. I went into 2016 promising myself I would take responsibility for my own health, my own happiness, and my own life.

In 2016, I moved into an apartment in Dahlonega, got engaged, went back to school in the spring, participated in two emotional growth workshops, found free therapy, and did the paperwork to get discounted psychiatric medications. I finally found a medication that kept my hallucinations and delusions away 90% of the time and kept my moods stable for the first time in years. I traveled to Philly for the first time, voted in my first presidential election, was the maid of honor at my sister’s wedding, started my own blog, got published on several different websites, participated in Nanowrimo for the first time, won, and wrote the rough draft of my memoir. Wow. What a year. All because I was tired of waiting for good things to happen, so I made them happen. I chucked the belief of learned helplessness and used my personal power to transform my life.

I’m not saying bad things didn’t happen in 2016. It has definitely been a rough year for many. However, I have grown so much, and I am thankful for this opportunity to grow, live, and experience life, even if it’s scary or uncomfortable at times. 2016 was the year that I took my mental health into my own hands, the year I grabbed the reins of my life and said, “No, I don’t want to go down this road anymore.” I changed course, and it was hard and scary and people doubted me. I doubted me. But, I tried living on my own again, and today marks the day that I have officially lived in Dahlonega longer than I lived in Athens. I’m really doing this. I’m really growing up and getting better.

I switched schools, jobs, homes, and medications so many times that people could barely keep up with me. I was searching for the right fit, trying to force my foot into a shoe that was two sizes too small. My parents wanted me to go to UGA, so I went to UGA. And when I didn’t fit in there, I thought I had failed. Society told me girls must look a certain way, so I did this and that to my face and my hair, wearing clothes that didn't reflect who I am just to look like the person I thought I had to be. Everything I did was just an attempt to get people to like me, to fit in, to gain the respect of others. Who is “August?” I wondered. 2016 was the year that I found out.

I was ashamed of who I was and what I loved to do. I loved to write about my life. But respectable women don’t plaster their secrets all over the internet, right? People told me, “It makes you vulnerable.” They frowned at my shitty poems and shook their heads when I spoke my mind. The truth makes people uncomfortable. My honesty was shocking, and some people still can’t handle it.

And I’m not going to lie. It bothers me. If it didn’t bother me, I wouldn’t be writing about it. But here’s the thing: just because it bothers me that some people don’t like me or think I won’t succeed, doesn’t mean it’s going to stop me anymore. When I was hospitalized in 2015, it was because I thought I had no one. My boyfriend was depressed and occupied with work. My family was busy. My friends were concentrating on school. Even the UGA Counseling Center turned me away. I fell behind in class, made no friends, and I was denied help, unable to find a psychiatrist who could fit me into their busy schedule, much less a free counselor at school. So I ended up in the hospital from self-harm. And instead of looking at how I got there, I blamed other people for letting me end up there.

I remember when the woman told me to take all my clothes off, so she could search me for weapons. I remember her taking me to Ward 2, handing me some socks and a gown, and pointing me to the room I shared with a woman who mostly talked about wanting to shoot her daughter-in-law. How did I get here? I thought. I am not like these people. I do not fit in here. This is not where I’m supposed to be, right? But I thought about the friends I didn’t talk to anymore, the teachers who were too busy to talk to me after class, the counselors who didn’t have room for me on their schedules, my boyfriend who didn’t have time for me and my family who didn’t take my illness seriously. I thought of them and realized that I had been alone all along. I had been alone because I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t tell people something was wrong. Instead, I kept my secrets buried so deep inside, I forgot they were even there until they nearly took my life. I had never felt so low, so undignified, so ashamed of who I was. I’m a schizophrenic, I thought. I can’t hide it anymore. I had no choice but to stop pretending to be normal. I had no choice but to be myself. I had no choice but to change my life.

So I turned around in my hospital bed, and I looked at my roommate with her frizzy red hair.

“Why do you hate your daughter-in-law?” I asked, finally engaging in conversation for the first time since I’d arrived. My roommate smiled, pleased to finally have someone to talk to, instead of just mumbling to herself. I began to participate in the real world little by little, to live outside of my head and the make-believe world it created that had swallowed me up. I no longer stayed in bed all day, but watched TV in the common room with the other patients and held conversations. I went to therapy, talked to people at lunch, and even started asking about gym privileges.

I thought I had no one, that nobody cared about me, but I had shut everyone out, pushed everyone away, and then blamed them for not being there for me. Here I was, alone, defenseless and cold in this thin hospital gown. It was time that I start building my life back up. It was time that I create a life around me instead of inside of me. It was time that I take responsibility for my own happiness.

And that’s what I did in 2016. I called doctors, nurses, therapists, insurance companies, and schools until I found the people and the places that felt right for me. I enrolled at a new school, I made new friends and rebuilt old friendships. I found free therapy. I apologized to friends and family, but I also spoke my mind after censoring myself for so long. I spoke my truth, sharing my “scary” and “embarrassing” diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder with the world. I had tried to live a life of pretending to be who I thought people wanted me to be. I tried to be the pretty girl, the smart girl, the polite girl. And it wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be so much more than just a shade of myself. I wanted to be everything inside: curious, funny, blunt, dedicated, passionate. I began to learn who “August” really is.

In 2016, I began to live an honest and open life. I began to share the pain that I had hidden for so long, and I met people who felt the same. Schizophrenia can be an isolating and terrifying illness. I was tired of living in silent fear. I knew that I wasn’t going to survive unless I pressed my fingers to the piano keys and turned my suffering into something meaningful. I found a purpose for my pain, and I found myself in the process. And here I am; the real me. I am August, and I love to write. I have short brown hair, and I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not. I like sweets, hot wings, Elyn R. Saks, Augusten Burroughs, Yoni Wolf, Shameless, and comfy clothes. I am real, and I have flaws. I won’t graduate college with the rest of my high school graduating class, and I’m still figuring out my career. But I have said goodbye to the people and things that don’t accept me or empower me.

In 2016, I decided that I wanted to live. I said yes to life. It has been a tough year, but I am glad to be here. I am glad to experience life, even with bumps in the road. And I know now that I deserve to be here. I will not change who I am to please others. I will not hide who I am because my illness isn’t “polite.” You can say “yes” or “no” to me. You can talk behind my back. You can say anything you want. And it hurts. But it also fuels me. It makes me write faster, harder, better. Because I will prove you wrong. You can say “no” to me, my blog, my book, my boyfriend, whatever you want, but you cannot keep me from living the life I was meant to live.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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A Senior's Last Week Of High School

The bittersweet end.

Well, this is it. This is what we've worked so hard the last four years - who am I kidding - basically what seems like our whole lives for. This is the very last week we will set foot as a student in our high school's hallways. As most schools are getting ready to set their seniors free at last, it all begins to set in - the excitement, the anxiousness, and also the sentiment and nostalgia.

For seniors, the years since our first day as a freshman at the bottom of the high school totem pole have seemed endless, but as we look back on these last few weeks, we realize that this year in particular has gone by extraordinarily fast. It was just yesterday that we were sitting in our classrooms for the very first time, going to our 'last first' practice, and getting our first taste of the (very real) "senioritis". With all that's going on in our lives right now, from sports and clubs, finals, and the sought after graduation ceremony, it's hard to really sit down and think about how our lives are all about to become drastically different. For some it's moving out, and for some it's just the thought of not seeing your best friend on the way to fourth period English; either way, the feels are real. We are all in a tug of war with the emotions going on inside of us; everything is changing - we're ready, but we're not.

THE GOOD. Our lives are about to begin! There is a constant whirlwind of excitement. Senior awards, getting out of school early, parties, and of course Graduation. We are about to be thrust into a world of all new things and new people. Calling our own shots and having the freedom we have so desperately desired since the teenage years began is right around the corner. Maybe the best part is being able to use these new things surrounding you to grow and open your mind and even your heart to ideas you never could before. We get the chance to sink or swim, become our own person, and really begin to find ourselves.

Things we don't even know yet are in the works with new people we haven't even met yet. These friendships we find will be the ones to last us a lifetime. The adventures we experience will transform into the advice we tell our own children and will become the old tales we pass down to our grandkids when they come to visit on the weekends. We will probably hate the all night study sessions, the intensity of finals week, and the overpowering stress and panic of school in general, just like we did in high school... But it will all be worth it for the memories we make that will outlive the stress of that paper due in that class you absolutely hate. As we leave high school, remember what all the parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors are telling you - this are the best times of our lives!

THE BAD. The sentimental emotions are setting in. We're crying, siblings are tearing up, and parents are full-out bawling. On that first day, we never expected the school year to speed by the way it did. Suddenly everything is coming to an end. Our favorite teachers aren't going to be down the hall anymore, our best friends probably won't share a class with us, we won't be coming home to eat dinner with our families...

We all said we wanted to get out of this place, we couldn't wait, we were ready to be on our own; we all said we wouldn't be "so emotional" when the time came, but yet here we are, wishing we could play one more football game with our team or taking the time to make sure we remember the class we liked the most or the person that has made us laugh even when we were so stressed we could cry these past few years. Take the time to hug your parents these last few months. Memorize the facial expressions of your little sister or brother. Remember the sound of your dad coming home from work. These little things we take for granted every day will soon just be the things we tell our college roommate when they ask about where we're from. As much as we've wanted to get out of our house and our school, we never thought it would break our heart as much as it did. We are all beginning to realize that everything we have is about to be gone.

Growing up is scary, but it can also be fun. As we take the last few steps in the hallways of our school, take it all in. Remember, it's okay to be happy; it's okay to be totally excited. But also remember it's okay to be sad. It's okay to be sentimental. It's okay to be scared, too. It's okay to feel all these confusing emotions that we are feeling. The best thing about the bittersweet end to our high school years is that we are finally slowing down our busy lives enough to remember the happy memories.

Try not to get annoyed when your mom starts showing your baby pictures to everyone she sees, or when your dad starts getting aggravated when you talk about moving out and into your new dorm. They're coping with the same emotions we are. Walk through the halls remembering the classes you loved and the classes you hated. Think of the all great times that have happened in our high school years and the friends that have been made that will never be forgotten. We all say we hated school, but we really didn't. Everything is about to change; that's a happy thing, and a sad thing. We all just have to embrace it! We're ready, but we're not...

Cover Image Credit: Facebook

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My Dead Friend, Tony: Second Half

Twenty-six year old Mary is trying to make it big in the radio industry, despite the chaos from living with a middle-aged, raging alcoholic man who also happens to be dead.


After sobbing for a couple of hours in the gas station parking lot, which had become one of my new pastimes, I guess I drove to the beach. I don't remember getting there, or being there. I must have gone swimming, because the next morning I woke up to wet clothes and chattering teeth. Chocolate was smeared on my face. I was grateful that I ended up in my car with all of the doors locked. Even through my complete dissociation, at least I considered personal safety.

I wanted a hot shower, so I drove home. I wasn't the least bit surprised when I walked through the door and saw Tony sitting casually in the armchair, drink in hand, with no pants on.

"What happened to you?" he said.

I ignored him and went straight to the bathroom. "I'm taking a shower, don't bother me." I said before slamming the door.

For once, Tony let me shower in peace. Maybe he could tell I was finally at the end of my rope. Maybe he felt bad. So bad that he left for good, and I could go back to having a clean apartment, or not cry every hour. I let the hot water burn my skin until I turned into a lobster.

I got out of the shower and put on my pink fuzzy robe. I opened the bathroom door as the hot steam rolled around me as if I were an evil villain entering from the depths of hell. I turned the corner and jumped. He was still there. I'll never get used to seeing a grown man sitting in a dark corner, lounging in his underwear.

"So, I listened to your answering machine while you were out of town. Your boss called," he said.

"I told you not to do that anymore." I glared.

"I can't help it, Mary. The messages play automatically!"

"Plug your fucking ears, then!"

"Where's the fun in that?" He chuckled.

Anxiety jolted through me like a tranquilizer. Oh yeah, that's right, I have a job at the local radio station. I totally forgot. And I'm expected to be at this job five days out of the week with written material: public service announcements, pop-culture segments, sports commentaries, what have you. The station was small and run-down enough to where I had to write everything myself, because my boss couldn't afford to hire anyone else, although the tech-guys helped me every now and then.

I didn't even know what day it was. I sank into my bed. Barney was propped up on my pillow, good as new. How'd Tony get his hands on a sewing kit?

"What did he say?" I asked softly.

Tony handed me his drink. A whiskey sour. I took a sip. I couldn't understand where he got his alcohol in the first place, since I never bought any for him.

"Hmm, well, he said if you don't show up tomorrow, you're fired."

"Cool. Anything else?"

Tony nodded and ran his fingers through his hair. He looked at me gently and smiled. A tear ran down his face. Why was he acting like a dad from an after school special?

"He said you're one of the best writers on the team, and he doesn't know why you're throwing that away."

"It's all your fault, that's why. I'm going insane because of you," I said.

"I know. I'm sorry, Mary, I really am."

He got up from the armchair and made me a drink of my own. I don't think he realized that as a former addict, alcohol wasn't really the best thing for me to have. But I appreciated the gesture. I took it, since everything else was going to shit. He sat back down and beamed at me.

"I have an idea, Mary," he said.

I scoffed. "You have an idea?"

"Yep. And I think it's a pretty damn good one, if I do say so myself." He took a sip of his drink and blotted his moustache. I waited. He took a deep breath and exhaled.

"So, you're failing at your job. That's okay, we've all been there." He laughed.

"And, I like to think I'm a pretty interesting guy. Charming, you could even say . . ." He stirred the drink in his hand. I watched as the brown liquid and ice clinked against the glass. "Charming" wouldn't exactly be the word I would describe him as, but I let it go for the time being.

"Okay, so?" I said.

"Don't you see?!" he exclaimed. I shook my head no.

"Mary! Write a segment on me!!!" He shot up from the chair and paced across the room, his hands flying every which way.

"You can talk about what it's like living with a ghost, such as myself. I really do put ya through the ringer, huh? You can interview me. Hell, we could even have our own radio show!" He clapped his hands together. I sat in silence. He looked down at our puke-stained carpet and twiddled his thumbs.

"I thought too, ya know, it'd be something we could do together. Something fun. It'd sure beat goin' at each other's throats all the time, don't ya think?" He smiled again.

I mulled his idea over in my head. The thought of presenting this to my boss made me want to throw-up. "Yeah, hey Bill, sorry I haven't come to work in I don't know how many days. I got this cool idea though, about this dead guy living in my apartment I could interview. He's pretty charming!"

And how would this work, even? It's not like Tony could come to the office with me. Or . . . could he? He'd never mentioned anything about leaving the apartment. But then again, where were all his booze coming from?

I took another sip of my drink and tried to picture doing a show with him; what that would even look like. It would be funny, probably. He had his moments. It could be philosophical, too, if he wanted to talk about what dying was like and what happens to you after the fact. Scientists and psychic mediums everywhere would eat this shit up.

Holy shit. Maybe Tony was onto something. This drunk lunatic could actually help me out. This could potentially be the perfect scenario. Doing a radio show with an actual dead person? It would be groundbreaking! It would be the talk of the town or the entire world, even. What if I made money from this? What if everyone who's ever doubted me would finally believe me? MethHead Mary was telling the truth after all! I'm not crazy!!!

A smile formed on my face.

"Okay, fine," I said.

Tony leaped in the air from excitement, giggling like a schoolgirl. The whole apartment shook. He started pacing again and muttering to himself. I'd never seen a purer side of him before. It was almost cute.

I guess I was helping him, too, in a way. I didn't know what it was like to die or be dead. I'd never asked him. It was probably lonely. Maybe that's why he drank all the time. Maybe having a platform to talk about it was something he'd wanted.

"Cheers to that!" he said.

We clinked our drinks together. He downed his in one gulp and made another, then downed that one, too. I went in the kitchen to grab some notepads and pens, and brought them out to the living room. I sipped my drink. We sat cross-legged on the floor and bounced ideas into the wee hours of the morning.

The sun eventually rose and I got ready for work, which meant pulling my hair up and putting on pants that were not flannel pajamas. Tony was passed out on the floor, snoring. I smiled. I put a blanket over my dead friend and walked out the door, hoping to God that I still had a job.

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