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When I was growing up, people would say bad things about people with mental illnesses. They would treat them like uninvited, unwanted beings. I did this too when I was a kid, at least until I turned fifteen. That was the year my life changed forever.

I remember my first breakdown so vividly. There I was, about to go to sleep. I brushed my teeth, made my bed and was ready to dream beautiful things. But then I saw a dark figure in front me. I closed my eyes and opened them again. I remember being scared, and sweating. I didn’t believe in ghosts, but I thought that maybe God was trying to change my mind. I held onto my blankets like a shield. I was still sweating as the figure came closer, and closer, until we met eye to eye. He looked exactly like me, except that he had eyes as yellow as the sun, almost frog-like. His skin was as grey as the ashes of the dead and he wore clothes as dark as the heart of a murderer. He leaned towards me and said, “I’m your friend. I’m the only friend you’ll ever have in your life.” I burst into tears and cried until I fell asleep.

The next day I woke up thinking that it was just a bad dream. But I kept seeing the figure day after day, month after month, and year after year. We conversed a lot. Sometimes I ignored him, other times I didn’t. Finally I realized that he wasn’t a ghost. He was something else, something from another world. I kept it to myself, never telling anyone about my so-called friend.

"You may be different and that’s okay, because that’s what is so lovely about you. You are you."
It was a hard way to live, but I didn’t want people to know. I didn’t want them to think I was crazy. I got scared a lot, and I hated myself growing up. I didn’t know how to make friends, and I wasn’t much to look at either. So I kept things to myself. I drew, I listened to music, I read. I lived in my own world with an uninvited friend. But he wasn’t that much of a friend either; he just came and went, like everyone else. And the voices. God, the fucking voices. It hurt. It fucking hurt, but still, I kept things to myself. If I told people, I’d be treated like I was crazy, and I didn’t want that.

I told myself I was normal. “Liar! You’re a psycho!” the voices would say. “I’m not,” I told them. “I’m normal.” They would respond, “You’re a liar and a hypocrite. You’ll die a miserable death.” I cried so much. But I’d had enough. After five years in the dark, I had enough. I told my parents everything. They didn’t believe me, of course, but I convinced them. I went to see a psychiatrist and was diagnosed as a schizophrenic.

I rely on meds to keep breakdowns and panic attacks at bay and to stop seeing my “friend.” Thank God, I am better than who I was five years before. I want people out there to know that it’s okay to have a mental illness and that you don’t have to keep living in the dark. You can come out, live, breathe, and make amazing things out of your life. You may be different and that’s okay, because that’s what is so lovely about you. You are you. You don’t have to keep battling your life alone. You can do it with a friend, or anyone at all. The voices aren't bigger than you. The pain isn't bigger than you. Those demons on your back are scared of you. You can fight the hard fight.