Mental illness has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It made its first appearance in my life at the age of ten, when I was bullied through Grade 4 of primary school. But I didn’t know what anxiety or depression was or how it worked. How was I supposed to know that my own brain could cause so much damage?

I next met depression when I witnessed my sister going to the hospital for treatment as I woke up for school. I couldn’t have predicted what Mum was going to say when I got home, nor could I have prepared myself for the knowledge of what my sister had been fighting all alone. Immediately I thought it was my fault, that I annoyed her too much or that I’d made her angry. I just didn’t understand. I used to spend nights crying, asking why she didn’t want to be around me, why she wanted to leave me and why I couldn’t make her feel better. I couldn’t find any answers.

Years went by and it felt my world was snowballing. I felt so much pressure to fit in, to be smart, to have the best body, hairstyles, clothes. To be the best at everything. I’m not going to lie, I was (and still am) a perfectionist. I tried to be the best at everything I possibly could and felt a huge amount of pressure to be perfect. Because of this, many people saw me as competition, someone that threatened their position on the food chain of popularity. But I wasn’t in competition with them, I was in competition with myself.  I turned to self-harm. I believed I could numb the pain with more pain. Did it work? No. Did I care? Again, no.

After some time, I was admitted to hospital. This was the best thing that ever could have happened to me. I was forced to get the help I needed to work through everything.

After spending a few weeks in the hospital, I found it helped listening to other people’s stories, people who were going through the thing. It showed me I wasn’t alone. I learned strategies to help reduce my anxiety, and learned how to connect with people if I didn’t feel like I could talk. It was hard for me to reach out and talk, so I wrote and sang and danced to let people to know how I was feeling. I also learned how important it is to acknowledge the little accomplishments every day. Like picking yourself up out of bed, or saying hello to someone first without waiting for them to notice you.

So here I am today, one year later stronger than I ever could have thought possible. I have a good and secure job, and the best group of family and friends who have never left my side. I am doing things I never thought would be possible. Mental illness is a disease and it does not discriminate between age or gender. Anyone can be a sufferer, but it is possible to overcome it, and I’m living proof of that.

I’m Ebony Creely, and I’m a suicide survivor. Anxiety, depression and anorexia once consumed my life. I was scared to share my story, but I’m so happy that that’s now something I can do! It has been one of my biggest goals to help others through their own struggles and if I can help one person succeed in doing that, I’ve won.

So if you are struggling, take each day as it comes. Celebrate the small accomplishments you can do. Find a way to share how you feel, even if it’s not talking. Some days may be a struggle and you may feel like you are slipping, but know everyone has these days and it is completely normal. Let someone know you are having a down day, then come up with a way to get yourself through, ready to start a new day. Keep pushing towards your recovery, because one day you’ll look back and realise just how far you’ve come, and it will all be worth it.

Stay strong and remind yourself every day that there is and always will be hope.