“Often, Life Would Imitate Art in the Form of David vs. Goliath”

I knew that things were different. That I was different by the time I was fifteen and a kiss from a brown-haired boy gave me a mild case of arrhythmia and a sensation so uplifting I swore my feet could have left the ground.

All I knew was that it felt right, certainly more natural than any encounter with the opposite sex that had presented itself prior to this revelation. Quickly, I also settled into the realization that this would have to be my closely-guarded secret. I could not afford to have an issue of this caliber dealing a blow to my social status and reputation in high school. As someone who was consistently searching for avenues which offered escape, a circle of friends took priority over all else, even myself.

Escape was essential because home never felt like a home: How could it when it offered no room to nurture growing souls, no safe space for mistakes, and when its primary resident was a tyrant, drunk off rage and cheap booze with a voice so big you would never feel as small as you did when it was hurling spiteful words your way – or worse, laying hands to you?

Often, life would imitate art in the form of David vs. Goliath.

Half of my youth was spent growing up far too quickly, taking on roles unfit for a child, learning how to console a broken woman on the kitchen floor at two in the morning.

The other half was spent self-medicating, self-harming, growing up nursing physical and emotional scars as I navigated the throws of life. It was never safe to be stagnant for too long. I had to find ways to keep moving, maintaining the façade of normalcy regardless of how bruised or broken I may have been.

I became dependent on others to feel whole; I was only a piece of a puzzle, incomplete rather than a self-preserving, self-loving individual. There was a point where I was not sure if things were worth living through. I wanted someone to tell me what to do, who to be, and where to go -- because I did not know who I was.

Above all else, I was tired. I wanted to feel normal, I just wasn’t sure what that looked like.

It was at this breaking point that I realized what I had to do: Choose happiness if you want to live.

I mustered up as much energy as I could and set a plan in motion, coming out for the first time to my friends – who were largely supportive and finally to my family, from  which I wished for more.

From that moment my father told me that it would be too difficult, too disappointing. Why invest both time and energy into a life that will not love you back, no matter how much you willed it to?

He told me that I was dead, nonexistent. That my blood was equivalent to poison; ruin running through my veins unable to create life, unable to sustain and surely unworthy of any kind of affection.

I believed him for a time. Partially because I was eighteen and naive, but largely due to my vulnerability, which was exploited in every fashion. Things carried on this way for years. It took a long time to feel comfortable in my own skin, and an even longer time before I truly began living for myself.

I struggled with severe depression, anxiety and panic attacks. Yet as angry as I was, I was determined not to allow toxicity to live within, destroying the foundation I was attempting to build. I read somewhere that trauma robs you of clarity about your identity and the more you heal, the more you come home to yourself.

At twenty-seven years old, I can now say that I’m coming home.

It all starts from within. Mental health is so much more important than most people realize. Therapy and mindfulness have been my saving grace. I have learned to come to terms with the past and the things that are beyond my control. Much of my life had felt like treading over broken glass while trying not to bleed, wondering why my walls were so fortified and why I was so hard-wired for chaos.

It needs to be said that you cannot do everything on your own; sometimes life requires you to be a little selfish to grow; and you also must expect to lose before you can gain.

Find one thing every day to appreciate, take your time, tell yourself that you are worth it, believe it and never forget to breathe.

Connections with my family have improved over time. I lost my father a year ago, may he rest in peace. We are now working toward establishing a healthier family dynamic. More importantly the relationship I hold with myself has seen profound changes with each day that goes by.

You do not owe anyone an explanation or an excuse, you are worthy of love and you are not defined by baggage or mental illness. I am not sure if I know what it means to be fearless, but I certainly know what it means to be free.

Dylan's story is part of our series in collaboration with Project Fearless. Read more first-person narratives on journeys to mental health from Bret, Monica, Erin, and Nika.