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My Journey Back from Depression
Samira Hassan
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When I turned 12 years old, there were a lot of problems in my family. My sister was placed in a group home and when she returned home, we started to compete for attention. We both wanted all the attention, so we always fought. There were also problems between me and my father. It came to the point where I couldn't be at home anymore. So one week before my 13th birthday, I was put in my first group home, a diagnostic center in Brooklyn.

This was hard for me to deal with, but luckily I never got picked on or into any fights because I was the youngest. The other residents saw me as a younger sister, and they always had my back.

You could stay at the diagnostic center for only three months. Then they found you a placement. I really liked the girls who lived with me. I didn't want to leave and was scared to go to a new place. So as my three months came closer, I decided to run away.

On the Run

I was on the run for about two months before the system caught up with me when I tried to get back in school. I was sent to another group home in Brooklyn. There were 12 girls there, including me.

This group home was so different. The staff was so strict. When you came inside the house, they took your shoes and locked them in the office so you wouldn't be able to run away. When they dropped you off at school, they took your coat and you wouldn't get it back until they picked you up. So I never got to go in the school yard after lunch (it was January).

The girls were also different. Most of them were prejudiced. I have no reason to deny my ethnicity (which is Arabic, British, and Welsh). I look like I'm Puerto Rican but when people ask me, I tell them what I am with no shame. That's when I noticed the hate. The residents put down White people all the time, even the staff. I couldn't take it after a while. I could only think of trying to escape.

One day when it was time to get our snack out of the office (they locked up snacks, too), I snuck out with my shoes and went upstairs. After I put them on, I ran full speed from the second floor straight out the door. The lady who was in charge of the group home lived right next door and saw me run out. The next thing I knew, staff and residents were chasing me. They caught me, threw some slaps and punches, and dragged me back into the house.

Alive and Alone

I was going crazy. I figured there was no way to escape. I didn't have anyone to live for. No family. No friends. Only myself, and I was not happy at all. So I started thinking of how to end it all.

There was no way to get a knife because they had them locked in the office. So I went into the bathroom and searched the cabinets for pills, but found nothing.

As I was on the bathroom floor crying hysterically, wondering what I was going to do, I remembered the cleaning supplies that were there. So I wrote a note explaining everything and made myself a cocktail.

It tasted so nasty, but at least I wouldn't have to deal with my problems anymore. My stomach was killing me. I was so dizzy that I blacked out every now and then. The staff was asking, "What's going on?" They didn't know until I gave them my note and fell to the floor.

The next thing I remember I was waking up in Kings County Hospital. They put heart monitors on me and an IV and made me throw up what was left in my system. It tasted worse than the cocktail.

So I was alive and once again alone. The staff who came with me to the hospital said he was going out to get me something to eat. I haven't seen him since.

I was feeling like crap and so upset that my plan didn't work. I had to stay in the medical hospital for a week.

Then they brought me to the "E" building, the mental ward for adolescents. They had big keys to open all the doors. It made me feel like I was back at the detention center. All I did was cry and say, "I don't belong here." Now I was getting highly depressed and going crazy.

A Confrontation

In the mental ward I had to share a room with two other girls. Both tried to attempt suicide. One day one of my roommates was bugging. She was putting powder and lotion all over herself. I told her, "You better not get anything on my stuff 'cause I'll wreck you, you crazy b-tch." I shouldn't have said the last part, but that's how mad I was.

I went to my friend's room and told her how my roommate was bugging. She told me to get my stuff and put it in her room. I was like, no doubt. But when I went back into my room, my roommate had poured water on my bed. I was heated, so I attacked her and wouldn't stop pounding on her. Honestly, wouldn't you have fought her, too?

Then the staff came with the doctors and put me in a straight jacket. Starting the next day, I was on a drug to calm me down.

Drugged and Sleepy

After a couple of months, I was diagnosed with a multiple personality disorder. They had me on various drugs. Those medicines had me sleeping a lot, and my mouth was always dry. I couldn't read or even look at pictures. That's how blurry my eyes were. My speech was messed up. I was pale, and I walked without picking up my feet.

I really started to hate the mental ward. Especially the doctors. I felt they didn't care. So I held in my feelings and when they became too built up, I would bug out. Then the female staff would try to put me in "four points" (tie my arms and legs to the bed) but I would fight it, so they would call the male staff from the boys' side. I would fight them, too!

After a while they overpowered me, especially when they put that needle in my butt. There was no fighting that.

At one point, after they gave me a new drug, I went into seizures, so they took me off it. I was so scared. My eyes were going in the back of my head. My body was going backward. It felt like my spine was going to crack in half. I really thought I was going to die. I wanted to, but not in so much pain.

I didn't know what to do. I was going crazy-- crazier than when I came in. I was in the mental ward longer than almost all the other girls. I wanted to kill myself even more, but in there it was impossible; they made sure of it. So I decided that I was just going to have to deal with it, so I could eventually get out of there.

Crank Calls and Talent Shows

All the girls used to bug out. We used to take the bed and ride up and down the hallways on it. When the night staff fell asleep, we'd make crank calls. We had talent shows. We made plans to escape, even though we knew it was impossible. At times it was okay in there, but every night I cried myself to sleep.

Then one day, they gave me a social worker named Ms. Mensing. At first I really wasn't into her because I didn't like anyone associated with the hospital. I felt they just wrote down everything to get a paycheck, but now I must say, "God bless Ms. Mensing" because she was beautiful inside and out.

She let me have more control over what I wanted to do. She let me decide if I felt like talking, writing, or even if I felt like being quiet. She never had a book in her hand, writing down every word I said.

At first I didn't talk much with her. I only said, "I don't belong here. I want to leave!" But because Ms. Mensing acted and talked to me with respect, her special way got me to open up.

First I talked about everything I hated--the hospital, the staff, the girls, and the rules. Then gradually I talked more and deeper. I really needed and wanted to talk. I felt deep in my heart that I finally found someone I could confide in. I felt she really did understand me.

Always There

Ms. Mensing never changed my words around. She showed she cared for my feelings. If she had to notify a higher authority about something, she would tell me, not like other staff who did it behind my back. I was finally able to express my feelings to her and shared poems that I had written. She advised me to write down what was bothering me and my feelings.

One day I wrote Ms. Mensing a poem, explaining what my father had done to me at home. She was the first person I ever told this to, and it hurt, but it has helped me feel better about it today.

Ms. Mensing was always there for me. She didn't care if my therapy hour for the day was up. She would still listen to me. I always used to wait for her at the door with the big keyhole.

In the hospital, they had levels you had to reach in order to have privileges, like going to school and going to the game room. Ms. Mensing told me to make my goal reaching the next level, and when I reached that goal, she would reward me. She took me to the grocery store. She bought me books to read and writing materials. But most of all, she shared my happiness and always gave me a hug, a sincere hug, and said, "Congratulations, Samira, you did it. I knew you could."

One time she got permission to take me outside, and we had a little picnic. That day we talked friend to friend, not therapist to client. We talked about a boy I had a crush on. We talked about things we liked, like different foods, about how I wanted to become a lawyer and a writer. I even told her how I thought my caseworker looked like a killer clown. We just laughed.

Moving On

When I finally reached the highest level, she took me to the mall. We tried on funny hats and rode the carousel. I had a lot of fun. I know in my heart that she did, too.

Ms. Mensing knew my love for writing. I always shared my poems and stories with her. She bought me my first journal. She made me feel good, which made me be good. Finally, after seven months, she arranged my discharge to a beautiful house in an agency called Boys Town.

Since then, I've been in many other group homes and foster homes and have had many experiences to remember. But last year I turned 18 and got away from it all (discharged). In January I moved to Florida to live with my aunt so that I would have no distractions in getting my high school diploma. But I do look forward to coming back to New York to pursue my career and to hopefully reunite with Ms. Mensing.

A Better Way

I face depression often, but now it's different because I have a better way of dealing with it. I probably go through a notebook every two weeks but I am able to face my feelings and deal with them, thanks to Ms. Mensing.

If Ms. Mensing is reading this, I would like to say thank you so very much for all your time, warmth, and support. Without you, I never would have made it.

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(WEB-2016-07-06)

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