Hello! I’m Gabrielle Bunch, and I’m the Founder and the Director of Design and Product Development here at Gabrielle. Our mission is to fight the stigma associated with mental illness and increase awareness by donating a portion of our proceeds to charities. I am writing this article to share my experience with mental illness and encourage others to share theirs.
Gabrielle: An Autobiography
Warning: This article contains content that may be upsetting to some readers.
* Name has been changed.
I remember laying in bed at eight years old, staring at the shadows on the ceiling. Our house was on top of a hill, and the light shined through the window from the lamps on the houses below us. I thought to myself, “I wish I could just be dead.” I wondered if people would even care if I disappeared. Sometimes I even considered running away to see if anyone would notice. My parents were always away working; they would leave early in the morning and come back home late at night. Sometimes I would go days without seeing them. My brother and I were raised by my grandma or a nanny until I was able to drive (literally the day I turned sixteen). I grew up feeling like money
was more important than family. Yes, we went on the best vacations. Yes, we had the best birthday parties. I felt like everything was always a competition. Who had the best house? Who had the best car? Who had the best clothes? Whose kids had the coolest toys? Yes, we got the best Christmas presents. It was always about the image: the things we had, the things we did, what we would brag about in the annual Christmas letter.
When I was ten, we moved to Dallas, Texas for my parents’ work. I remember bawling my eyes out because I did not want to leave my friends and family in Washington.
Living in Texas was a huge change for our family. My parents went from knowing hundreds of people and attending one event after another, to knowing no one. With their social calendars bare, most of their time was spent together at work. When they were home, they were arguing about something.
As I mentioned before, we didn’t have much parental supervision growing up. We never had any healthy communication with each other either. My dad was the type of person that only heard what he wanted to hear. If I did or said something that he disapproved of, he just gave me the silent treatment. To be honest, I was just fine with the silent treatment because that meant that I didn’t have to deal with him for a couple of weeks. The silent treatment sure beat having to walk on eggshells. He would get mad over the smallest thing. A casual conversation would turn into a two-hour screaming lecture if I triggered the wrong nerve. He was that way with my mom, too. She was the pushover. Some nights I could hear him screaming at her at the top of his lungs until 3 AM from my upstairs bedroom. It wasn’t unusual; it happened all the time.
One year, on Christmas morning, my grandma from my dad’s side called to tell us that my grandpa was dying. The next day, we flew to Seattle to spend his last days with him. My boyfriend at the time was extremely controlling and tried to force me to text him and talk to him on the phone instead of spend time with my grandpa. He would get mad at me if I didn’t answer his calls right away or if I tried to hang up the phone too soon. He would tell me that I was a terrible person and that I was worthless and ugly. He would threaten me and tell me that he would kill himself if I didn’t pick up his next phone call. Eventually, we broke up, but things didn’t get better for me after the relationship ended.
The Not-So-Fun Part
When I was thirteen years old, I had a crush on an older boy from church named Josh*. One night, he called me and invited me to a high school party. I had never been to a party before. I wanted him to like me, so I decided to sneak out of my house and go. Josh had one of his friends come pick me up from my house to take me there. When we got to the apartment, I could smell marijuana right away. It was unfamiliar to me at the time. I saw red cups and alcohol bottles everywhere.
I remember the layout of the apartment vividly. I walked past the kitchen and into the first bedroom on the right where Josh and some of his friends were. I recognized a couple of the other boys from church. Before even greeting me, Josh asked if I wanted to smoke; I declined. Then, one of his friends asked if I wanted a drink, cracked open a warm can of soda, and handed it to me. I took it. I felt uncomfortable and lame. Peer pressure is truly the worst. I got up and asked where the restroom was. I could’ve sworn heard them talking about me in the other room. I assumed that they were just making fun of me for not smoking or drinking. I decided that maybe I would give it a try later. I went back to the room and continued drinking my soda.
After a few minutes, I started to feel dizzy and lightheaded. I tried to talk, but I couldn’t get any real words out. I felt like I was speaking another language. I just remember a voice saying, “Take it easy, Girl.” I tried to stand up, but I just stumbled to the floor. I reached my arms up, and two of the guys helped me to my feet. They walked me over to other bedroom and told me to lay down and rest, and I closed my eyes.
I woke up to someone laying on top of me. It was cold and dark. I realized that my top was lifted up and my jeans were taken off. I felt weak like jelly. All of the sudden I felt a sharp pain and I remember screaming for the person to get off me. Then I saw another person’s arm handing him something white. It was a sock. He took the sock and stuffed it into my mouth so I couldn’t make a sound. I started to cry. I looked around and noticed three or four more people in the room. I couldn’t see anyone’s face. Then I couldn’t see anything.
The Next Morning
I woke up around 4 AM outside the apartment behind a fence. I had blood all over my arms, shirt, and jeans. My jacket was on top of me, and surprisingly, my wallet and phone were still inside the zipper pocket. I put the jacket on and walked away from the apartment complex while I thought about what to do next. I couldn’t call my parents. I didn’t want a 4 AM phone call on my cell phone record, so I called a taxi to take me home. When I got home, I took off my clothes, hid them in my laundry basket, took a long shower, and didn’t talk about that night for three years.
Just Don’t Talk About It
During this time, it was a rollercoaster of emotions for me. I struggled with major depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and bipolar disorder. I didn’t tell anyone. I tried so hard to make everyone think of me as the popular, straight-A student. I just wanted to be perfect. But on the inside, I was fluctuating between highs and lows. Sometimes I would be okay and sometimes I wouldn’t. Sometimes I would do things and say things that I didn’t mean. I would push people away and hurt people for no reason. I don’t know why I did these things. For some reason, I only hurt the people who cared about me the most. It’s like I didn’t want anyone to get too close to me because I didn’t want them to see who I truly was… broken and imperfect. I would have episodes when I would feel like I was on top of the world. I felt like the world loved me, I could talk for hours, and I would laugh at just about anything. It was almost as if another person was controlling me. To the outside world, it looked like I was happy – and maybe for a moment, I was. But in an instant, things would change. Suddenly, I would feel like the whole world was judging me. I couldn’t breathe because I always worried about everything that didn’t matter.
At school, my classmates would always tell me, “I’m so jealous of your handwriting.” It made me cringe. They had no idea that I went home and had a trash bin full of crumpled paper from rewriting my notes over and over again. I could never get it right. I could never keep a journal because I would always end up just tearing all the pages out. On top of that, everything I did had to be done in sets of three. If I looked at the time, I had to wait for the secondhand for tick for three seconds. I could only stop walking on the third step. I chewed my food in sets of three before swallowing. This is just the beginning. It was so hard to focus my attention on anything important. My mind was always consumed with numbers, anxiety, or darkness. My whole world was in black and white.
Once I turned sixteen, my brother and I didn’t have any parental supervision at all. I feel like I was expected to grow up overnight and I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t mature enough for all the responsibility that I was given. Additionally, I was dealing with a lot of things emotionally that I felt like I couldn’t talk about with my family or anyone for that matter. Our house was so big that we were always separated. I can’t even remember a time that we ever sat down at the table and ate a meal together. I was usually in my bedroom or out of the house, my brother was usually playing games, and my parents were at work or buried in their room.
It’ll Kill You
I started to act out. I stopped caring about things that used to be important to me like school, my body, and my future. I started spiraling downhill extremely quickly. I got a hold of a bottle of painkillers. The person that gave them to me jokingly laughed and said, “Now don’t take them all at once; that’ll kill you.” I laughed, too, but for the next two weeks, the comment stuck with me. Would it really kill me? It seemed like such an easy way to die. I decided that I was going to do it. I locked myself in a bathroom and swallowed four to five pills at a time until the bottle was empty.
It didn’t work, and I was confused, ashamed, and angry. I began to rebel. I started dating a guy named Theo*. My parents disapproved immediately. At that time, I didn’t feel like my parents had any right to tell me what to do because they weren’t even around my entire life. I felt like they only chose to be parents selectively and when it was convenient for them. I continued to date him anyway. That’s when they forbid me from dating him. “Oh yeah? You forbid me? What are you going to do about it?” They told me that I couldn’t live under their roof if I didn’t follow their rules (understandable). My sixteen-year-old-self decided I would just move out then. And that’s what I did. I moved into my eighteen-year-old loser boyfriend’s apartment.
You Need Help
Uh-oh, I was in trouble. After a couple of weeks, my mom called me and told me that she would give me some money to help me out. Of course, I would accept it! I agreed to meet her at the house. When I arrived there, I was greeted by two police officers – a man and a woman. Lovely. The woman told me to hand over my car keys. I said no. She stated that we could either do it the easy way or the hard way. I know, it’s so cliche. I kept saying no. She said that I was going to go with her no matter what, so I might as well go and pack a little bag. No. She grabbed me and forced the keys out of my hand, tearing into my palm as she did it. I started bleeding down my arm to my elbow. Was she allowed to do that? Apparently, yes. She said that I needed to follow her instructions or she would handcuff me. Uh, no thank you, Ma’am. I’ll follow your instructions now. I grabbed my shoes and followed her out the door and into her car. Once we left the neighborhood, I realized that I grabbed two left shoes. I don’t even know how that happened. I was so confused, scared, and nervous. I asked her where we were going. She told me that we were going to the airport. What? The airport? She said that I was going to Arizona because my parents were sending me to an all-girls boarding school! So basically I walked through the airport, escorted by two police officers with two left shoes. People were staring at me, and it was incredibly embarrassing. I felt like a prisoner.
I was at boarding school for an entire year. This wasn’t the kind of boarding school that you see on TV. It’s the kind of boarding school that’s comparable to the prison on Orange Is the New Black. It was literally like jail. Except I’m pretty sure that the inmates at Litchfield Penitentiary have way more freedom than we did at boarding school. We had no TV, no Internet, and no phone. We couldn’t listen to music unless it was “approved” by the Director. Our food trays had to be checked before we threw it away, and our mouths were checked while taking meds. Girls were put on restrictions if they were at risk of suicide or running away. Some girls were even on restriction from talking to each other. Our letters to our parents were monitored and manipulated if we said something that poorly reflected the school. We had to be in and out of the shower in less than seven minutes. No makeup, perfume, nail polish, or other beauty products. We couldn’t even have razors to shave. Imagine no contact with the outside world for an entire year.
Despite all the rules, I had an amazing therapist there that helped me grow and overcome some of the issues I was dealing with. One big problem that we kept running into was the fact that my parents did not want to participate in the therapy. While parents of the other girls we happy to partake in treatment, visits, and the parent workshops, my parents never did. Their perspective was that I was the one with the problem and they sent me to boarding school to “get fixed.” At first, that’s something that hurt me, but I realized that I couldn’t change my parents and the only thing I could do is work on myself.
It was at boarding school where I first opened up about how I felt about my parents’ absence and my dad’s alcoholism. My parents immediately shut down the conversation and said that I was disrespectful for even bringing the subject up. Months later, I finally opened up to my therapist about what happened to me when I was thirteen. It took me a while to grasp the fact that I was raped. It sounded so real and intense. The word just brought back so many memories, and I felt like I was reliving the moment over again. I had buried the memory for so long without properly dealing with it, so at that moment I just broke down. Eventually, I was able to talk to my peer group about it. I was relieved when they were so supportive and even shared their own similar stories with me. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone and that I didn’t have to feel ashamed anymore. My therapist said that it was time to tell my parents. I was dreading it. I knew what was going to happen. The phone rang, and my mom answered. Then my dad came onto the line. My therapist introduced the topic and then turned the conversation over to me. I started to tear up while I told my parents what happened. In the middle of my sentence, my dad said, “Stop. I didn’t call you to hear this. We don’t need to talk about this anymore.” He handed the phone over to my mom, and she said some closing words and quickly hung up. I was devastated.
From then on, my therapist and I decided that we would just focus on me only and to exclude my family from the therapy. It brought more negativity than it did any good. We did a lot of work as far as talking through my depression and negative thought processes. I talked to her about my feelings and behaviors that I never opened up about before. She helped me recognize that a lot of those feelings were symptoms of depression and that it was perfectly normal and manageable. When it came time for graduation, I left a day early on a flight home alone because my parents couldn’t make it to the ceremony. They were working. I didn’t have a perfect program, but I do feel like I did benefit from it. I’ve made lifelong friendships with girls that I will forever consider my sisters. I’ve shown them sides of me that I don’t think I could ever show anyone else besides my husband. My experience at boarding school will always be a huge part of my heart.
Finally Back Home?
When I came back from boarding school, everything was different. I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone from my past. I had to go to a new high school for my senior year. It was miserable. I found out that people at my old school had started all sorts of rumors about me like that I died, or that I was kidnapped or that I was murdered. Others were angry with me for not saying goodbye – something that I didn’t have any control over. Some were mad at me for things that I did or said during the time I was going through manic episodes. I felt so alone.
When school started, it wasn’t all that bad. A group of girls immediately welcomed me into the group. I started dating a guy pretty quickly, and things seemed like they were going to be okay. However, as fast as everything came together, it came crumbling just as quickly. That’s when I met a college guy named Carson*.
The College Guy
I thought I was cool being a high school girl dating a college guy. That feeling ended after I graduated high school. At the end of the summer, but we had a huge decision to make: Were we going to stay together? I had plans to attend Texas A&M University in College Station, TX, which was five hours away from where he lived. Ultimately, we decided to stay together and try the whole long-distance thing out.
College Station, TX
A few months later, I started to receive messages on Facebook from random girls. They were telling me to be careful because my boyfriend had been sleeping around. Some of the girls would give me details about what they had done together the night before. I confronted Carson, but he reassured me that the girls were just jealous of our relationship and that he would never cheat. However, the messages kept coming from different accounts. At that point, I should have been suspicious and had the strength to let him go, but I did the opposite. I gave him an ultimatum instead: he could either move in with me in College Station, or we would be over. After going back and forth, he eventually decided to move to College Station. I thought our problems would be solved.
TIP: Once a cheater, always a cheater.
Moving in with someone is a major step to getting to know someone. I know it’s not traditional, but maybe it’s a good idea to move in with a boyfriend or fiance before getting married – just to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Once he moved in, I started to feel the pressure. He made comments about my physical appearance often. He criticized my makeup, my clothes, and my body. At first, it seemed like he just wanted me to be healthy, but eventually, it led me to starve myself to satisfy him. I went from 130 pounds to 100 pounds in no time at all, and it still wasn’t good enough for him.
This was his logic: Since it was technically my apartment, I should have to pay the rent. Since I would be driving his car around, I should have to fill up his gas. And for some apparent reason, as hard as he tried to get a job to help pay for groceries, no one would call him back. So basically all he did all day – while I went to school and worked full-time – was watch TV and play video games. Or at least that’s what I thought he was doing.
Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater
One day, while Carson went to the gym, I got onto his laptop to do some school work because the screen on my MacBook cracked. Side note: I’m clumsy, and I dropped it. I went to Yahoo Mail and read through some of my messages. Hmm, that’s strange. Why do I have so much junk mail today? That’s when it hit me. It wasn’t my mailbox; it’s Carson’s. I saw an email from Ashley Madison. I thought, “Who’s Ashley Madison?” I clicked on the email, and it turns out, it’s a website for married men to cheat on their wives discreetly! I clicked on the link inside the email, and he had been messaging women on that site for months. I went back into his inbox and scrolled down. I saw emails from multiple dating sites, but one email subject, in particular, caught my eye. I’m not even going to say what the subject line was because it’s so inappropriate. I clicked on it, and I read through back and forth graphic emails with another woman detailing multiple encounters they had together – some of them in my bed. There was evidence in the emails that he had even paid her for some of those encounters. I felt horrified and disgusted. I went through and printed out all of his dating profiles and emails, adding up to over 100 pages. I taped some of the worst ones to the front door and locked it so he couldn’t get in. I turned off the lights, turned my phone on silent, and waited.
About 45 minutes later, I heard footsteps walking down the hallway towards the door. Then I heard a loud bang on the door, and Carson yelled, “Damn it!” There was a pause, and then my phone lit up. He was calling me. I didn’t pick up. He started yelling through the door saying, “I know you’re in there, open up the damn door.” I didn’t answer, and eventually, he left. I have no idea where he went that night. In the days that followed, he apologized and begged for me to get back together with him, but I declined. Carson said that he had nowhere to go and for some dumb reason I said that he could stay at the apartment until he found his own place. Well, he never found his own place.
Even after we broke up, he always wanted to know what I was doing. One time, he got so mad that I wouldn’t tell him where I was going that he pushed my head into the closet door so hard that it made a hole. I should’ve drawn the line there, but I didn’t.
I Deserve Better
Meanwhile, I was working as a server and bartender at an Italian restaurant called Johnny Carino’s. My co-worker, Brittney, invited everyone to a little get-together she was having at her apartment that night. I didn’t usually hang out with people from work, but I decided to go because I didn’t want to be home. When I got there, I partnered up for a game of beer pong with the super cute guy that everyone had a crush on at work, Sean. We ended up being the beer pong champions of the night (and every night after that, FYI – we’re just super good at beer pong). We were unstoppable. So basically we bonded over our amazing BP skills, and we kissed! I was so excited about it, so I had to brag to my friends, duh. Everyone was saying how lucky I was and I felt fabulous. I turned around to look for Sean, but he was gone. I asked Brittney where he went and she said that he left. Are you serious right now?
The next morning, I get to work and lo and behold, there he was. The entire shift was pretty awkward. I was hoping he would say something to me, but he didn’t. What a total player. I chalked it up to being a one-time thing and just accepted it. No wonder he didn’t even say bye the night before.
Later, I was at the mall with a friend, giving her all the details about the total awkwardness at work. That’s when I got a Facebook message… from Sean! Here’s how the conversation went:
Sean: Do you want to watch a movie or something?
Me: Sure, where?
Sean: At my house.
Me: At your house?
Sean: Yeah, in my room.
Me: Um, I don’t think that’s a good idea.
Sean: Oh ok, well we can go to the movies.
Me: Yeah, that’s better.
We went to Cinemark, and he paid for my movie ticket. He was so nervous. I thought he would at least touch my leg or put his arms around me. No. He played with his chin hair the entire time. After the movie, it was late, so we ate Cane’s at his apartment, and I went home. It turns out, Sean wasn’t a total player; he’s just extremely shy. He only had one girlfriend before and didn’t know how to act around girls. (Sorry, Sean, don’t be mad at me for saying that.)
For our next date, Sean took me to a Mexican restaurant. It was pouring rain. We had to sit in the car for a while for it to stop raining. Speaking of cars, let me tell you a funny story.
Up until this point, we had always driven in my car. Every day I saw him walking to and from work, so I always offered to give him a ride home whenever we were leaving work around the same time. I just assumed that he didn’t have a car since he walked everywhere. He had a car. Apparently, he just wanted to save gas by walking. It’s 100 degrees in the summer in Texas. Boys do weird things.
Falling In Love
One night, after dropping Sean off after work, I told him bye, and he leaned in and gave me a quick kiss on the lips. Then he smiled and said, “I’ll call you later.” I just smiled and said, “Okay.” It was just totally unexpected and super sweet. As I was driving off, I realized that I wanted to be his girlfriend. I know it seems so simple, but at that moment, it was just this look that he gave me that made me feel a sense of comfort. I felt like I could trust him with my heart.
The few weeks are what girls dream about. It could’ve made up a movie montage. If we weren’t working or at school, we were together. The best part about it was that I felt like I could completely be myself around him. He made me feel safe. I talked to him about my ex-boyfriend and everything that happened with him. Sean told me that if I were his girlfriend, I would never have to worry about being treated like that. I asked why I wasn’t his girlfriend and he said that he didn’t want to date me while I was living with my ex-boyfriend (understandable).
That night, I came home a little late, and Carson was waiting up for me. Why? He was asking so many questions about where I was at and what I was doing. I told him to leave me alone and mind his businesses. That’s when he got mad. He dragged me by the hair into the bedroom and threw me onto the bed. My shoulder hit the corner of the nightstand, and I fell to the floor on the other side. I just got up, looked at him and said, “Don’t you dare touch me again” and walked out of the room.
I skipped class the next day and had some friends come over to help me pack Carson’s things while he was out. We put all of his things into boxes and left them outside the door. I finally built up the courage to kick him out of my apartment and out of my life. Of course, he kept trying to contact me, and he continued to harass me for a couple of weeks, but he eventually gave up.
Sean asked me to be his girlfriend, and we had the most amazing summer ever! We went on a spontaneous trip to Port Aransas without booking a hotel. Luckily we found a hotel at the last minute, and we just enjoyed every minute we had with each other. Within two months, Sean told me that he loved me. I guess I was in shock because I didn’t say it back that day. The next day while after a movie ended, Sean said, “You know what I said yesterday? Well, I meant it.” Me, being all sly and stuff, “What did you say?” Sean said, “I love you.” And I said, “I love you, too.”
Seven months later, we got married and honeymooned in Mexico. Three months later, we found out that we were going to have a baby! Aiden Andrew Bunch was born in February 2015. Yes, I know. Everything with us just happens super quickly. It always has with us. When you know, you know.
Today, Sean is my best friend and (reluctant and always improving) photographer. He is a firefighter and paramedic for the Bryan Fire Department in Bryan, Texas. That’s the city right next to College Station, Texas, home of Texas A&M University. WHOOP! In college, I majored in psychology with plans of going to grad school and becoming an adolescent psychiatrist. That is until I got married and immediately changed my mind and decided to be a stay-at-home mommy instead. We own a cozy three-bedroom home in the suburbs. We have two pomeranian-terriers, Simba and Aria. Aiden is now two years old.
I have never met anyone that I could be 100% genuine and raw with. I know with all my heart that my husband accepts me for everything that I am – the good and the bad. When we said our vows, I know that he meant every single word. He’s proven to me every single day of the three years that we have been married what true love is. He’s never judged me when I shipped a shower, or “forgot” to shave my legs for a couple of weeks. I’ll admit it. It’s not easy being married to me. He’s there when I’m at my best, and he helps me back up when I’m down. He makes me better. He’s shown me patience, acceptance, love, and support. I could not ask for anything more from a man… then he became a dad. I truly believe that Sean is the greatest dad in the world. He has never hesitated to get up in the middle of the night, change a diaper, or even get me a glass of water when I’m feeling lazy. I thought the way he looked at me was true love, but the way he looks at Aiden is a love that’s even deeper.
I Am More Than My Diagnosis
I still struggle with major depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but I manage it with medication, therapy, and lots of support. I’ve struggled, but I’ve also overcome. I’m happy with the woman, friend, daughter, wife, and mother that I am today. I’m far from perfect, and I’m okay with that. I’m imperfectly me.
The purpose of this article was to share my story and to help you better understand why I chose giving back to mental illness awareness efforts as my company’s mission. I also want to start the mental illness conversation and invite you to tell us your story. #iammore than my diagnosis.
If you have any comments or questions, I’d love to hear it in the comments below, or you can email me at email@example.com. You can also follow me on Instagram (@gabrielle_bunch).
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