Giving Up the Fight
Sheila Hageman
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My whole life has been spent fighting. Not other people, but myself. As a child I was very shy and sad. I took up writing as an escape to my loneliness and fear of life. I wrote about my dreams, my hopes and my imaginary worlds. I created worlds within my mind where I felt safe and happy, but I could never achieve that good feeling in the real world. I never thought I was good enough although I struggled to be loved and accepted by all.

I began modeling and acting at the age of thirteen and this became my new dream. My parents divorced at right about the same time and I refused to allow myself to feel any anger or sadness; I just pressed on. I was successful in local theatre in Connecticut and planned my big move to New York City. I became a stripper at age eighteen to earn enough money to pursue the acting. All the while I struggled with eating problems and self-esteem issues, even though I had thousands of people telling me I was beautiful and desirable. I didn't believe it myself.

I bordered on the edge of suicidal tendencies and starvation diets through my late teens and early twenties. I made the move to New York and was lucky to land a role in a touring theatre, which I traveled with for a few years. Even amidst all these good things that were happening, I struggled against a heavy cloud of despair every day. There wasn't a single day gone by that I didn't contemplate suicide to rid myself of my sadness.

Acting is a very difficult career choice, and I realized I didn't want to be competing for the rest of my life. I felt it wasn't a healthy choice for someone like me, so prone to hating myself. The last straw to finally awake me to my depths of depression was when I spent over a year in an abusive relationship. Ending that situation finally for good, I realized I did want to live and be happy, but I just didn't know how. I got a normal office job with insurance benefits and decided it was time to learn to accept myself for who I was. Fighting against myself was never going to be a solution to anything.

I was diagnosed with depression about five years ago when I was twenty-four years old. I began seeing a psychiatrist every week and each visit he wanted to put me on medication. I fought this. I refused to take any medication because I saw it as a sign of weakness, and I wanted to be able to get better without its help.

I began attending Hunter College in the evenings, determined to have a normal life. I discovered a joy of learning, which I had never known before. My interest was rekindled in writing and I began to write a memoir of my experiences as a depressed stripper and model.

My insurance ran out for the year and I stopped seeing my psychiatrist. I discovered that even though I hadn't made tremendous progress in recovery that I could live day to day with suicidal feelings and get by. The depressions got worse and worse, as I projected my feelings of unworthiness onto my schoolwork. Although I was a straight A student, I felt pressured to be perfect. I felt it was the only way to be loved by others.

A little over a year ago I began suffering from severe bouts of depression again and I was concerned for myself, as I felt unable to deal with the negative voices I heard. When it reached the point that I was dragging sharp metal objects across my arms to get some relief from my internal pain, I knew I needed to try therapy again, but this time with a different doctor.

I found a man who I trust and I feel is helping me to learn to live again. When I first entered therapy with him we discussed medication and I came to the realization that I should stop fighting something that might be able to help me. I have been taking Prozac and Wellbutrin for a year now. I am not embarrassed to say it, even with all the negative "Prozac Nation" hoopla we hear so much about. I needed help and this drug has helped me to feel like I can get better. I go to therapy every other week and am working out the anger and sadness that was built up inside of me for so long.

I still get depressed, but I am learning how to cope with the things I cannot change. I still feel the urge to fight against the depression when I feel it rising, but that never works. I have found I need to release myself into the pain and truly face it head on if I am ever going to be free from its overwhelming grasp. The most important lesson I have learned is that I will always have conflicting feelings within myself; it is simply a part of being human. I must accept this about myself and live in spite of it.

I am currently in a loving relationship and feeling better about myself. I feel proud of myself every day that I write and am excited as I begin my journey to find a publisher for my memoir, All this Useless Beauty: My Life as an Exotic Dancer. I still struggle with my need to be perfect, but one day at a time I learn to love myself a little more.

I hope there will be a day when I no longer need medication, but until then, I have reached the point where I am willing to admit I need help. I have given up the fight, and instead started the healing. It is happening every day. It is happening even now as I write.
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