There was a time when I was imprisoned by myself. I could feel my hands on the bars and my heart stuck between them; I was not free. My heart was tangled in ropes. I couldn’t stand up I was doubled over in pain. Stuck to my prison cell I did not know if I would ever get out. The length of my criminal sentence was unclear.  I put myself in this prison and I didn’t allow myself an accurate time of how long I would be in this dirty dank cell. Part of me wanted to leave and part of me didn’t know if it was possible to. My body and my mind hurt. I remember how the sun looked and almost how it tasted.

I longed to chase the sun’s rays and feel the warmth on my back. After some time I grew tired of sitting in the cell and I knew it was time to leave. But I didn’t know how or when or why or who would get me out of there.I grew frustrated with sitting there not knowing when I would go. Wanting, yearning, needing to be with another.

And then…

It dawned on me that I was the “other.” I could save my heart and my mind from this pain.

That is what I did. I reached in and untied the ropes from my heart and it was wretched and awful.

Still, I kept going knowing that one day I would be free; free of this disguise that I had put on my face. The mask hurt to touch, and I wanted to rip it off. This was the day that I did. I dug my nails into that mask and I forced it off my face.

It felt good; like a massage that hurt and was wonderful at the same time.

I broke the bonds and found a chainsaw that I didn’t know existed. I sought my way out of that prison cell and I knew it was time; time to leave this place.

I found the stairs and walked up to them tentatively. The sunlight hit me like a baseball bat. I was grateful to be alive and have my freedom.

What was next? I didn’t and still don’t know. But I do know this: I am alive.

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Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.

Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.