Mental Health Awareness Month Part 1


Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, I thought I’d share a little of my story on that subject. It’s not pretty and there is a lot to it but I’ll give you the 32 years paraphrased version.

My first personal struggle with mental illness started when I was 11. I moved to a new school and I was going through puberty and life was just embarrassing at that point. I started to feel depressed and anxious a lot but I didn’t know what was going on so I just assumed it was normal. When I was 12, I cut myself for the first time. I felt so much better after because it replaced the anxious weight on my chest with a pain I could better understand. That night, we got the phone call that my mom’s mom, my Nanny, had passed away.

The guilt I carried from that is indescribable. I knew I had done something shameful and this was my punishment. I barely remember anything over the next few days, I left my body and honestly don’t remember a thing until we got to her house to visit with family.

I wish I could say that it scared me into stopping but that wasn’t the case. I continued to battle depression and anxiety through high school and also continued to periodically cut myself. Thankfully, as an adult, that is no longer a coping mechanism for me but I am left with white scars all over my hands and arms and legs and stomach to remind me of where I used to be.

I graduated high school and entered a less than stellar marriage. I try not to talk about that too much because someday my son may read these things and, while he knew we weren’t happy together, he doesn’t need the dirty details. After my boy was born I went for my 8 month postnatal follow up appointment. I broke down in the doctor’s office and told him how depressed I was while I sobbed and told him how close I was to not telling him and just ending my life. He kept me there for a few hours, gave me a sedative, started me on some medications, and saved my life that day. (Thanks Dr. Ball!)

I spent the next few years trying to fix my life, leaving negative situations, trying to find a medication regiment that worked for me, and trying to raise a toddler by myself. Thank God for the amazing friends I have that were my village and helped me to raise my boy. I didn’t have time to give in to my anxiety. I had to work and work and work some more to pay our bills and keep us fed.

Depression was another story. Every night I would lay in bed, absolutely exhausted, but unable to fall asleep. Depression created a barrier of horrible negative thoughts between me and my REM cycle. Every day I forced myself into auto pilot, greeted people with a smiling face, and pushed forward. But a smile doesn’t mean you are happy. A smile hides what you’re too ashamed to show people. The exhaustion, the hopelessness, the fear, and the want to give up.

I carried this with me for years and I tried to drown it in unhealthy behavior. When I met my now husband, I was actually at a good point in my life. I was content, things felt good, and I was ready to see what life had in store for us.

After we got married I got very depressed again. I was at work and confided in my boss who then brought me to her boss. They sent me straight to therapy. That was a huge step in the right direction for me. Over the last 3 years, I have found comfort in my diagnoses, each one bringing me a level of understanding of myself and also a bit of relief that these were things a LOT of people had and there wasn’t something that was only wrong with me.

I struggle with several mental illnesses that impact my life always, sometimes minorly and sometimes severely. Over the next few days I’d like to take some time to talk about them individually. Even though you’re sometimes alone while you struggle, you’re never really alone.

Talking about it and relating to others is a way I cope. I am not quiet about mental illness. I am not ashamed of mental illness. Making other people aware that these seemingly normal people they work beside, play beside, and live beside every day may be struggling with something so much bigger than they can even understand themselves is very important to me. Learning and acknowledging are the first steps toward acceptance. I am sometimes a sad person, I am sometimes a person that is struggling, but I am not a bad person or a scary person. I will continue to talk about mental illness until the end of my days or until everyone is able to afford mental health care and we aren’t looked at like we are crazy or starving for attention. That I promise.

Procedural Anxiety

Procedure anxiety

Have you ever had to have a procedure done at the hospital and thought, “No big deal! People do this every day!”? Or are you like me, getting ready for yet another procedure and thinking, “Okay people get blood clots or become paralyzed forever or die on the table, I don’t want to do this!”

As someone who has pretty intense anxiety just from existing, when it’s time to have surgery, I get really nervous. I make myself sick thinking of everything that can go wrong and have a hard time focusing on the millions that have gone right. I’m having another surgery next month and I had myself so worked up about it that I contemplated cancelling it. I’ve waited years to finally have this procedure that will give me my life back for a few years, and now that it’s here, I’m too nervous to go through with it.

The surgery I’m having isn’t that big of a deal. I have degenerative disc disease that was first an issue when I was 21 years old. It’s always worsening, always progressing, but this procedure helps me have a few more good years. When it gets bad again, I have to have the procedure again.

I’m having a laminotomy, hemilaminectomy, decompression of the nerve roots, partial facetectomy, foraminotomy and excision of the herniated intervertebral discs. Fancy words for remove the bone, go in and pull out damaged discs and the pieces of disc that have creeped out, broken off, calcified to my spine, all of that weird stuff.

It sounds intense, but in the spinal surgery world it’s a pretty minimal procedure. Since I have that large piece that has attached to the vertebrae above where it belongs and calcified, they have to go in at an angle. This means my *window* in my bone may have to be a door, my 2 inch incision has to be larger to accommodate the angle, and there’s a greater chance they will tear the sac my spinal fluid is in. All because that one piece decided it was running away from home and turned into a bad egg when it got there.

Normally, I’m not nervous before procedures. I had a total hysterectomy last year and never needed so much as a Tylenol after. I’ve been put under more times than I can count, endless injections, manipulations, anything they could do to take some of this pain from me. This time, however, I’m nervous. The possibility that the paralysis in my leg could be permanent. The possibility that it could get worse. I’ve gotten so used to things being cut and dry that this “we’ll see when we get in there” and “we won’t know until you wake up” has me on edge. So, I’ve been searching for ways to calm my nerves.

I’ve started reading success stories. ONLY success stories. Hearing people tell how they got their life back, their functionality back, their will to go on back; that helps me so much. Reading stories about how long people with the same condition were pain free after has given me new life! The thought of being pain-free brings me to happy tears.

I’ve also been using some techniques I learned in therapy for my regular crippling anxiety. I’m not generalizing; no always, never, etc. Redirecting my thoughts, breathing techniques that I call Lamaze for life, and writing my thoughts and fears down on paper. These have helped so I’m at least not cancelling my appointment, but I still have the anxiety about it in my chest and throat.

Wake up during surgery

My biggest fear is waking up during the procedure, called anesthetic awareness, but not being able to let someone know I’m awake. It may seem irrational but I made the mistake of stumbling across a thread of people who have had this happen and it has haunted me ever since. Just writing it out is bothering me.

Luckily, I did some more research and it seems more likely to occur under light anesthesia and even when it does happen, the pain meds are still working. It’s very rare for both to fail.

I know writing out my fears like this is helpful for me but maybe not helpful to others who are reading it so I want you to take something away from all of this. If you have fears, talk to your surgeon or anesthesiologist. Don’t feel like your fears are silly or irrational. Let someone know so they can come back to you with stats and facts to calm your nerves. Don’t be afraid to seek counseling if your fears or anxiety make it difficult for you to have a procedure. Make a list of everything positive that will happen in your life once your procedure is finished. Will you have less pain? More energy? Be able to do things you couldn’t before? Let yourself see, on paper, how it will positively effect your life.

Talk to your doctor or anesthesiologist

Chronic pain and illness puts a damper on your life. Don’t let fear hold you back from improvement in your quality of life. If you have any ideas or tips on how to calm procedural anxiety, please leave them in the comments! I am willing to try anything to calm this fear. Thanks!!!