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.

Can Minimalism Help Anxiety Disorders?

Minimalism, anxiety, mental health, decluttering, decluter, minimize, peaceful home

 

I first realized I had anxiety when I was in high school. I’d get so nervous before school that I was physically sick. I couldn’t go into stores by myself or walk down the street alone. I didn’t know what to do with my hands and I would get very conscious of the way I was walking and something that should be a simple, brainless activity became stressful and uncomfortable.

As an adult I have finally started receiving help for my anxiety disorder. I have several diagnosis given to me by psychiatrists in my adult life but anxiety, by far, has the biggest effect on my quality of life. I began researching different ways to prevent anxiety. Even though it is with me all of the time, there are varying levels of intensity. My hope was to find ways to keep it from reaching peak panic levels. That’s when I stumbled across minimalism. I had been looking to declutter my home a bit anyway but seeing a comment on another blog post about how it helped with that persons anxiety piqued my interest.

succulent, cleansing plants, simple plants, minimalism

Minimalism is, by definition, a style or technique characterized by extreme spareness or simplicity. To do this in your home, you purge items that you no longer use, that have similar items that can serve the same purpose, or that have worn out or are outdated. This seemed to me to be exactly what I needed to do. My initial thought was to decrease clutter so that when I went into a depressive episode it wouldn’t be such a challenge to keep up with the housework.

I’ve been slowly cleaning things out of our home. About 30 bags and several boxes of things. I started with dishes. With 2 adults and 3 kids, we need a few dishes but we had 18 plates. 18. And when I didn’t pick up for a couple of days, I would end up with an entire dishwasher full of just plates. That’s not acceptable. I pared down the plates and bowls and cups and then the pots and pans, books, clothes, toys, anything I could get my hands on.

I”m nowhere near done on my journey toward minimalism but I’ve noticed a huge shift already. Even when I don’t pick up for a few days and everything is everywhere, the mess isn’t that bad. We don’t have as much stuff to make a mess out of and I don’t have to carry so much guilt when I just can’t bring myself to be productive. Knowing the mess can’t grow too large has made an impact on my anxiety on its own.

relax, relaxed, relaxing, reading, minimalist, minimizing, anxiety

Another thing I’ve noticed is that our kids enjoy being in their bedroom more. When the blankets are burying them and their belongings are caving in on them they can’t focus. Now they can actually utilize the space for more than just sleeping. They can go in and draw or read without getting distracted by everything closing in on them. It’s not just benefiting me, but my whole family. My husband is happier that the mess isn’t taking over, as well.

If you have anxiety and also tend to lean toward hoarding tendencies, I really suggest doing some research on minimalism. When your living space is crowded, your mind can get crowded as well. Sometimes clearing unnecessary items out of your home can give you peace of mind and and a sort of freedom. When you live with anxiety, peace of mind feels like more than you could hope for, but once you have control of your environment I really think you could see a difference.

Anxiety And Me

anxiety,

Anxiety comes in many forms. It can manifest itself in many ways; from a general nervousness to intense panic attacks and physical pain.

Generalized anxiety disorder, the lovely beast that I walk with daily, leaves me on edge most of the time. I have a constant feeling of unease from a threat that isn’t there. I don’t like to be crowded or looked at. Coping with people standing too near to me makes me feel sick and out of breath. Often times, I need to remove myself from a situation to regain my composure.

Going new places makes me very uncomfortable. If someone is with me I feel better about it but I can still taste my heartbeat and hear my blood pumping. It may seem silly, but if I don’t know where exactly to park or which door exactly to enter, I can’t go. Sure, I could physically push myself to go but my brain would take over and a panic attack would ensue. It definitely puts a damper on my social life.

anxiety, uncertainty, uncomfortable

Panic attacks, for me, are choking on anxiousness. I can feel it like invisible hands around my throat, pushing my esophagus closed. My vision won’t focus and every sense is heightened and dulled at the same time. I’m aware of how everything feels against my skin but I can’t make my body move as fast as my brain is telling it to. I hear so much sound but none of it makes sense and I can’t make out words. The light is so bright, even on a foggy day, that it presses against me and makes me need to leave.

More people than you can imagine think that being nervous about things sometimes is anxiety. It is, by definition, sure. But anxiety disorder is a whole different level.

I’m not nervous about the test, I’m nervous about what road I have to take to get there, which building it’s in, do I go upstairs? How do I know the elevator is safe? I’m going to plummet to the basement and never get to take my test. How many people will be there? Everyone is looking at me and they know I have no idea what I’m doing. That girl is angry with me because I bet she wanted to sit here. Am I making too much noise? It’s so quiet in here and I need to unzip my bag and I can’t because everyone will turn and look at me. Is there something on my face? Nobody will tell me and they will make fun of me when I’m gone or they will tell me and I can never come back here again because when I see them all I will think about is that time I had a thing on my face and that’s all they will see when they look at me. And that’s only a span of about 20 minutes in my life.

stress, anxiety, overwhelmed

Can you understand why anxiety can be so exhausting? My brain is on overdrive all day, every day. I am constantly analyzing every situation and every move I make. I don’t even fully understand the ‘why’ of it but I really understand how debilitating it can be. Even on a good day when my anxiety is low, it’s still there waiting in the shadows. Having anxiety about the next time you will have bad anxiety is not a fun way to spend your day.

When someone tells you they can’t do something because they have anxiety, understand that they can but the consequences of pushing themselves to do that thing are often too great and not worth the outcome. It can take days to properly recover from a severe panic attack. Medications, mantras, relaxation techniques, therapy, and so many other things are required for different people just to get some peace.

On another day, I will cover some ways that I deal with anxiety. I will also be talking to others who have anxiety as well to put together a list of ways that may be helpful to others. Until then, keep breathing, be understanding, take care of yourself, and have compassion for others who are living with anxiety.