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.