Republished on The Mighty on 5/4/20.
Republished on Yahoo News on 5/4/20.
Republished on The Mighty on 5/4/20.
Republished on Yahoo News on 5/4/20.
I woke up early. Not fifteen or twenty minutes early or even when the rising sun peeked in my window. I woke up around three in the morning, not because any alarms were set or any loud noises woke me from my slumber. My sleep is always spotty and restless, frequently dotted with anxiety and depression-laden nightmares. Most nights, I’m lucky if I get more than five hours of sleep. Last night was no different.
I laid there feeling empty and stressed for hours, my thoughts racing, unable to get back to sleep. When his alarms began going off three hours later, I resigned myself to the fact that there would be no more sleep for me today.
I helped him get ready for work, timidly smiling as I ushered him out the door. I said nothing about how I was feeling because I did not want to burden him with things he had no control over. Easier to smile and to pretend, even though I know deep down I’m not kidding anyone. Not myself. Not him.
After he drove away, I sat on the couch ruminating about everything I have to do today. I sat there immobile for hours, beating myself up for all those things I should be doing. I put a movie on, but it turns out it was for background noise more than anything, because I cannot recall anything about it.
I sat, I laid this way and that, I tossed on the couch for hours, not even quite sure why I was in such a funk today. I felt lost and alone, the world utterly hopeless, which made no sense because things truthfully aren’t going that badly right now. Yet those feelings were there all the same. I couldn’t shake them, couldn’t stop them, any more than I could mute all those thoughts racing through my mind.
It was noontime before I managed to pull myself up. There were days mountain climbing would take less effort. I had been awake for 9 hours, out of my bed for six. I was already exhausted and ready to climb back into bed. Yet I managed to prepare some fresh salsa and straighten up the small mess I made on the counter today, piling those dishes on the side. The dishes from yesterday still sit in the sink. I ruminate about whether I’ll be able to wash them today. I know I should. But some days I just don’t have the energy.
I spent the majority of the afternoon watching an old series on television. I know that I’ve seen it all before, which is a good thing because re-watching those episodes today was a blur. I tried playing a game. I tried checking my social media. The truth is that I have no interest in anything today, no ability to focus on anything.
I want to scream and shout. I want to cry. I want to laugh at the pure insanity of it all. I want these feelings to stop, this pain to stop. I desperately want to be happy, to not have my mental illness always leaving a thick, dark sludge over everything in my life. It taints everything. Even the most delicious food tastes bland, the most upbeat music feels melancholy. I don’t understand why my own mind would do this to me, why it wants me to hate my life, to hate myself.
It’s an hour until he is due back home. All I have to show for the day so far is a container of salsa. Strangely, even that feels like a victory.
I tell myself I will get to those dishes right after I finish writing this. I don’t know if I will but I’m trying to be hopeful and positive. I’m not sure I really feel it or believe it, though. People say “fake it until you make it”. I do it every single day when I try to encourage myself that today will be better, that I will be better today. It all feels like lies because nothing ever seems to get better. Yet part of me remains hopeful.
I breathe deeply and try to re-center myself. I wash the tears from my face. I mentally prepare myself to paint that smile back on my face, to pretend I am doing better than I truly am. I know that, as long as I can force a grin and my cheeks are not salty from tears, he will assume today at least wasn’t an absolutely horrible day and not bring it up. I actually prefer that today because I’m not even truly sure what has me so shaken to the core. I wouldn’t even know what to say if he asked what was wrong. I just know those feelings are there.
I do a mental tally of what foods we have that would be quick and easy because I’m not sure I have the energy to make anything more than that. Truthfully, I don’t think I even have the energy to do that, but I’m terrified of letting him down, of disappointing him, of him thinking for even a moment that I am as worthless as I feel inside.
I catch myself, reminding myself that he would never say that, never think that. That is my depression talking. Part of me knows my depression lies, yet those sentiments always feel so real.
I settle on an easy dinner and turn back to do one last proofread. I tell myself that writing this is a huge accomplishment, that I should be proud of myself for opening up at all. It doesn’t feel like an accomplishment, though. It feels like nothing, a waste of time. I feel like a waste of space. I question why anyone would even want to read this, to hear anything I have to say.
Again, I catch myself. Easily, a dozen times a day I realize I am spewing that narrative, buying into depression’s lies. Part of me wants to scream “shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!”. Unfortunately, though, stigma already has many people assuming that those with a mental illness are crazy. I can’t feed their ignorance and their fears. Still, I wish my mind would go silent.
I’ve done very little today beyond battling my own mind. That, and beating myself up for everything that I haven’t done. It feels like I’ve gone ten rounds with a heavyweight champion. I’m already exhausted and ready for bed. Ironically, I know when I finally get to go to bed, I won’t even be able to sleep. I’ll lay there like I do every night because my mind never shuts up. The words might alternate between despair and emptiness, but the endless chatter always remains.
Today is supposed to be World Mental Health Awareness Day, but in truth it could be any random, generic day to me. They all bleed together, all feel the same. The intensity varies day to day but the struggle is always there. The world only schedules awareness one day a year but it is my reality every day.
I made some paper mache pumpkins today. It wasn’t that I was feeling particularly cheerful or festive. It is that creating art helps me cope with my depression. Art has become one of my favorite and most used self-care techniques in my mental wellness toolbox.
When I am struggling under the weight of my own emotions, I often write about the impact my illness has on my life. When I am feeling numb, I prefer crafts that are multi-dimensional and messy, so I can feel with my hands even if I cannot feel with my heart. When my life feels dark and hopeless, I use bright colors. When I feel lost and alone, I create with warm hues, hoping to dd warmth into my life. No matter how my depression distorts my perceptions, there is a way to combat it with art.
Some people assume that if I am well enough to create art, I must not be struggling too badly. Honestly, the opposite is true. I have found that I create the most, and the projects with the deepest personal meanings, when I am struggling the worst. I use artistic expression as my lifeline back to reality. It is the life preserver that keeps me from drowning in even the roughest of storms.
When someone is struggling with depression, the world feels dark and bleak, devoid of any glimmer of light, hope or goodness. There is no beauty in depression. So it helps me to create something beautiful out of my despair. In my artwork, I am reminded that there is more to the world than darkness.
When someone is suffering from depression, the feelings can be overwhelming. You are often raw and feel everything too deeply. You feel like you are drowning in pain and anguish. It helps creating something that will express what I am feeling inside, to release some of the agony that is consuming me. As a wise Ogre once said, “Better out than in”.
When someone has been diagnosed with depression, it seeps into every corner of their consciousness. It is exhausting and overwhelming. It often feels like there is no escape from the prison of your own mind. It helps to create something that can distract me from everything going on within myself. When the creative juices are flowing, it is easy to forget for even a little while the weight of this illness on my shoulders.
When someone suffers from depression, they often feel they have no control over anything in their lives anymore. You often feel like you are on a runaway train, with no way to slow down, stop or get off. You are held hostage, just along for the ride. It helps me to create something artistic because it gives me back some control. My artwork is in my hands. I choose what to make and which direction to take it.
When someone is struggling with depression, they often feel useless, like an utter waste of space. Depression distorts reality and destroys self-esteem. You feel as if you can do nothing right and that everything you touch will become damaged, tainted and tarnished by your very presence. It helps me to create things because art is about expression, not perfection. There is no right or wrong so even when I am feeling like a complete failure, I cannot mess up my art.
When someone who has depression feels isolated and misunderstood, it is common to feel all alone in the world. It can feel like no one is there, nobody cares, no one could possibly understand what you are going through. It helps me to create things I can show others, share with them, to create something to bring them back into my circle, back into my life. Art brings people together. It starts a dialogue where otherwise there would be silence.
There are times when someone who is suffering from depression is at a loss for words to explain how they are feeling. You might not even be sure what you are depressed about, only that those feelings are there. It helps to create things not only so that I can work through and understand my own feelings, but so that I can help explain it to others, as well. Art doesn’t have to be neat and easily explained. Art can be a messy, jumbled mess and still get its point across.
There are many reasons I create, a multitude of reasons why art comforts my mind and soothes my soul. Using art to combat depression isn’t about clear and concise thoughts, raw talent or creating masterpieces. It is about letting emotions out, replacing the darkness with some light and adding your own brand of beauty and creativity into the world. Art is a wonderful tool for mindfulness because it brings you back into the moment, back to reality to focus on the here and now.
When the world feels broken and hopeless and you feel lost and alone, it might feel impossible to find the motivation to create. Use your illness as inspiration. Put into your words or on your canvas how you are feeling inside. Share everything you wish others knew. It doesn’t have to be perfect, or even coherent and understandable to anyone but you. It can be raw and painful, mirroring how you feel inside. If you have the urge to express how you are feeling through your artwork, don’t hold yourself back. Art is about letting your feelings flow.
You don’t have to create based on the negativity of your depression, either, because you are so much more than your depression. The beauty of art if that you are only restricted by your own imagination. The world around you is full of inspiration. Look to the future for upcoming holidays and events. Look to the past for cherished memories. Take inspiration from friends and family or beloved pets. Open a window into the nature outside or look to the heavens above. Revisit your favorite book, movie or television show. Pick a color that calls to you or an abstract thought and run with it. Find your inspiration in something beautiful, something that reminds you of light, happiness and hope.
You don’t need to overthink art. Don’t question things. There is no right or wrong. Just go with the flow. Focus on the here and now and the creative process. Put yourself into your art, the person you are at this very moment or the person you wish you could be. Art is also about possibilities. You start with a blank canvas or empty page. As you create, open yourself up not only to everything your art can become but everything you can become, as well. Remind yourself that you are more than your diagnosis. You are many things, many pieces that are not as dark, bleak and hopeless as your depression makes you feel. You are an artist!
I created some paper mache pumpkins today. Those pumpkins might not seem like much, but they helped me get through another rough day. Though it by no means cured my depression, it gave me a much-needed reprieve from my struggles and a way to add some beauty to a world that would otherwise feel dark and bleak. Art might not be a panacea, but it is a useful crutch that can help get you through the hardest of times, making you feel stronger at a time when you otherwise might not be able to stand on your own.
I have struggled with depression my entire life, in part due to a genetic mutation passed down to me from my parents that affects the way my body metabolizes specific chemicals my brain needs to moderate my moods. I regularly go through horrendous downward spirals where I feel completely broken and worthless, where life feels utterly hopeless. I struggle with long periods of numbness where I have difficulty functioning or even finding the motivation to get out of bed. On bad days, I will cry until my face is sore and my voice is hoarse, and it is unlikely I will be able to accomplish much more than basic self-care. I am battling an illness that warps my very perceptions of life and continuously exhausts and pains me both physically and mentally.
But I am happy.
I have an amazing fiance who is very supportive of me and my diagnosis. I have healthy, kind, smart and all-around wonderful children who have grown into incredible adults. My fiance’s children are both amazing, as well. Together we have all formed a beautiful, blended family that I love with all my heart and am proud to call my own. I have a team of doctors who actually listen to me and a treatment plan that is slowly but surely helping improve my quality of life. And I have a blossoming writing career that has given me a true sense of purpose and an ability to help others in need. I have many wonderful blessings in my life to be grateful for, many reasons to be happy.
Yet I have been diagnosed with depression.
That is because a mental illness like depression has nothing to do with happiness. Depression is not caused by being in the wrong frame of mind or just not trying hard enough to be happy. Having a depression diagnosis has nothing to do with feeling sad, a little blue or under the weather. People with depression aren’t being Negative Nancys or Debbie Downers who just need to learn to lighten up and look on the bright side. My diagnosis wouldn’t just disappear if I just tried to smile a little harder or maintained a more positive outlook on life. My depression has nothing to do with whether or not I am happy.
I have trained myself to find reasons to smile everyday. I am usually the first to look for something positive in even the roughest of situations. No matter how hard my own day might feel, I always try to show compassion and kindness to others. If nothing else, I am grateful each day I wake up and thankful of all the loving and supportive people in my life and share that sentiment regularly. I am hopeful for the possibilities the future may have in store for me, as well. Some of my friends lovingly joke that I am the happiest, most positive little depressed person they know.
Yet I continue to struggle with my depression diagnosis.
My brain does not care whether or not I am happy or grateful, whether I am hopeful, compassionate or kind. My mental illness is caused by my brain not working properly, much like a diabetic’s pancreas malfunctioning causes their condition. I have no more control over having a mental illness than someone else having diabetes, heart disease or another medical condition they may have been passed genetically. Yes, events in my life may have further exasperated my mental illness, much like having excessive sugar might worsen a person’s diabetes or having foods high in cholesterol might affect the severity of heart disease, but my condition preceded any of the traumas and abuses I have endured over the years. I have even sought treatment to help resolve those issues to the best of my ability, yet my depression has remained.
Because depression is an illness, a medical diagnosis with both mental and physical causations.
It is not all in my head.
It is not a state of mind or an emotion.
Depression isn’t about being sad.
The cure for depression is not happiness.
Like any other illness, depression needs ongoing medical treatment. Doctors need to not only diagnose the condition, but also to isolate and treat both the mental and physical reasons for the illness, as well. Though doctors often utilize psychological treatments like therapy, meditation and mindfulness, they usually also include psychiatric methods and medications to help treat the physical causation. That is because doctors recognize mental illnesses such as depression as a verifiable disability that deserves a comprehensive, multi-pronged treatment.
In cases like mine where my depression has a genetic causation, my diagnosis is permanent. I was born with it much like some children are born diabetic. You would not blame a child for being born with a pancreas that was incapable of functioning properly so please don’t blame me for the fact that I was born with organs that malfunctioned, as well. The only difference in my case are the organs affected. No matter how happy I am or how positive my outlook is on life, my liver will never be able to metabolize the substances my brain needs in order to function properly. I will have this medical diagnosis and need ongoing treatment until the day I die.
If I confide in you that I am struggling with depression, please don’t try to encourage me to try to be happier and more positive, or point out all the blessings I have in my life. I am happy and grateful already. You do not need to remind me to be hopeful for the future because I already am. Please don’t blame me for my diagnosis either, insinuating that I wouldn’t be ill if I just tried a little harder. I did not ask for this diagnosis, nor did I cause it. What I need from you is the same compassion, understanding and support you would give anyone else with any other medical diagnosis.
Because, though I am already happy, knowing you were doing your best to be supportive and treat me with the same respect you would someone struggling with other illnesses would make me even happier.
Republished on the Mighty on 4/4/19.
Everything had been building up for months, years.
It was not that I didn’t have wonderful things in my life to be grateful for. I had healthy, compassionate, intelligent children that were growing into incredible adults before my eyes; I had reconnected with my first crush ever who has turned out to be the love of my life and we have a wedding to plan; I had finally found my calling as a mental health advocate and had the start of a promising writing career; I finally understood my struggles with my mental illness, having found a clinic that not only helped me to find the answers I needed, but also actually gave me hope for the future. In so many ways, my life was finally looking up.
However, it was overshadowed by a lifetime of struggling. I had been battling my own brain my entire life. And in recent years, the government and my insurance company, as well. It felt like all I ever did anymore was fight everyone, again and again. It seemed never-ending. I was so exhausted from fighting all the time, never getting to catch my breath, never getting a break.
Add to that discovering not one but two meningioma tumors on my brain. I had survived years of abuses that left deep scars that would never fully heal. My fiance and I were facing a possible pending eviction caused directly by the government’s prolonged inaction in my case and direct refusal to comply with a judge’s previous fair hearing decision in my favor.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was the fairly consistent presence of someone toxic in my fiance and my lives under the guise of one of his childhood friends who was hell-bent on causing problems in our relationship, repeatedly trying to split us up.
To give a little background on the situation, she had known him since she was thirteen and had a crush on him for close to thirty years, bordering on stalkerish. When he was staying with his parents following the end of his marriage, she would intentionally show up hours before he was due home from work and say she would wait in his bedroom for him as an excuse to sleep in his bed. Though they never had any type of a relationship because he never saw her THAT way, for years, she regularly borrowed hats and shirts from him and kept them, much like a girlfriend would normally do. Despite having a crumbling relationship at home she should have been devoting her attention to, she tried repeatedly over the years to supplant herself into my fiance and his family’s lives in any way she could whenever she could, often causing drama in the process. Though he later forgave her to an extent, she even played a crucial part in the break up of his first marriage.
From the time we got together, she had been trying to cause problems between us and split us up. The first time I met her was a month into our relationship, shortly after his father went into hospice. She pulled me aside and tried to convince me that I had no idea what I had gotten myself into or the mess he was going to be so I should just walk away before I got in over my head. She told me he was mentally unstable, that she knew him well enough to know I could not handle what was in store. She seemed thrown aback when I told her I had known him longer than her and I was in it for the long haul.
When she could see I was not going anywhere, she switched tactics. Over the course of the next year, every single time she came over she would make negative comments about me and my mental illness, lecturing me that I needed to stop being lazy and do something with myself and my life. Whenever my fiance and I would both jump in to defend me and attempt to explain the disability diagnosis my doctors had given me, she would interject that she worked in mental health, too, and she “knew what she was talking about”. She worked in a mental health care adjacent position, as a glorified overnight babysitter at a facility that housed mentally or physically disabled adults, a job you didn’t even need a high school diploma or any certification to get, yet she swore repeatedly that she knew better than all my doctors over the years. She frequently trivialized my mental health writing as a waste of time and criticized everything from the cleanliness of my apartment to my cooking, as if nothing I did even remotely met her standards.
As if the constant attacks were not enough, she also was constantly attempting, albeit admittedly very poorly, to blatantly flirt with my fiance in front of me. She would try to run her fingers through his hair and insist he let her cut it, to which he would pull away and say I will cut his hair when he needs it done. When he stopped shaving for no shave November and the couple months afterwards, she commented repeatedly that he should shave because he looks so much better clean shaven, that she prefers him that way, even offering to do that for him, as well. She was forever reaching out to touch him, swat at him or rub him with her hand while she talked, trying to take sips out of his drinks like a girlfriend might do and regularly found excuses to lift her shirt or drop her pants in front of him under the pretense of showing off numerous bug bites and bruises. She would often announce wildly inappropriate things that people wouldn’t normally discuss with friends, like she had just shaved her nether regions or talk about having sex, watching porn or masturbation when she came over.
We tolerated much more than we should have because honestly we felt sorry for her. She was always desperate for attention and, according to her, her problems were always ten times worse than everyone else’s. For example, when we attempted to explain about my doctors finding my brain tumors, she cut us off by saying, “That’s nothing! Did I tell you I had to bring my car back to the shop again?!” as if car problems were somehow worse than brain tumors. She was loud, obnoxious, crass and crude with no concept of respect or boundaries, always saying or doing whatever she could think of to get all eyes on her. She was always talking badly about someone when she came over, usually my fiance’s ex-wife, even though she was supposedly still good friends with her, to the point where we began watching everything we said around her to avoid becoming part of her gossip. She also had severe substance abuse issues. In a year and a half of seeing her once to twice a week on average, I never once saw her even remotely sober regardless of the time of day – she was always drunk, high or both. We knew from everything she had talked about that things were bad for her at home, that her relationship was in shambles. A lot of people had written her off already over the years for her behavior but we understood that she had a lot of issues so we tried to cut her some extra slack.
I had tried my best to be kind to her. On more than one occasion, I took the time to show her sons my sugar gliders and explain more about them. I even watched her youngest once for over an hour while she ran an errand. If we had leftovers when she stopped by on her way to work, I would send her with a plate or bowl. She would regularly fill her purse from treats I had put out in snack bowls. I baked her family Christmas cookies and sent her with extra for both home and work. I once even lent her an old pair of pants that were too big on me so she had something clean for work when she stained her own. I listened sympathetically when she complained of relationship issues, health problems or other stresses, trying to extend an olive branch of friendship. I even did my best to overlook her steady barrage of flirtation with my fiance because I realized it must have been hard to see someone you crushed on for decades happily with someone else.
But despite all my attempts at kindness, both her attacks on me and her inappropriate flirtation with my fiance not only continued but steadily increased. What originally may have been one off-handed comment about her believing my disability was nonsense became full-fledged rants. She began making snippy and snide remarks and telling us to stop whenever my fiance and I were affectionate to each other as if she resented anyone else showing him attention or love. Over time, it had all became too much to bear. When my fiance and I began contemplating marriage, she declared we were not ALLOWED to both get married a second time because she had never even been married a first. When we officially announced our engagement, she responded by referring to me as (please excuse my language) his “fuck buddy”, saying outright that the only thing I did for him was give him my “roast beef curtains” and insist that he deserves better than me. That was the last straw and we agreed she was no longer welcome in our house or our lives.
For two weeks afterwards, she did not come around. Then late one night, well after one in the morning when we were already in bed, we heard a drunken knock at our kitchen window. We both knew exactly who it was because she was the only one we knew with the audacity to think that would be acceptable. I was livid and wanted him to tell her to leave immediately. He wanted to quietly let her in to avoid her making a drunken scene in our apartment building, to wait to tell her she was no longer welcome here another time, during more reasonable hours when she might be somewhat more sober and perhaps slightly more reasonable. Everything quickly escalated.
We were both beyond stressed at the time, not at all with each other but rather with life circumstances in general, topped off by our unwelcome, uninvited guest. Beyond all my own issues, he had been struggling terribly, as well. He had a lifelong battle with his own mental illness. In the last year, he had lost first his father then his job. The family dog that had been his parents’ for well over a decade had to be put down and he was struggling to keep his truck, one of his last physical connections to his deceased parents, on the road and in working order. We were both well beyond our breaking points on many fronts and the culmination of everything with her pushed us right over the edge. We fought terribly, something we don’t often do even in a mild sense. It may have been the worst fight of our entire relationship. Afterwards, I retreated to the bedroom to cry, locking the door so I could be alone.
I did not have any plans to commit suicide. The thought honestly had not even crossed my mind. I was not trying to hurt myself in any way. I loved my fiance and my children more than I could ever put into words and would never have wanted to hurt them in any way, either. I was hurt, angry and distraught over our fight, disgusted that we had tolerated someone so blatantly toxic for so long, and I was exhausted and overwhelmed with life in general. I just wanted to be alone, wanted to try to calm down, to catch my breath, to stop feeling like I was free-falling through a world where I was never allowed to just be happy, never allowed to just rest and be at peace.
I dumped the basket of pills out on the bed and fished out various bottles of my take-as-needed anti-anxiety medications. In between sobs, I took a few. Then I vomited.
Seeing the pills floating there on top, I took a few more to replace the ones I had lost. I continued to sob and to vomit. To vomit and to take more pills to replace the others.
At this point, I was no longer thinking clearly, caught in a nightmarish loop, wanting desperately just to calm down, to stop feeling like this, and to get some much needed rest.
Eventually, sleep came. I started to feel dizzy and thought to myself, “..finally.. they are starting to kick in..” It is the last thing I remember for almost two days.
I woke up a day and a half later in the hospital. He was seated at my bedside, looking ragged, like he hadn’t slept in days.
Baby! You’re awake! Oh my god I love you. I am so sorry about everything. How are you feeling? What do you remember?
I was confused and disoriented. On oxygen. Had a bunch of tubes and wires all over my body. It took me a few minutes to realize where I was and what was going on. I could not remember anything since taking the pills, crying and throwing up repeatedly. I was not even sure what day it was.
I can’t believe you don’t remember any of it. I had to kick down the door, to call the police.
My chest hurts.
I can only imagine. One of the cops did a sternum check, pushing really hard on your chest, hoping for a reaction to the pain. You were completely unresponsive.
My throat hurts.
You had tubes down your throat. They had to restrain you for a bit because you started to flail and grab at the tubes. You have no idea how much you scared me baby. What you looked like, laying there hooked up to all those machines, all those wires and tubes. I thought I was going to lose you. Please don’t ever scare me like that ever again.
I wanted to talk about it all, to explain, but my voice was raspy, my throat raw. It hurt to talk. I couldn’t stop coughing. I wanted to insist I hadn’t meant for any of this to happen, to swear I wasn’t suicidal like I had been all those years ago before we were even together. I wanted to apologize for scaring him, for fighting over stupid things like people who were inconsequential and irrelevant. All I could do though was cry as he held me close, my tears flowing freely with his.
I had lost a day and a half.
But more importantly, I tarnished our relationship in a way I can never take back. The sight of me laying there unresponsive, of being carted out on a stretcher, of my laying there as the doctors frantically worked to revive me, will forever haunt his nightmares.
I spent the next day in intensive care as they closely monitored my heart, followed by three days on a secure floor on suicide watch. Again and again, I tried to explain it all to whoever would listen, to insist I was not suicidal. However, protocol required a few days of observation no matter what was said.
My heart was constantly monitored, my vitals taken every few hours. My IV was moved numerous times as my veins collapsed and fresh bruises appeared up and down my arms. I was stuck in bed for the first couple days upstairs while I waited for nurses to find me clothes other than hospital gowns. The clothes I had arrived in had been cut off me in the emergency room when I arrived. I could not wear other clothes from home until after I was cleared for discharge.
I was not allowed many other items often taken for granted such as a phone charger or silverware. Well-intentioned staff reached out repeatedly to try to convince me life was worth living. Meanwhile, they rushed to confiscate any cans or other sharp items from meal trays and to take endless notes on everything I said and did to assist with my psychological evaluation. I had a constant companion, a nurse or aide to sit with me at all times to prevent me from possibly further harming myself. Though I was never by myself during those four days, I had a lot of time to lay in bed alone and think.
I was not suicidal but I have been in the past. I did not intent to harm myself, but I had in the past. Intentional this time or not, I found myself in the same place and, like my previous attempts in the past, it had not solved anything. On the contrary, it made everything much worse. It hurt the people I love, scared my fiance and my children to death.
I didn’t get any time to calm down, didn’t get that moment of peace I had desired so badly. The majority of the problems had not gone anywhere. I lost a day and a half, woke up in pain and discomfort only to face new problems created by my own actions.
I was extremely lucky just for the fact that I am still here to tell my story. I could have just as easily become a statistic that day. My story could have just as easily ended with my obituary, the words and questions of others left unanswered, adrift in the wind.
I cannot apologize enough for what I put everyone through. I feel stupid, ashamed, that I should have known better. There are no words that could adequately express my remorse. I would do anything to take back that night but there is nothing I could ever say or do that would erase the past.
I would love to say there is no excuse for my actions but when my depression and anxiety reach certain levels, I no longer always think clearly. I become increasingly overwhelmed, the world feels largely hopeless and I am no longer able to cope. Even when I am not actively suicidal, which I have not been for years now, I struggle regularly with suicidal ideation, not exactly wanting to die but no longer wanting to continue living my life the way it is, either. Though I never meant to fall apart like I had that day, unfortunately once I reach a certain point, I react before rationalizing the repercussions of my actions.
I would love to say there is an easy solution to this, that I could take a magic pill or think some happy thoughts and my mental illness would just fade away and disappear. I wish I could say it was a temporary phase even that I would eventually get over. My mental illness is caused in part by a genetic mutation. I was born with it and I will have it until the day I die. There is no cure for me. It is permanently hardwired into my genetics. I can receive therapy for past traumas and current issues, I can take medication to provide my brain with the chemicals my body cannot make itself, I can fill my coping toolbox with techniques and strategies for dealing with harder days and attend things like tai chi and yoga classes until the day I die. Yet I will always have a mental illness. It is a lifelong, permanent diagnosis for me.
Mental illness is my cross to bear. Though I truly appreciate that my loved ones are willing to stand by me and support me through my struggles with my mental health, it is not fair or right for them to suffer like they have for my diagnosis. Although I never intended to do so, I severely hurt everyone that matters to me. They all have tried to be compassionate and understanding, to forgive me for an illness that often wreaks havoc in my life, for a condition frequently beyond my control.
However, I am not sure I will ever be able to forgive myself.
Since getting out of the hospital, my fiance and I have not talked much about the incident beyond him being thankful that I am okay and asking me to please never scare him like that again. I have reassured my children that I am okay, as well, trying to minimalize the severity of it all to lessen their fears. Again, I wish there were some magic words I could say to take away the pain and panic in their eyes. I fear no apology will ever be enough.
It took almost a week before we could even sleep in our bedroom again. While I was in the hospital, he slept on the couch when he could sleep at all, the spilled pill bottles, vomit and towels still sitting where they were when the ambulance carted me away. I insisted on cleaning it up myself when I came home, my mess, my problem, but going into that room felt like crossing into an alternate nightmare dimension. Nevertheless, I fought my way through a bevy of anxiety attacks and breakdowns to clean it all up. Even after everything was cleared away, no trace remaining, we opted to sleep in the living room for the next week on our air mattress. We knew what had happened in there, we had lived through it, yet we were still not quite ready to fully face it.
The first couple nights that we returned to the bedroom, I couldn’t sleep at all. He continued to cling tightly to me all night while he slept, as he had done every single night since we returned home from the hospital, as if he was terrified that I would disappear forever if he let go for even a moment. I laid awake both nights, silently crying for the pain and fear I had placed in his heart. A month later, my anxiety still rises whenever I enter that room, my sleep restless and plagued by nightmares old and new.
I know I need to change many things, to put safeguards in place to prevent something like this from ever happening again. I cannot change the fact that I have a mental illness, but there are other things I can address, precautions I can take. I never want to hurt my loved ones like that ever again. For instance, no more locking myself away when I am upset. No more taking extra dosages of medication early, even if I have thrown up the dose I just took. No more tempting fate when I might be too emotionally irrational to think clearly.
I have a constant pressing need now to reassure him that I am okay, that he doesn’t have to worry. I catch him looking at me, watching me, more frequently now, and checking in on how I am feeling. We are trying to heal from this, to move forward, though I’m not sure we can ever completely move past it. He almost lost me that day. He is always going to worry just a little bit more now.
We have also agreed to remove certain toxic people completely from our lives, those who prefer to add drama and conflict rather than happiness and support. We learned the hard way that some people will take advantage of our kindness and tolerance, repaying us tenfold with cruelty and drama. The nail in the coffin of that childhood friendship was hearing from mutual friends that she had been going around laughing and bragging about “putting me in the hospital”, proud of the part she played in my breakdown. We will never again allow anyone like that into our lives. Whatever it takes to never find ourselves in that situation again.
Some people say that suicide is selfish because all it does is pass the pain onto others. Other people attempt to explain that those who make attempts just don’t want to hurt anymore themselves. Many nowadays recognize that suicide is often a tragic byproduct of mental illness. I have been suicidal. I have been in those moments of desperately wanting the pain to stop. I have had suicidal attempts in my past and now an unintentional attempt because I was upset, irrational and not thinking clearly. I have lost loved ones to suicide, and known others who have lost people they loved deeply, as well, so I understand all too well how devastating it can be from the outside looking in. Regardless of where you fit in the equation, suicide is always heart-wrenching and tragic.
One thing I can tell you, whether you are suicidal or not, whether your attempt is intentional or not, the result is always the same. Pain. Pain for everyone you love, everyone who loves you. Pain for yourself should you survive. And not just physical pain from tubes and tests and IVs. Emotional pain as you see that haunted look in their eyes, that kernel of doubt that appears every time afterwards that you insist you’re okay. Pain that will continue for years, that will likely never go away, whether you’re around to see it or not.
Pain and overwhelming loss for everyone who has ever cared for you. They will never be the same. You might carry physical scars from your attempt, but theirs will run much deeper and never fully heal. Those close to you will retrace all your interactions, looking for signs, real or imaginary, to explain what happened. They will question whether they should have said this or should not have said that. People who you have not seen in ages will question if they should have reached out, as if they could have magically known things were bad and somehow made a difference. They will all blame themselves for your actions and choices. Whether you die or not, they will be forever haunted by that one choice you made, something completely beyond their control. Yet, in their pain, they will embrace that blame, caught in a cycle of imagining every scenario that could have prevented it.
To those contemplating suicide or just on that edge of not being able to cope with life anymore, please know that I understand completely how hard it can feel, especially when you’re struggling with mental illness. You are not alone. But I wouldn’t wish the kind of pain I caused on anyone, not my worst enemy, not my loved ones or yours. Once it has happened, though, you cannot ever take it back. Even if they don’t lose you, your relationships will never be the same. I cannot change the pain I’ve caused, but perhaps, by sharing my story, you can spare your loved ones from the same fate.
Please be careful. Be careful with yourself and be careful with your loved ones. Life is a fragile thing, a light that can be snuffed out in a moment. It may be hard sometimes, downright unfair. But life is also precious. As is love. Don’t take either for granted.
I know all too well that mental illnesses are rarely rational. When we are upset, we often react based on pure emotion. So take precautions now, during the calm before the next storm. Do not leave ways to harm yourself readily accessible when you might find yourself too emotional to think rationally. Don’t set yourself up to fail or to hurt yourself or those you love.
I thankfully am very lucky to still be sitting here, able to share my story. Many others have tragically lost their battles with mental illness without ever having a chance to tell their tale. Their stories are told in yearly mental health statistics and on memorial pages created by those they left behind. We’re all in this boat together and we only have two choices. We can either become a statistic or we can keep going, keep fighting, and find some way to make a difference in this world, even if only to show others that it is possible to survive our diagnosis. There are too many mental health statistics and enough pain already in this world. If we have to choose anything, let’s choose life and love.
Much love, compassion, hope and faith that even if this does not find you well, it finds you strong enough to keep living. ❤
Everywhere you look nowadays, you see stories about Ariana Grande’s whirlwind romance with Pete Davidson. And almost everyone seems to want to put in their two cents on the matter, claiming everything from the fact that they’re too young to they’re moving too fast. So many opinions abound.
More than anything, though, I keep seeing people chiming in about the fact that they both have mental illnesses that they have spoken publicly about, as if their illnesses play a large part in their relationship in some negative way. Ariana Grande has spoken out about her struggles with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Pete Davidson has shared his experiences with borderline personality disorder. Yes, they both have mental illnesses but they also have found love. And two people loving each other is not a bad thing.
There are many people that buy into the stigma surrounding mental illness, assuming that everyone struggling with one is crazy, unbalanced or even dangerous. Some assume that nobody can have a healthy relationship while they have an unhealthy mind and that two mentally ill people coming together is a recipe for disaster.
I once even had a friend tell me specifically that “two unhealthy people cannot have a healthy relationship”. Based on their premise, because I have a lifelong mental illness diagnosis that has its roots in my genetics, I have no hope of having a healthy relationship, especially if I fall in love with someone else who is struggling with an illness, as well. If he were to be believed, I was destined to be alone.
As someone who struggles with mental illness who is in a relationship with someone else who is mentally ill, as well, I can tell you from my own personal experience that is not the case.
I have depression, anxiety and PTSD. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD. We have both struggled with our illnesses for years, even being hospitalized for breakdowns at different points in our lives. Yet, in each other we have found a love unlike anything either of us had ever experienced before.
We knew each other years ago as children. He was my older brother’s best friend for a time and my first crush. In our teens, life sent us in different directions and we lost touch for many years. We found each other again a year and a half ago, after twenty five years apart, and sparks flew.
Like Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson, we’ve had people look at our relationship with judgment because we moved so fast. He found me online again, listed as a friend of a friend he might know and we reconnected. For two days, we talked non-stop whenever we had a moment to spare. On the third day, we arranged to get together in person. We’ve been together ever since. As they often say “the rest is history”.
A month and a half later, we found ourselves living together. We hadn’t planned it that way honestly. His father had inoperable end-stage cancer and was placed in hospice. There was no way I was going to leave his side for even a moment and make him endure that alone. I had lost my own father to cancer a few years earlier, following his own brief stay in hospice. Going through that together brought us even closer.
All the people from the outside looking in saw were two people who jumped ridiculously fast into a relationship. They don’t realize that we knew each other as children and had a pre-existing familiarity and closeness that was brought back to the surface again. The don’t accept that facing hardships together as we had done brings people closer. They don’t consider that we have physically spent more time together in the last year and a half together than some couples have after dating for years. They don’t see how we are with each other behind closed doors and how close we’ve continued to grow with each passing day. Some people come directly from a place of judgment and automatically think it’s irrational to be so serious after such a short time. Or worse, they label our choices as “crazy”, as if our love was just another way our mental illnesses have presented themselves.
Because of our mental illnesses, we’ve both always felt different, broken, damaged. We both never felt we quite fit in or that anyone else could truly understand what we’re going through. We’ve both felt so lost and that life should not be this hard. We both have struggled for years to stay positive when it felt like our world was spiraling down into a dark abyss. We both had numerous people in our lives who just couldn’t understand, who told us it was all in our heads, that we just needed to get over it and suck it up.
The difference now is that we both have someone we can talk to about everything we’ve been through. Someone who truly gets it because they have been there themselves. Someone who listens without judgment because they understand all too well how much that judgment hurts. Someone who sees us not as damaged and broken, but for the big hearts and beautiful souls we have inside.
With that level of love and acceptance comes an incredibly strong bond.
We’re able to open up to one another and talk on a level that we never had before, to share experiences and traumas we’ve kept to ourselves for years. In each other, we’ve found the one person we can completely be ourselves with, say anything to, without fear of rejection.
We both have a portion of our mental illness that is unique to us. I have a generalized anxiety disorder and he has bipolar disorder. Though I have not struggled with his disorder myself, my mother had bipolar disorder so I had some experience with his illness, at least from the outside looking in. We have patiently explained to one another everything the other didn’t understand and offered tips to one another for how to support us when we are struggling. We listen intently to each other and are supportive to each other because we both know very well how it feels to have nobody there who understands.
The depression side of his disorder I understand all too well. The manic side not so much, though I had learned early on in life to spot the shifts in my mother because she shared his diagnosis. When he has a manic episode, I am always there to offer support and encouragement. He often becomes hyper-focused on one task or another and I intervene to make sure he does not lose himself, putting off self-care and disregarding his basic needs like eating. On the rare occasion that his mania presents itself as rage, I do my best to deescalate the situation in a non-confrontational way. No matter how his mania presents itself, I offer a calming presence to soothe him and bring him back down again, often rubbing his back, head and shoulders to help him relax.
When my anxiety makes me think irrationally, he is there to talk me down, to help me see reason. Following anxiety attacks, when I desperately just need the quiet presence of someone else, he holds me closely without judgment and reassures me everything is okay.
Depression hits us both pretty hard. In the past, we’ve both dealt with people who never understood and who insisted it was all in our heads. But we both know the signs. We can see in each other when our depression is raging strong. And we are both there for each other how we always wished someone would have been there for us for all those years. We are gentle, kind and compassionate with each other because we’ve been there ourselves and we understand how hard it can be.
We both are plagued by PTSD, as well. Nightmares of past trauma are especially hard for us both. When either of us is battling the demons of our past, the other can see the signs, intervene and offer comfort and support. When our pasts are haunting us, we can talk openly about it on a level that we never were able to with anyone else.
On days either or both of us are struggling particularly hard, we have learned to lean on each other without judgment. We each pick up where the other leaves off. We have developed an ever-shifting balance in our relationship. On days we both are struggling, we curl up together and lean on each other for comfort.
We cheer each other on for our successes and support each other in our struggles. We encourage each other to stay strong, to keep fighting and to get the treatment we each need. Neither one of us judges the other for the ways our illnesses present themselves because we understand all too well and empathize with each other on every level. We not only offer each other support but we’ve become proactive in each other’s treatment, as well. We’ve attended doctors appointments with each other and helped bring up concerns the other may not have noticed or may have been too uncomfortable to discuss. We love and support each other in every way.
Yes, we jumped into a relationship that became serious relatively quickly. But it was not because our mental illnesses had us thinking irrationally. In each other, we saw someone who finally understood everything we had been battling our entire lives. In each other, we found that one person who could accept us completely for who we were, loving us not despite our mental illnesses but because of every single thing, mental illnesses included, that made us who we were. In each other, we discovered what we had been needing, what we had been missing, our entire lives. Pure unconditional love.
When you find something like that you don’t question it. You don’t hold back, think on it or weigh options. You thank the heavens for placing someone in your life and in your path that makes you finally feel not just that it’s okay to be you but that there’s not a single other person in this world you’d rather be. You run with it and you love them back completely because life is short. We have to make the most of it. And a love like this is too good to pass up.
Yes, we may lean on each other more than others do because of our conditions, but that doesn’t make our relationship unhealthy. We give each other exactly what we each need. We might both have mental illnesses, but we both are so much more than our diagnosis. And now we are both blessed to have found someone who can truly see that.
After all, mental illness is just another medical diagnosis and one that is largely treatable. The only thing that makes mental illness different from other illnesses is that it presents itself in the brain instead of the body so it’s not as easily visible. People with different medical conditions live their lives and find love every single day. Those with a mental illness are no different. People who have a mental illness are just as worthy and deserving of love as anyone else.
So please don’t judge others, or their relationships, based on the fact that one or both of them have a mental illness. Don’t let the overwhelming stigma surrounding mental illness turn you into a naysayer that pronounces doom and gloom on two people in love just because they both happen to share a similar medical condition. Instead, celebrate that, despite the fact that there are millions of people walking this earth, they were able to find that one person who loves them completely for who they are.
Republished on The Mighty on 6/28/18.
Republished on Yahoo Lifestyle on 6/28/18.
Republished on Yahoo News – Canada on 6/28/18.
Republished on Yahoo News – India on 6/28/18.
For years, I struggled with my mental health treatment. Not only was I considered “treatment resistant” because no medication my doctors prescribed seemed to even touch my illness, but I had become increasingly disillusioned with the therapy aspect, as well.
In theory, I have always believed therapy was a good thing. Better out than in, as Shrek says. I believed that people need to be able to talk about the issues in their life so that they did not build up, escalate and cause further issues down the line.
However, my personal experiences with therapy and counseling were disheartening to say the least.
When I was a child, my mother briefly took our family for therapy together. On the very first appointment, when my brother and I both attempted to speak up and share our perspectives on the situation, we were cut off. Our “family therapist” informed us that they were the parents, we were the children, that whatever they said goes and that our opinions on the matter were irrelevant. From that point on in his sessions, I didn’t even bother participating because he made me feel irrelevant, as well. The whole experience left a horrible taste in my mouth and made it harder for me to trust or open up to therapists from that point on.
As a teenager after my mother shot my father, I was briefly placed in counseling again. The therapist that time did not seem interested in who I was or how I was feeling. They simply wanted to know whether I had any plans to try and harm myself or anyone else. Once they felt reassured that I was not a danger to myself or others, they saw no reason to see me any further. Again, I was left feeling like I did not matter.
In my twenties, I had my first serious breakdown and my first true glimpse into the mental healthcare system. I now not only was assigned a therapist but a meds doctor, as well. I also had doctors that I saw for group therapy sessions. I had a bonafide mental health team.
My therapist was always watching the clock and would interrupt me each session when we had ten minutes left, telling me to “wrap it up” because our session was almost over. She chose the direction of our sessions, insisting we always talk about current issues because she didn’t believe I was ready to talk about my past. I had no control over my own therapy. I felt irrelevant to the whole process, like I was just going through the motions of getting help and she was only listening because she was being paid to do so. If I ever needed to contact her in between sessions, I was directed to leave a voice mail, though her mailbox was often too full to leave one.
My meds doctor was equally as bad at listening. He would prescribe me whatever the current flavor of the month antidepressant might be. When I would explain that it was not even touching my symptoms, he would continuously up the dosages or add other prescriptions into the mix until the side effects became unbearable and I felt like a walking zombie. Every time I spoke up explaining that nothing was helping and that I felt worse than before I began taking anything, I was disregarded and told that I had to give the medications time to work.
My “therapy groups” were laughable at best. Everyone in the groups were told that we were not allowed to talk about anything too personal, nor were we allowed to discuss any topic that might be triggering to anyone else. What we were left with was a room full of people sitting there uncomfortably, some wanting to cry, others wanting to rage, as we all muttered through gritted teeth that we were fine because none of us felt we were allowed to say anything more.
The mental health clinic I attended also had an impatient wing at an area hospital. I was admitted there a handful of times over the years. As bad as their other services were, those stints on the mental health floor of the hospital were the worst. It always took over a day to get my medications approved so I felt even more unbalanced from the start. On an average three to seven day stay, I only saw a doctor for ten to fifteen minutes on the day I was admitted and again on the day I was released. In between, the only option for any sort of therapy were groups. I was assigned groups with the same rules as my outpatient groups so nothing was ever talked about or resolved. No one was allowed in their rooms during the day so you had hallways full of clinically depressed people walking endless laps around a secured wing, biding their time until their next mandatory group or meal. Patients openly sobbed or sat around with numb expressions as if life itself no longer made sense. Nurses sat in a large locked cubicle in the center of the wing, laughing and talking among themselves and largely disregarding the patients unless they had to intervene with a “behavioral issue” or direct someone somewhere. There was no real treatment. It was a corral to hold the mentally ill until the staff could pass them off to be someone else’s problem.
More than once, I stopped going to my treatment over the years. I felt irrelevant, unheard, unhelped. It all felt like a complete waste of time. However, with or without treatment, my mental illness raged on and periodically I found myself having another breakdown and needing treatment again. Unfortunately, there was not a large selection of mental health clinics in the county where I lived, and the others all had long waiting lists, so whenever I needed mental health treatment I was sent back to the same clinic that had already previously let me down. Over time, I became so disenchanted with the mental healthcare system that I just couldn’t see the point anymore. I may have had a bonafide mental health treatment team but I walked away without any real treatment for my illness.
A couple years ago, I had yet another severe breakdown, this time thankfully in another county. With the help of a coordinated care provider, I was able to get an appointment at a clinic that normally had a long waiting list and was not currently taking new patients. Again, I would be assigned a mental health team. I wasn’t going to hold my breath, though. I had been through this process many times before. My expectations were low.
I have never before been so pleasantly surprised or so grateful to be proven wrong. The difference was like night and day.
My meds doctor actually listened to my previous experience with different prescriptions and did not try to push a large pile of pills on me. Instead, he had me take a genetic test to determine what medications would work best for me based on my genetic make up. Lo and behold, based on the results of this test, over half of the medications previous doctors had placed me on were listed as causing moderate to significant interactions for me. The genetic test also revealed a genetic mutation I had that greatly contributed to my treatment resistance. We worked together to create a treatment plan that actually suited me.
All my groups encouraged open dialogue, even if the topic was grief or pain. My groups laughed together and cried together. We fought our battles side by side and all felt heard. This clinic offered a wide variety of groups beyond traditional therapy groups, as well, such as transforming anxiety through art, meditation, tai chi and yoga. I found myself signing up for every group I could fit into my schedule. Not only were they treating my mental illness, they were contributing to my mental wellness, as well.
My biggest blessing and godsend at this new clinic was my therapist. She lets me control the flow of our appointments and choose what I feel I need to address each week, never prodding or rejecting the topics I select. She made allowances with her scheduling so that if we ever went over the session time, she never had to cut me off or make another patient wait. She understood my struggles with verbalizing sometimes in between appointments and readily agreed to communicate via email or texts because that was what worked best with me. Whenever I have emailed or texted her, she has responded back in under a day. Most importantly, she truly listened and cared.
When I was struggling to find housing, she brought in resources and connected me to organizations that might be able to assist me. She helped me navigate through registering my sugar gliders as emotional support animals. She took the time to introduce me to others I would be attending groups with so I did not feel so awkward about not knowing anyone there. When I was on bedrest following surgery, she did sessions over the phone so that I did not have a lapse in treatment. She has helped and intervened with more than one personal crisis time and again. She regularly went above and beyond in every way imaginable.
Perhaps the grandest gesture she had done was only a couple months into our visits. My mother had passed away on Thanksgiving day 2010. In one of our early sessions, I had expressed to her how hard this day still was for me years later. On Thanksgiving, she took time out of her day and her own family celebrations not once but twice to reach out and call to make sure I was okay.
Again and again, she has shown me that I wasn’t just a patient that mattered during those 50 minutes penciled in on her schedule. She helped me to feel like I mattered even when I had trouble mattering to myself. She always made me feel like my mental health was a priority, that I was a priority. I have never felt more heard.
I honestly feel like I won the therapist lottery. In under two years time, I have gone from hating therapy and thinking it is a joke to believing it can truly make a difference in someone’s life. My life. Everyone’s life. Whenever I hear anyone talk about needing a therapist, I refer them to my clinic, insisting that even if there is not an opening right away, they are worth the wait. I often share stories about my experiences with my therapist that end in “what therapist does that?!”. The only difference is that now my stories come from a place of gratitude instead of disbelief and disgust.
There are wonderful therapists out there. There are clinics that genuinely want to help their patients heal, who see them as people that are suffering instead of a steady flow of dollar signs in and out the door. I understand how easy it is to become disillusioned with the mental healthcare system when it feels like you are unheard and irrelevant to your own treatment. I’ve been there. I went through a revolving door of sub par and inadequate treatment for years. But please know that not all clinics and not all doctors are like that. Some genuinely care about their patients and their well-being.
If you are feeling unheard or untreated, please don’t give up hope. Don’t stop your treatment because your doctor is not hearing you or is not working in your best interest. Keep looking. Find a new doctor. Your mental health matters. Don’t settle for clinics that make you feel irrelevant. Find a place where you feel heard, where you feel like you truly matter. Find a place that makes you look forward to getting the treatment you need. Trust me – It can make a world of a difference in your life.
I want to end this piece by taking a moment and thank Mary B. and everyone else at my mental health clinic for making such a dramatic impact on my life. You are all truly a blessing not only to me but to all those whose lives you have touched. Thank you sincerely.
I have struggled my entire life with mental illness. Unlike some people whose mental illness has an origin that can be pinpointed to a specific life event, mine is caused in part by a genetic mutation. It has always been there to varying degrees. I have always struggled.
Thanks to that same genetic mutation, I have always been considered treatment-resistant, as well. No medication I ever took seemed to even touch the darkness I carried inside me. This mutation affected the way the neurotransmitters in my brain worked so I never received the chemicals that I desperately needed, whether made naturally or prescribed, in any useful amount.
For over forty years of my life, I struggled to function while feeling inherently broken and flawed without ever understanding why. Discovering the existence of my genetic mutation helped me see my mental illness in a new light and put me on a new path of self-love and acceptance. There were ways to treat my mutation. I no longer had to be classified as “treatment resistant” and pushed aside as a hopeless case. I no longer had to stagnate through life, a broken shell going through the motions while barely existing.
Please know that I am not touting any magical cure for mental illness. I am also not trying to push that stigma-fueled misconception that if you just try harder, you can somehow vanquish your mental illness by force of will alone. My mental illness is still very much present and ongoing treatment is still needed. But the way I have come to view my mental illness has drastically changed and, in many ways, it has been both a world-changer and life-saver for me.
I no longer blame myself for my mental illness. I used to believe I was damaged and broken, that I was crazy on some core level, unbalanced and just not right in the head. I had downed gallons of that stigma kool-aid, poisoning myself with the idea that I must just not be trying hard enough, that I was somehow doing this to myself.
I now accept that it is a verifiable illness and one that is largely treatable. I have accepted that I am no more responsible for my illness than a cancer patient would be for their condition. It is a medical diagnosis that affects people of all walks of life regardless of their race, religion, gender identity, age or socio-economic status. I did not ask for my illness nor was it thrust upon me as some punishment or retribution. People just sometimes get sick and when they do, they need treatment.
For years, I was suicidal on and off. Because none of my treatment ever seemed to work, my world felt hopeless. Because I felt damaged and useless, I surrounded myself with people who treated me like I was as worthless as I felt. Even on my best days, I was only a few steps away from giving up.
Being able to finally accept that I was not responsible for my illness removed all the blame from the equation. Since I was no longer to blame, I could stop hating myself, stop punishing myself for being so broken. If it was a medical condition, it was treatable. And if it was treatable, there was hope.
Hope was a new concept for me.
I was not used to the idea of looking forward to the future. Previously, I went through the motions of merely existing day by day. I did not look forward to what tomorrow might bring because it had always brought the same despair as told held and all the days before. Nothing had ever changed. But now, there was finally a very real possibility for change. For the first time, I found myself looking forward to the future.
I also received some semblance of control over my own life. For years, it felt like my world had been spinning out of control and I had no say in the matter, that I was just along for the ride. But if there is treatment available that can work, that means I have control over my life again. Though it might take time to find a balance that works for me, my life and my health are in my hands. The only way my life will never get better is if I choose to not get treatment.
Regaining control over my own life in turn made me more proactive about my treatment. I was willing to try anything that might help. Meditation. Yoga. Tai Chi. Writing. Art. Anything that might make a difference and give me a better fighting chance. It all added new tools to my mental wellness toolbox and made me stronger.
It also made me more open to letting others back into my life. For years I had isolated myself from many people, believing they were better off without me. I worried that somehow the mess in my head might spill over into their lives and firmly believed that nobody deserved that. Being able to see my mental illness as a treatable condition allowed me to take those walls down and let people back in. I wasn’t dangerous, unbalanced or crazy. Nobody needed to be protected or shielded from me. I had a fairly common condition that was treatable.
My new strength also helped me to see that everything my mental illness had been telling me all along was a lie. I was not weak. I was not broken beyond repair. I was not useless, unlovable, unwanted, unworthy. I was strong. I was fierce. I was brave. I was a fighter, a survivor, a force to be reckoned with. My future was in my hands.
My new fighting spirit gave birth to an inner advocate that I never knew was within me. Not only was I fighting for my own mental health, but I began writing advocating for others, as well. And the more I talked about my own mental illness, the more I let others know they were not alone and encouraged them to never give up, the stronger I got. Within my illness, I found a purpose, a reason to keep going and to fight that was much larger than my own survival. The same illness that for years had me pinned on death’s door had breathed new life into me and given me a true calling.
That does not mean that my mental illness is gone. It is still there raging strong. The only difference is that now when that inner dialogue begins, I can fight back. I can call it out for the liar it is. I can use the tools I have acquired in my mental wellness toolbox and stave off the worst of it. Instead of succumbing to its cruelty like a lamb being led to slaughter, I now have the will to fight back, to call it out and to refuse to let it beat me.
And I have hope.
I want to get treatment. Because I have a sincere hope that one day things could be better, that one day my mental illness will not have such a death grip on me.
Having hope has made all the difference.
If you are struggling right now with mental illness, please take my words to heart. You are not to blame. You have done nothing wrong. You are not broken, flawed, or damaged beyond repair. You are not useless, unwanted, unloved, unworthy. You have a medical condition that could happen to anybody. There is treatment available. Things can get better.
And there is hope.
You just have to open yourself up to that possibility.
Trust me. It will change your world and might just save your life.
You’re stronger than you realize. You’d have to be strong to fight the monsters you’ve been fighting all along.
You’ve got this.
I have hope for you. Now all you need is hope for yourself.
Many people assume that those who are suffering from depression are just caught in the wrong mindset, that we’re being Debbie Downers and Negative Nancys, wandering through life with a Trelawney*-sized penchant for doom and gloom. They assume a great deal, if not all, of our mental illness could be solved simply by trying a little harder and adopting a more positive mindset. I can tell you firsthand that is not the case.
I have been told by multiple people over the years that I am the most positive, cheerful, upbeat little depressed person that they have ever met. I refuse to be a victim. I am a fighter. A Survivor. Even in the roughest of circumstances, I still search for something positive to cling to like a life preserver in rough waters after being thrown overboard during a raging storm. I am a firm believer that there is always something positive to be found if you look hard enough. Even on the worst days, I am that one person you can count on to offer an encouraging smile and to point out something good to be grateful for in life.
I do not intentionally surround myself with negativity. Over the years, I have systematically removed many so-called friends and family from my life who found more pleasure in knocking others down rather than helping each other up. I’ve chosen instead to surround myself with people who believe in kindness and compassion, those who prefer to cheer openly for the success of others rather than privately snickering over their defeat.
I don’t carry within myself an undue amount of anger, hurt or resentment. If someone has grievously injured me, I have learned to just remove them from my life as a doctor might amputate a gangrenous limb. I do not allow their cruelty to continue to fester and grow but rather I accept that they do not deserve a place in my life and I continue onward without them. I have accepted that not everyone belongs in my life and that some people were merely meant to play the passing role of a teacher of harsh realities. I refuse to waste undue amounts of energy dwelling on the cruelty of anyone who would not give me a second thought. I choose to focus the majority of my energy on improving myself and my future rather than dwelling on other people or a past I cannot change.
I have trained myself to consciously focus on happiness and positivity every single day. Every day I strive to accomplish three goals.
At my core, I have a very positive mindset. I have a fundamental belief in the strength and resilience of the human spirit, that we as a species are stronger than we realize and are survivors at heart. I carry within myself a genuine hope that one day things will get better and I am proactive in working towards that goal. I encourage not only myself to power through and not give up on a daily basis, but I reach out to others, as well, through my writing.
I also have friends and family that I have opened up to about my illness. I do my best to be honest with where I am at mentally and emotionally at all times. I have constructed a support network of people I can reach out to if I need help so I am not facing everything alone.
I have not given up on myself. I not only see my doctors regularly, but I push myself as much as possible to attend wellness activities such as yoga, tai chi, meditation and art classes. I take my treatment seriously. My wellness and emotional toolbox is chock full of useful techniques to use when I am struggling.
I make sure to eat regularly even if I am not feeling particularly hungry so that my body receives the nutrients it needs. I do not smoke or use drugs and very, very rarely do I drink any alcohol, let alone have more than one drink. I practice self-care and engage in hobbies such as writing, sketching and painting so I have positive outlets to focus my attention upon so I do not lose myself along the way. Over the years, I have learned to love myself and to treat myself gently, with the same kindness and compassion I would show others.
I have not surrendered to my mental illness or turned a blind eye to it, pretending it is not there. I read up on the latest studies on a regular basis. I belong to multiple online support groups that share not only encouragement but share information, as well. I want to remain knowledgeable about my illness so I can make educated decisions about my ongoing and future treatment.
My mindset is not an issue.
I am fighting every single day. I am like the cancer patient who pushes herself to eat even though her chemotherapy has left her feeling nauseous because she knows it is what her body needs or to go for a short jog because she is determined to not let her illness defeat her. I am like the woman with rheumatoid arthritis so bad that every step wracks her body with pain who still goes out to work in her garden because she doesn’t want to lose herself to her illness. I am no different than many other people with hundreds of different debilitating diseases, illnesses and ailments who are fighting the good fight every single day not only to survive but to find some way to truly live despite their diagnosis.
Again, my mindset is not the issue.
All the positivity in the world will not negate my illness. A wellness toolbox full of handy tricks will not fix it. It is a medical condition that needs medical treatment. As good as things like having a support system, a positive attitude, eating well, exercise and engaging in healthy hobbies might be for someone’s emotional well-being, they will not cure mental illness any more than they would cure cancer or arthritis. I have learned to cope with my illness to the best of my ability but I still need ongoing treatment.
The main difference between other more widely accepted ailments and mental illness is that my condition stems not in my body but in my brain. That, and the stigma attached to mental illness that prevents others from viewing it as a legitimate, treatment-worthy condition. Because it cannot readily be seen by the naked eye, it is often doubted, minimized and trivialized, treated largely as a joke. Though it may be considered an invisible illness, I am fighting it every single day.
From the time I wake up every day, I am fighting my own mind. As much as I struggle to stay positive and focused, a very real part of me is trying to convince me that the world is hopeless. Whenever I attempt to reach out to friends and loved ones, it tells me that I am a burden to them, that I shouldn’t bother, that I should leave them in peace. It pushes for me to isolate, to hide my pain, to succumb and surrender to it.
There are days I am overwhelmed with emotions. I feel everything so deeply and there appears to be no way to turn it off. I have this intense need to cry, to weep not only for myself but for everyone else struggling, for everyone who’s lives have been made harder by my illness and for everyone else who has lost their battles along the way. On those days, my world is overflowing with so much pain that it is overwhelming.
On other days, I feel nothing at all. I find myself trapped in a dark void where nothing feels like it matters, least of all me. There is no joy in that darkness, no light, no hope. I struggle to even move because I feel swallowed up within its depths. Everything on those days feels like an insurmountable obstacle. Even simple tasks like eating make no sense because everything tastes bland, like nothingness. That voice within my head echos through the darkness, asking what’s the point.
No mater how much the sun is shining, my world always feels dark, cold, hopeless and full of despair. No matter how many times I tell myself that it isn’t truly the case, it still feels that way. It is like my mind has constructed its own alternate reality and has taken me hostage within its walls. I feel helpless like I have no control over my own life, let alone my body or my mind.
Every single day, I have to fight myself to even get out of bed. It isn’t a case of laziness or just not wanting to get up. The weight of everything I want to do and need to do rests so heavily on my shoulders that I often find myself immobile, incapable of action. Every single day I am beating myself up for everything I know I should be doing but cannot manage to bring myself to do. I desperately want to get up, do things and be productive, but the weight of my illness pins me down. It then uses my inability to function against me as evidence that I am worthless and a waste of space.
Every single day, my mental illness presents itself in very real and physical ways as well. My body is always as exhausted as my mind. I ache all over. My anxiety frequently has my head spinning and my heart pounding. When confronted with stress, my chest tightens and my thoughts race. My stomach is always in knots. I regularly experience nausea and vomiting and have a recurring bleeding ulcer. I have absolutely no desire to eat most days or to even do anything at all for that matter. Every night, I struggle to get to sleep and to stay asleep. I am plagued by horrible nightmares on a regular basis. No matter how much rest I might get, I always feel sluggish, like I am running on empty. It is like my own body has betrayed me.
My world feels hopeless. I feel helpless. I feel lost and alone. I feel broken beyond repair. There is not a single day that I do not have to remind myself multiple times that this is not reality. This is my mental illness. There is not a single day that I am not fighting with myself, pushing myself to do something, anything, even if it is just to pull myself out of bed and eat something.
I am not consumed by negativity, nor am I lazy or weak. I have not given up on myself or the world. I have hope for my future and a strong will to fight. I am doing my best. I refuse to let my mental illness beat me.
My mindset is not the issue.
My mental illness is.
I struggle every single day not because I am not trying hard enough to have a positive mindset but because I am ill.
*For those unacquainted with Sybill Trelawney, she is one of many wondrous creations from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe, the Divination professor who at one time or another had foreseen the death of every student at Hogwart’s. Whenever I imagine anyone embracing hopelessness and envisioning a world full of nothing but doom and gloom, I think of Trelawney.
As Mother’s Day came and went this past year, I once again found myself with conflicting feelings. Part of me wanted desperately to join in with friends who were fondly honoring their moms or mourning the mothers they had lost over the years. Another part of me, however, felt numb and empty, because I never had that type of cherished bond with my mother. I honestly never knew her.
No, my mother didn’t die when I was born. She passed away 8 years ago this Thanksgiving Day. No, she didn’t give me up for adoption nor did she abandon me. The truth is that my mother was there throughout the majority of my childhood and sporadically at best throughout my adult years. I just never really knew her because the woman she truly was was buried deep beneath often untreated, always undertreated, mental illness.
Growing up, my mother was one of my biggest abusers, both mentally and physically. She was prone to severe mood swings that would shift into bouts of rage at the drop of a dime. She had bipolar disorder.
We were estranged for the last few years of her life. I could no longer handle the abuse nor did I want my children subjected to it. It seemed that her medication was never quite balanced nor were her moods. It always felt like what little treatment she did receive was not helping, was not working, and she was doing very little to proactively work towards correcting anything. She felt to me like a ticking time bomb, one I was afraid would go off at any moment and I did not want my children caught in the crossfire.
Over the years as I have struggled with my own mental illnesses, I have come to deeply regret those feelings. I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorder and PTSD, labelled treatment resistant for years. No medication ever seemed to work. It wasn’t until the last year or two that I discovered via genetic testing that my resistance was caused in great part to a genetic mutation. I’ve often wondered since then if my mother suffered from the same mutation.
The truth is that mental illness changes a person, or perhaps more appropriately it snuffs that person out, dimming their light and dulling their soul. The person that you are is trapped underneath, desperately needing to come out, wanting to shine. But there is this dark hopelessness that oozes over everything, making it impossible to fully be the person you truly are.
I think about my own children and how my diagnosis has affected them. They have only seen glimpses of the real me over the years. The creative me who would spend half the day drawing huge murals with sidewalk chalk on the tennis courts at the park with them on summer days. The silly me who would make paper pirate hats and eye patches, transforming our dining room chairs into a pirate ship to celebrate Talk Like A Pirate Day with them. The nurturing and educational me who would catch tadpoles in buckets with them to show them how they turned into frogs.
More than anything, though, they saw my mental illness. They saw the mom who was too exhausted just from going through the daily motions of life to do anything fun. They saw the mom who opted for quiet family days indoors watching movies or playing board games because I was physically and mentally unable to do anything more. They saw the mom who often emerged from the bathroom drying my eyes as I attempted to hide the tears I could never seem to stop from flowing.
They were vaguely aware of the person I truly was but they knew my mental illness well.
I remember when I first started taking the medication I needed for my genetic mutation and I had my first truly happy moment. It was the first time in my life I ever felt that sludge of mental illness be lifted off of me, albeit for a short period of time. The medication is not a panacea. It in no way cures or stops my mental illness. However, it does give my mind the ability to fight back in a way that it never could before.
That moment of happiness was beyond blissful. I laughed, cried and hugged my boys, asking them again and again if that was truly what happiness felt like. I had never experienced anything else like it. That sludge continues to lift here and there sporadically and I have a genuine hope for the future now, that there might be a day when there’s more periods of happiness than illness. But for now, more days than not, I still struggle.
I have heard from people that knew my mother at the end of her life, in those last couple years, that she had finally gotten the treatment she needed. Her medication was finally balanced. She was happy and more herself than she had ever been before. She was doing crafts with the neighborhood children and even developed a fondness for Harry Potter.
Part of me envies them because I never knew that woman. I never had the pleasure of meeting her. All I ever knew was the sludge and taint of her illness. On Mother’s Day, I mourned the ghost of a woman I never even met, a woman I would have loved more than anything to know.
Please keep in mind that when you’re dealing with people who are struggling with mental illness that they are not completely themselves. The person they truly are is in there somewhere, beneath their diagnosis, fighting to get out. Please don’t ever assume that we’re just not trying hard enough, that we’ve already given up or that we’ve lost who we are along the way. It is a daily battle, a constant fight, against your own mind. It is a never-ending struggle to push your way through a thick layer of darkness just to come up for air.
Looking back, I truly regret becoming estranged with my mother. I had done what I thought was best at the time, trying to shield my children and myself from an illness that was not her fault. She had no more control over her bipolar disorder than I do over my own mental illness. I am sure she was trying harder, fighting more, than I ever realized.
To the mother I never knew – I’m sorry I was not there when you needed me. I’m sorry that I allowed my fear to dictate my actions and choices and that I abandoned you when you needed me most. I’m sorry I was not more compassionate and understanding of all that you were going through. Most importantly, I am sorry I never had the pleasure to truly meet you. Happy belated Mother’s Day.
Republished on The Mighty on 9/14/18.
Republished on MSN on 9/14/18.
Republished on Yahoo on 9/14/18.
Republished on Yahoo Lifestyle on 9/14/18.