Mental illness. It comes in so many forms. Too many forms. It affects more people than you probably realize. Guaranteed you know someone whose suffered from a mental illness, or still is suffering. Mental illness isn’t a disease that always has symptoms or side effects obvious on the outside. They’re mostly inside. Not just the brain, but the heart too. So many people who suffer from mental illness suffer alone. Why is that? I’m a 33-year-old woman and I’ve suffered from mental illness for most of my life. Alone. For too long. Here’s my story of suffering, and how I finally became “ok”.
Mental Illness as a Teenager
I’ve been suffering with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. As a teen, it went un-diagnosed. It seemed like I was just a regular, angry, rebellious teen. However due to a propane explosion I was in when I was nine years old, I was forced to live life with skin graft scars all over my body. I looked so different from everyone else in our town. I looked like a freak. I felt like a freak. So understandably, inside I was suffering. I remember crying myself to sleep more nights than not. I remember praying to God while scratching at the scars on my face to make me wake up looking normal. No more scars. Little did I know at the time, the internal scars were what was causing my pain. The external scars were just a mask.
I was suffering. Likely from PTSD as well as depression. I saw counselors, but never for what I was feeling deep down. Never for what I was suffering in my brain and heart. Counselors were there to mend my dying relationship with my parents (which is now fine), to help me to stop being so rebellious (which didn’t work). But nobody ever asked me how I FELT. How I felt to be such an obvious outcast. How I felt about being a burn survivor. How I felt when I looked in the mirror. I was scared to say anything too. The last thing I ever wanted was for anyone to think I was feeling sorry for myself or looking for attention.
So how did I deal with my depression as a teen? I smoked cigarettes to fit in with other kids. I drank alcohol to fit in and to numb the pain inside. I took drugs so I would look “cool” with all the other “cool” kids. But I was still hurting inside. In fact, because of my “self-medication” I hurt even more. But I was just a kid. I didn’t know that I was suffering from a mental illness. Despite crying everyday, sometimes multiple times a day (usually to myself), I thought it was normal. Probably because I so badly wanted to be normal, and because depression just wasn’t talked about.
I also attempted suicide three times as a teenager. I don’t think I wanted to die. I just wanted the pain to end. I was tired. Tired of crying so much. Tired of the ache in my heart I felt daily, all day. Tired of feeling so alone in this big world. As a teenager, you don’t think of the future. You don’t think that it could be ok one day. You think that what you feel now, is what life is really like. It seems like there is no end to the pain and you’ll suffer forever, if you don’t end it.
IF YOU’RE A TEENAGER READING THIS, PLEASE KNOW AND TRUST ME WHEN I SAY THAT IT DOES GET BETTER. Please believe me. Ask for help. There is no shame in that. Turn to a friend, teacher, co-worker, family member – anyone you can trust. You don’t have to suffer alone. And I promise you that you won’t suffer forever. Please ask for help.
Mental Illness as a Young Adult
I became a mom at 20 years old. I wasn’t in a good relationship. I had no self esteem and didn’t think I deserved to be with someone who truly cared for me and took care of me – this is another side effect to mental illness. I was still suffering from depression and anxiety; because I never got help for it. The thing about mental illness is when you have it, it takes over your entire mind. 24/7. No days off. Sure some days you feel happier than others, but the pain always seems to come back. When you have anxiety your mind doesn’t shut off. Your brain with anxiety, doesn’t allow you to think rationally. You have completely irrational thoughts that you think make sense, even though the scenarios you play out in your mind never really happen.
The man I was with when I got pregnant was not a good guy. He was mentally abusive (which is damaging in and of itself but especially when you’re suffering from mental illnesses). He didn’t really love me. I didn’t think I could do better. My mind told me I couldn’t. Not just that I couldn’t do better but that I didn’t deserve better. My friends and family despised him. They saw how he treated me. They also knew that I deserved better. But I wouldn’t listen to them. Because I didn’t want to be alone. I stayed with him for three years. Until all of a sudden, I was responsible for another human being – I may not have cared about myself enough to leave. But I would have done anything for the little girl I was holding in my arms.
I left this man when my daughter was only three months old. I was scared to be a single mom, but I was more scared of him making her feel as worthless as he made me feel. Being a single mom is HARD. Of course, because I still hadn’t sought help, I was still suffering from depression and anxiety. More so now than before. Now I had to deal with if I was being a good enough mom. I was dealing with being alone again. I wasn’t ok. I didn’t know that it was ok to not be ok. I didn’t know that I could ask for help. So I continued to suffer; and self medicate.
As a young mom, I went to the bars often, looking for someone or something to cure my pain. I was looking for a cure in the form of alcohol, sex (sometimes with complete strangers) and harder drugs. Now, please know that although I was young, dumb, suffering and in a very bad place in my own mind, my daughter never suffered. I always made sure she was taken care of. Diapers came before cigarettes and booze. She always came before men and drugs. But that didn’t help anything. It just meant my daughter wasn’t suffering too. With that said, I know I wasn’t there for her as much as I could have been; should have been. I know I wasn’t the mom she deserved. Although I’d have given everything for her, I was still suffering in silence.
When my daughter was 2.5 I finally decided to go see a doctor. I couldn’t stop crying. All day, all night. I was crying over everything big and small. I finally received an official diagnosis – sort of. I was diagnosed as clinically depressed and given a prescription for anti-depressants. I still suffered from anxiety and likely PTSD (this would never be officially diagnosed, but all the signs and symptoms were there – I did blow up a cabin after all).
The meds helped. But then, again I was young and thought I knew better, so I decided after a year of being on the meds to take myself off them. I didn’t seek a doctor’s advice on it. I didn’t want to have to depend on a pill to make me happy. And I felt better. Boy was I wrong.
IF YOU’RE A YOUNG ADULT/PARENT READING THIS, PLEASE KNOW AND TRUST ME WHEN I SAY THAT IT DOES GET BETTER. Please believe me. Ask for help. There is no shame in that. Turn to a friend, teacher, co-worker, family member – anyone you can trust. You don’t have to suffer alone. And I promise you that you won’t suffer forever. Please ask for help.
Mental Illness as a Wife and Mom
Fast forward a number of years. I’m now a married woman to a wonderful man. A man who not only treats me like a queen, but makes me feel like one too – daily. We have three amazing children together. He legally adopted my daughter and we’re one happy family. Or so it seemed…on the outside.
Before I got pregnant with our youngest child, I was still suffering. I just didn’t know it. I was done with the drugs many years ago, but I was still finding ways to self-medicate, mostly with cigarettes and alcohol. I wasn’t an alcoholic by any means, but I would have a drink or two every evening to relieve the stress; a.k.a. self medicate.
I would lash out at my husband and kids over the smallest things. Someone didn’t flush the toilet – and I would lose my mind – you’d think someone had instead flushed my wedding ring down the toilet. When I say lose my mind, it’s exactly what you’re picturing. Hours of me being so angry. Yelling. Screaming. Swearing. My kids were scared of me (talk about the worst feeling in the world). My husband felt like he was always walking on egg shells around me, scared to set me off. I thought it was normal. But I was miserable. I was so sad, so angry and I didn’t know why.
At one point, I was planning on leaving my husband. I had no real reason why. He honestly is the most amazing man I’ve ever met. He’s never abused me or the kids in any way. He works so hard for us and provides for us. He supports me in everything I do. He’s tried to help me when I’ve had my melt downs. But I was convinced I had to leave. Now, today, I believe it was because I didn’t think I deserved to be happy. I didn’t deserve this wonderful life that was right in front of me. This was the mental illness talking to me. I was still suffering – from depression and anxiety.
Mothers Day 2017. My kids and husband doted on me and spoiled me. They made me feel as special as possible – or at least they tried. I had the ultimate break down. I can’t even tell you what it was over because I don’t know. I was yelling and crying and just plain old miserable. To this day I still feel so awful for the way I treated my family. They did absolutely nothing wrong but I still felt like I needed to take the pain I was feeling inside out on them by yelling and not allowing us to have a good day as a family. This was my rock bottom.
The next day I made an appointment with my doctor. I explained to him what had happened the day before and what was going on inside my head and my heart. Finally, after almost 25 years of suffering, I received the proper diagnosis. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. And I was prescribed medication that we hoped would help – it did. So much. So much so that my kids have noticed a difference. They tell me that I seem happier. That I don’t yell as much. That I let the little things go and I don’t focus on them anymore. My husband and I are so much happier. Our marriage is healthy. Our family is healthy. I am healthy.
Medication isn’t the answer for everyone suffering from mental illnesses. Every person is different. Every brain is different. Every mental illness is different. Every form of treatment is different.
The point I’m trying to get across is to ASK FOR HELP. Don’t be ashamed in asking for help if you’re suffering inside. Don’t think people will think you’re just looking for attention or feeling sorry for yourself – that’s the mental illness destroying you. People who care about you want you to be happy. To be OK. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to take medications prescribed to you by a doctor if they’re working. If you’re no longer suffering. Trust me, asking for help is the best thing you can do for your loved ones but mostly for yourself. It is OK to not be OK. But you also deserve to be OK. And you will be. You’re not alone. Mental illness is very real, very common and very scary. You need to be the one to ask for help for yourself. Put yourself first.
And always remember that on those bad days that might creep up – just take one breath at a time. It will be OK. You will be OK.
IF YOU’RE A HUMAN READING THIS, PLEASE KNOW AND TRUST ME WHEN I SAY THAT IT DOES GET BETTER. Please believe me. Ask for help. There is no shame in that. Turn to a friend, teacher, co-worker, family member – anyone you can trust. You don’t have to suffer alone. And I promise you that you won’t suffer forever. Please ask for help.
This is a tattoo I got for myself after my breakdown on Mother’s Day. It’s a reminder that I am a survivor of mental illness, that I deserve to be OK, that my story isn’t over yet.