May is mental health awareness month! This month I will be doing a three part series about mental health. This is the first: my story. I am somewhat weary of sharing this, and I am only sharing a snippet. However, I feel that it is important to share in order to help others.
To end the stigma we must be educated on what mental illnesses truly are. First off, mental illnesses are ILLNESSES. They are conditions that should be taken seriously and given our attention and resources in order to help. They have symptoms and treatments like any other illness, and they are not a joke.
I personally have suffered from anxiety disorders and clinical depression throughout my life. I will stick to talking about these because it is what I have knowledge about.
There are several different anxiety disorders which include panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, specific phobias and generalized anxiety disorder. People may often suffer from a combination of a few anxiety disorders. Symptoms of anxiety vary from disorder to disorder, but generally anxiety disorders cause people to feel panicked, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, difficulty sleeping, inability to remain still, nausea, digestion issues, shaking and hyperventilation.
In my personal experience, anxiety can be crippling. It has often times kept me from enjoying my life. Avoidance goes hand in hand with anxiety, and avoiding has kept me from achieving my goals and has made doing day to day activities extremely difficult.
However, more often than not, my anxiety was not necessary, and remembering that fact makes it easier for me to push through my anxiety in order to live my life. My advice? Take a deep breath, count down from 3 and do whatever it is that you need to do. Once you get going, you’ll begin to forget your anxious thoughts. It also helps to identify the anxiety as soon as you feel it. Telling yourself “this is anxiety” helps you realize that it is irrational and there really isn’t that much to worry about. The more that you stop avoiding and do the things that make you anxious, the easier it will be to continue to live your life.
Symptoms of clinical depression include chronic lack of energy, irritability, loss of interest, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty sleeping or extreme fatigue and oversleeping, restlessness or moving very slowly, significant weight loss or gain and thoughts of suicide. Not all symptoms are felt by everyone that suffers from depression and a lot of the symptoms obviously contradict each other, so not every case of depression looks the same.
I’ve experienced every symptom listed above. In one bout of depression, I was unable to sleep or eat. I lost a lot of weight and slept an average of 2-4 hours per day (even though I spent 99% of my time in bed). In another bout, I over ate and could not stop sleeping. I was sleeping about 12-18 hours per day. Obviously this left little time for me to do anything else like go to school or have a social life. I had very little interest in doing anything, anyway.
I pushed away the people I cared about and that cared about me, which pushed me deeper into a depression. I had no motivation to do anything which kept me from working toward my goals. All of these things created a vicious cycle that kept me feeling horrible. I was terrified for my future (because of the anxiety), didn’t think I could achieve anything in my future (because of the depression), and therefore did not want to even have a future.
HOW I GOT HELP
At first, I didn’t want help, but my family forced me into therapy. The first therapist I went to was not the right fit for me. I sugarcoated everything and pretended to be perfectly happy, and before I knew it both my therapist and I stopped scheduling appointments.
I then tried to make myself happy by avoiding my problems and covering them up with exciting experiences and material items. While that worked for a month or two, it didn’t fix anything, and when it came back to the surface it was worse than ever.
Eventually, I sought out help myself. I went to a therapist that I had researched and thought would be good for me. (It is important that your therapist is the right fit for you. If you don’t find her or him on your first try, keep looking.) This therapist really helped me. She saw through my sugarcoating and asked questions in a way to get to what was really bothering me. Most importantly she gave me tools and goals that helped me work through my issues in and out of her office.
The things I did outside of therapy were equally as important to my recovery. My brother dragged me to church repeatedly hoping that I would find help there. At first I was resistant, but finally I heard something that hit home, opened myself up to it and let God into my life. During the sermon that changed my outlook, the pastor used a metaphor comparing Gods word to a seed. He said that you cannot expect good things to happen to you just by going to church. You have to work on it just like you’d water and care for a seed in order to grow a garden. It all clicked in that moment for me and I realized that I could not sit back and wait to feel better any longer. I had to help myself. No matter your beliefs, that is a valuable lesson and finding a reason bigger than yourself to live is important. I got a tattoo of a part my favorite Bible verses, Psalm 40: 1-3, as a reminder that the depression eventually ended and I was happy again so that I can find hope if I ever feel that hopeless again. The full three verses read, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”
A big reason I felt so hopeless was that I had no clue what I wanted my future to look like, so as part of my healing I did a lot of exploring and “finding myself” and eventually settled on something that felt right. Once I was able to start working towards the life I wanted, everything began to turn around.
Also, very importantly, I surrounded myself with people who care about me and make me feel good about myself. There were countless toxic people in my life that kept me from feeling better. I finally stopped letting people make me feel horrible and focused on the people who made me happy.
My hope is that sharing some of my story will help those of you who are suffering and do not know how to get help. Hopefully, you will realize that you are not alone and you will get the energy and determination that it takes to help yourself.
If you are feeling at all hopeless or depressed, first of all know that this is not permanent. Time will heal you. I was depressed for about two years and severely depressed for about 11 months. It felt never-ending, but eventually it did end. However, time wasn’t the only thing that healed me. I needed to reconnect with those that I pushed away, and I needed to accept the help. If you’re feeling depressed, please listen to the people that are trying to help you. It is hard to talk, but it is necessary.
Never be afraid to ask for help. If you need someone to talk to, there is always someone willing to listen.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Intervention HopeLine: Call or Text 919-231-4525 or 1-877-235-4525
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)