August 12, 2014

How Serious Mental Illness Has Affected Me

Trying this post again...
I'm not ashamed to talk about mental illness like I used to be. It is a serious, serious issue that needs national and international conversation....
I'm 35 years old and first started dealing with social phobia when I was five years old. Then the mood swings started by the time I was eight. So did the rituals of OCD. I first self harmed at 12. I seriously tried to commit suicide at 13. As a teen I already was dealing with bipolar, social anxiety disorder, OCD, PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder and ADHD. The depressions were severe. I had no idea what was going on, only that I was living in fear and extreme highs and lows. I only made it to school 1/3rd of the days my junior year because of depression and social anxiety.
At 19, I put my fiance''s service 9mm gun in my mouth and tried to pull the trigger. At 29 I took 150 extra strength Tylenol and told no one for two days until I was found, severely sick. Around the same time, I took a bottle of sleeping pills and put a bag over my head. I also went out in the snow at a park by Lake Michigan, drunk, in only jeans and a t-shirt in sub zero Wisconsin winter, laid down and waited to die. My ex-husband drove his little car off road through eight inches of snow in the park to rescue me. By the time he got to me, I couldn't feel my hands or feet at all. It took something like six hours before I stopped shaking from being so cold.
These were serious attempts. The pain of my illness was so overwhelming I didn't want to fight it anymore and just wanted the pain to stop. I also didn't want anyone to know. By the time I was 20 I was hiding it. I was letting emotions bottle up so I wouldn't have to burden anyone and then taking it out on myself by way of cutting. I started that when I was 12 and at times it is still an issue today. People think it is only for attention but in my case it was not. It was the only way I knew to express negative emotions. I hid it very well, cutting in places people didn't see.
I stopped showing almost all symptoms of my illness outwardly. I was tired of the arguments, people telling me I was wanting attention, being lazy, telling me to suck it up and that I was an embarrassment. Real mental illness is just that, an illness. Just like diabetes and heart disease. It is a disease of the brain. People seem to forget that. There are no easy cures, no magic overnight therapy,no magic pill. For many it is a lifelong fight. To feel normal, to function, to have a real life, sometimes to just make it out of bed. If I could magically make it go away I would. The one thing I am very good at is photography. When I was younger I dreamed of working freelance, traveling the world and selling my own prints. These days, because of my limitations, I feel I've come to terms with that never being a realized dream. I don't ever see myself functioning at that kind of level. Maybe that is negative but I think it's realistic. I can barely go to the store by myself without panicking, how can I ever travel the world and do photography jobs, under pressure. I just feel like it can't happen. This makes it very hard on me. It continually makes me feel like a failure. Every time my bipolar goes up and I feel good, I get hopeful. Then, against my best efforts, it falls. Sometimes for months at a time. It can be debilitating to say the least. Over the last two decades, I've found I don't get my hopes up anymore. When I feel good, I'm always waiting for the ball to drop.
I've been hospitalized nine times in my life because of this. Some were suicide attempts, one was from a wellness check when I didn't contact anyone for two weeks, once my father caught me cutting, the rest were voluntary because I knew I was doing very very poorly. Going inpatient, I generally only tell like...two people. I find it highly stigmatizing and embarrassing. People judge you for it. I've even judged myself for it. You go in feeling like you want to die but at least some of the time you come out functioning better. If I ever need that kind of assistance again, I'll do it. It's better than the alternative...
These days things are a little better. But it takes hard work even to move an inch. Therapy, doctors, meds... and more therapy. Learning about why you have it, dealing with past issues and emotions, learning how your illness distorts what you see, what you think. At first it's hard to even get a small grip on that. If you've had mental illness long enough, like me, it's hard to even know what is the right and wrong way to interpret and react to any situation. It's like learning all over again. The biggest one is coping skills for those days when you get really down or really anxious. Easy to learn, very hard to put into practice. I used to be embarrassed I had to take psych meds. I'm currently on six. With these six, I can actually leave the house and my extreme anxiety and paranoia lessens a bit. But the rest I have to learn and it's damned hard. Worth it though.
I realize it is hard for people to understand. Some think sadness (thought bad enough) is the same thing as the depression from bipolar or mental illness. It is not. It is like taking sadness and multiplying it by 1000. So deep and black it makes your heart ache. Your mind numb. Hopelessness sets in. You want to curl up and die. It corrupts your thinking. It makes you think it will never get any better, that you are stuck like this forever. You keep trying meds and therapy. It helps for a while and you think finally, some relief. And then it turns it's ugly head once again. The cycle goes on and on for years, decades. If you aren't careful it can wear you down, just make you tired, kills your self confidence, make you feel weak, a failure and then the thoughts start... I can't do it anymore or my family would be better off without the hassles, I just want the pain to stop. Forever.
I really feel for Mr. Williams. All the money, success and fame in the world can't keep a person from having mental illness. It can't stop that pain that goes on and on. The self medicating to numb that pain. It's just viscous. I'm posting this because I see really ignorant comments online. Most likely from people that have never dealt with this level of depression or mental illness. You just don't really know how nasty it can be unless you've had it happen to you, through no fault of your own. I wouldn't wish this fight on anyone. Ever. If people just took all the time they spend trolling these comment sections and deal with why they are so angry and hateful....
Take a minute and be there for someone suffering instead because it could've been you on the other end of this disease. Life is too short and fragile to make people feel worse. People need support and resources. In my town there is very little of that. The finances just aren't there (yet they built an expensive sports clinic for the athletes that attend college here, because that's where the money is.) It's about money, not mental health. If everyone would start talking about it instead of being hush hush about it, eventually the stigma would go away. No one wants to get their hands dirty though.
To those fighting this terrible disease, know you are never alone. There are always others going through it as well. Never ever stop fighting. You are worth it.
With love,