I don’t really know where to start, but I figured this was a chance for me to truly open up about my struggle with mental illness. As I’ve grown up, honestly talking about my feelings has been hard for me and it has taken me many years to figure out how to really let go and utilize the resources I’ve been given. So, what better way to completely open up than by sharing my experience?
Ever since I can remember my mind has been consumed with thoughts of “what if.” My brain is exhausting, and it’s taken me a long time to figure out how to best manage the thoughts, worries and lists running through my mind. Growing up, I didn’t think that anything was different with the way my brain worked until I reached my breaking point in middle school. It wasn’t until one night on a family vacation when I broke down to my mom and told her how tired I was of trying to cope with these feelings on my own. Crying on the bedroom floor and not even looking at her was a clear indication that this was not something I really wanted to be talking about, but I knew I needed someone else to help. At first, I don’t think anyone really knew the severity of the anxiety that I was dealing with. From the outside looking in, when I was little I could have just seemed like a spoiled little girl who only wanted things done her way, or maybe I just seemed liked I was having typical childhood fears. However, I rarely went a day without becoming paralyzed by my fears. Sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat, trouble breathing…panic attacks and anxiety were getting in the way of me living my life.
I regularly checked locks on doors and windows (over and over again) and suffered through nightmares and night terrors. When I was younger the worries and fears were mostly about death. Fears of burglary, murder and kidnapping. My nightmares were so vivid and detailed that I seriously think some of them could be turned into horror films. Looking back on it, it sounds pretty bizarre thinking about the disturbing scenarios I would conjure up in my mind as an elementary school student, but these fears were something I couldn’t control. I was afraid to go out in public places (especially with crowds) because I was always thinking about something violent or scary happening. Even stepping outside of the house at night made me panic. As I got a little older, I saw my anxiety holding me back from things…staying alone at home, driving by myself, going to overnight camps, traveling, and even living on my own when I went to college.
In sixth grade I saw my first psychologist. It felt uncomfortable and strange at first but I was happy I was there. This psychologist recommended I see a psychiatrist in order to get a diagnosis and to explore treatment options. After what felt like the longest game of twenty questions ever, I learned that I had anxiety and panic disorder. I also learned that the thoughts in my mind like, “if you don’t make that bottle face a certain way, someone is going to get hurt,” were obsessive compulsive disorder. Not only did I feel a sense of relief knowing I was on my way to finding out some ways to manage this, but it made me realize that at the end of the day, I wasn’t “messed up” and I wasn’t going to have to feel like this forever. I regularly met with my psychiatrist and eventually we found the right medicine to help along with therapy. A few years went by and with medicine and my psychiatrist appointments, I felt pretty in control. Then, as if out of nowhere, the moods of hopelessness, worthlessness and just unexplained sadness overwhelmed me. Again, it was incredibly hard for me to share these feelings (even with my psychiatrist) and I ended up writing a note to my mom to tell her. I think part of me felt bad for thinking I could possibly have depression. I felt silly...I had friends, a wonderful family, a great school and a million other things to make me smile…yet some days I just felt like I wanted nothing to do with the world and it was better off without me. It was also hard to start talking about this because I am generally an outgoing and talkative person…so it seemed hard for me to believe that I could be feeling this way for seemingly no reason at all. I felt like it was so wrong of me to sometimes feel like I didn’t want to even get out of bed, yet I had all of these happy things in my life.
Since college, I’ve felt more in control than ever thanks to an amazing psychiatrist, support from family and friends and medication. I still struggle with my anxiety and compulsions at times, but things are definitely not like they used to be. Sometimes I still find myself stopping and stepping up with my right foot, or tapping a door until it feels “right,” but these things aren’t making me feel like I’m not in control. I look back and I wish I would have opened up more from the beginning. In the world we live in today, we have amazing resources and support for mental illness…you shouldn’t feel like you don’t have anywhere to turn…or that you will be judged if you start talking about it. That first conversation can be frightening, but once you get started, it is so worth it. I can’t imagine living today with the fear and panic attacks that I dealt with when I was younger. I appreciate my appointments with my psychiatrist so much more as I’ve gotten older, and I plan to take full advantage of the resources I have as I continue to manage my mental illness. When Courtney started Connection in Mind, I knew it was another resource that could be helpful for me. I also thought it was a great way to potentially give someone that nudge they need to start talking honestly about how they are feeling. Everyone has challenges in life but there is no reason for anyone to have to feel that they need to face them alone.