Mar 26, 2016
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
It’s scary to open yourself up to complete strangers, revealing to them your own personal struggles with an illness that is so hard to understand, let alone control. Once you say “mental illness” to someone his or her reaction says it all. It’s treated like a dirty word. Which is why I’m fighting the good fight to end the stigma around mental health.
It’s why I decided to share my story.
When I was nineteen years old I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) and GAD (General anxiety disorder). I suffer from major depressive episodes that can last anywhere from several weeks to several months. To add to my own hell, I also suffer from both triggered and untriggered panic attacks.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Amanda, slow down. You’re saying you have both depression and anxiety? And PTSD? I don’t quite understand.” And I understand your confusion because it sounds complicated.
PTSD can be a little tricky. The depression and panic attacks are both symptoms of my illness but I also have general anxiety, especially around social situations. See, you can have more than one mental illness at the same time, or one mental illness can trigger other illnesses. So for me, I’m living with two mental illnesses.
So now you’re probably wondering, “Amanda, what caused your PTSD?” I’ll tell you.
From when I was a young child until I was a teenager, I was mentally and emotionally abused by my father.
Let that settle in for a minute.
It’s complicated for me to talk about these events because some of them are still a blur to me. From the emotional trauma to being manipulated, I had suppressed many of my memories, some of which I am still trying to regain through therapy at twenty-four-years-old. But for me, I kept everything bottled up inside, too afraid to talk about what I went through.
While I didn’t know it at the time, I was already struggling with my PTSD symptoms
This is why I wasn’t diagnosed until I was nineteen. My doctors say I could have been easily diagnosed at thirteen, which was when I contemplated suicide for the first time. While I didn’t know it at the time, I was already struggling with my PTSD symptoms. I was having panic attacks all the time, I was obviously depressed, I was becoming triggered by memories, objects, and places that reminded me of my father. But it wasn’t until I started thinking about suicide again that I finally said, “Enough is enough.”
It took months to get properly diagnosed, it took another two years to find the right dosages of medications, and I was attending therapy on a weekly basis. I will be brutally honest with you-the path to recovery is no easy feat. For a long time, it feels like the bad days outweigh the good days and it feels like it’s a never-ending journey. This was why therapy was so important for me. I knew if I were to quit I would end up on a destructive path that likely would have ended with me dead.
But the hardest thing for me to accept was that this is something that will be a part of me for the rest of my life. Because I knew so little about mental illnesses at the time, I just assumed that after a few months of therapy and swallowing pills it would get better and go away. But that’s not true. For me, my illness will be a part of me for the rest of my life. I’m slowly learning to cope. I’m learning to survive.
I’m learning to fight the good fight.
It’s like learning to tame a lion-I eventually backed it into submission
I wasn’t going to let my mental illness kick my ass. It’s like learning to tame a lion-I eventually backed it into submission. And while it will always follow me around, I can’t spend the rest of my life wondering and waiting for a relapse to happen again. Instead, I just do the work. I take my medications. I use the strategies I have learned in therapy to help cope, and I simply just live.
And if or when I do relapse again, I am prepared for battle. I am ready to fight.
Because everyday life is hard enough. Some days are harder than others. When I am having bad days and I’m triggered, it’s almost impossible to go to work as a substitute teacher. There are times I have to turn down calls because I am mentally not prepared to walk into a classroom and teach a room full of children. And for me, the hardest days are walking into a new classroom, seeing a student struggling and wondering if they’re silently fighting to survive like I did. Those days I can’t help but wonder the What If? Then I’m plagued by my own memories and I cry.
Those days are the hardest for me.
And while some days I beat myself up, convinced I am not doing enough to help change the face of mental health, I never quit. I pick myself up and brush off the fear and start again. Because, as Michael Landsberg says, if I could reach out and just touch one person and change their life then that’s all that matters.
Because changing one life changes everything. And that matters to me.
That is worth fighting the good fight for.
You can learn more about Amanda’s story on her personal blog at www.amandalwilson.wordpress.com or you can follow her on Twitter at @awils91.