Jun 13, 2017
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
“M.I.” mental illness or mission impossible? Admitting you suffer from mental illness is more like mission impossible.
I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 2006. After years of suffering in silence, I went to the doctor thinking I had a heart issue because the pain in my chest was unbearable. After doing a general examine, the doctor ran some tests on me (physically and mentally) to come up with the diagnosis. I can’t say I was surprised with the diagnosis, but I was surprised and grateful that this meant I would finally get the help I needed – without asking for help.
Why is it I couldn’t ask for help? Well, the stigma that is attached and unfortunately exists. I was put on an anti-depressant at a low dosage and I’m still on the same anti-depressant to this day (dosage has varied). I’m convinced it saved my life, but I know that isn’t the answer for everyone or even for every situation.
What’s ironic about my story is my younger brother was on the same meds as me (was on them before me), for “depression” (I use quotes because he was clearly bi-polar). Every day was a battle for him. He had EXTREME highs and lows. He talked about ending his life or made “attempts” towards it (cutting his wrists, talking about driving into a semi, etc.) and was hospitalized many times. Him and I used to compare our side effects and talk about suicide. Through all this, I didn’t think he’d do it.
My brother’s suicide was a wakeup call to me.
Fast forward to December 29, 2007 – the worst day of my life. My mom called me and yelled that my brother hung himself. I thought it was a joke at first. Once I realized it wasn’t, I went numb, I started hyperventilating, the world as I knew it stopped. It was like everything was in slow motion. My brother’s suicide was a wakeup call to me. I had talked to him the night before, he came with us to Christmas Eve mass at Church…he knew his end was near, but we didn’t – I didn’t.
Almost immediately after my brother’s death, I “came out of the closet.” I shared my story and my struggles with my family – they had no idea that I struggled so severely with anxiety and depression. I wanted to spread my message to help eliminate the stigma attached to mental illness and try to get help for people like my brother, as well as myself. I started sharing messaging through social media and I completed safeTALK and ASIST (suicide prevention/awareness courses).
I’m happy to say that since then I’ve had people come to me and have told me how I’ve helped them.
Throughout the years, my battle has had its fair share of ups and downs. One of the worst bouts of depression came after a severe car accident I had in 2008. I temporarily lost my independence, my mobility, my social life. I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t exercise, hell I could barely shower! This was the first time my mom ever saw my struggle with depression, as her and I were living together at the time. My anti-depressants were increased to the highest dosage I had ever been on. Eventually I began a tertiary rehabilitation program. That, in addition to the meds, life changes including quitting a job that was high stress/low reward, eliminating negative people from my life, all resulted in a new, more positive life for me.
I had a new battle that arose a few times between 2009-2011. I decided that cutting was a way to self-medicate. I remember watching talk shows when I was younger about “cutters.” I always thought “how odd, why would someone do that?” Well I still think that way, but I understand it now. Using a knife on my arm seemed easier than dealing with the pain LIFE sometimes threw at me. Luckily, I never developed a regular problem with this, and I have developed new coping mechanisms since.
As mentioned, my meds and mental health has had ups and downs as everyone else who suffers from mental illness would likely understand.
I had never experienced such severe anxiety.
In my 30s, my illness has been under control for the most part, with small bouts of depression or anxiety. However, last summer to this past spring, my anxiety hit an all-time high. My medication was increased (yet again) and I ended up off work all of March. I had never experienced such severe anxiety.
During my time off I read a lot, trying to understand myself and my condition better. You can’t predict when an anxiety attack is going to come, so it’s key to know your triggers to help reduce or eliminate them before they start. I’ve ruined relationships because of not dealing with some of my issues and I’ve finally come to the realization that if I want a fulfilled and happy life, I need to deal with my past to move forward in a healthy manner. I’ve reintroduced myself to my faith which personally has helped me and I’m going back to counselling. Daily, I continue to recognize I have things to work on and I’m finding ways to help. Whether it be time with loved ones, spending time outdoors, travelling, reading…. I just need to be in the moment. Some days are better than others but I’m FINALLY starting to feel like myself again.
Yes, it’s hard to admit you have this illness, but I ask myself… would I hide it if I needed chemo to treat cancer? No.
If I had one request for anyone reading this, I’d ask that you join in helping to eliminate the stigma attached to all forms of mental illness. And my biggest advice to family or friends who know of someone suffering… JUST BE THERE for the person. Let them know you’re there, do NOT think of it as crying wolf.
If you’re someone who is suffering, please don’t do it in silence.