Mental health. Thankfully, you hear a lot more about it today than five or ten years ago. With blogs and facebook posts and popular hashtags highlighting this topic, what could I have to offer?
Only my own experience.
Some stories just seem to click with me more than others. My prayer is that, while reading my story, you will find some direction and empathy for where you are at on the mental health spectrum.
In my experience, and in many others who have opened up to me about their condition, people who experience suicidal thoughts or periods of prolonged depression are what you would consider generally “good” people. They are often other-focused, altruistic, and congenial. However, a burst of high-stress or an extended period of stress (such as taking care of a loved one with a disability) can physically alter the chemicals in the brain. The chemicals that stress creates are beneficial for the instant, but when those chemicals become the new normal, that is when you enter depression.
These people, altruistic as they are, will not let themselves be a burden. They are helpers by nature. Therefore, they will put on a smile and appear to just fine because they don’t want to bring anyone else down. Hurting others is the last thing they want. However, being stuck in that mindset long enough will convince you that YOU are the problem. Everyone would be better off without you.
This is not, of course, the story for every person. But in my research, personal experience, and talking with others, it is the story of many.
I appreciated being invited by my friend over for dinner, or this and that. Even if I didn’t attend, it was nice to be invited. And sometimes I did go. What made me comfortable with that was knowing I could literally be a piece of furniture in her house, like a human throw pillow on her couch, and it would not be offensive or bring her down. The space to be allowed to be this way, with no pressure to “get better” actually allowed me interaction which helped me get better.
In the photo above, my husband took me out on a date to the nearest Build-A-Bear to purchase my beloved Bulbasaur here. It was earlier in that week that I had been diagnosed with depression. My personal journey to recovery and maintenance (which I am still on) started with a dear friend of mine discussing her attempted suicide.
My friend is a wonderful woman. She posts inspiring messages on facebook, crafts the wittiest posts that tell tales of her family in the most hilarious screenplay style, goes to church, and is one of the most helpful women I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. As we worked together for several years, I got the chance to know her better, watching her climb to the top 3% of her industry.
I never knew she was depressed.
As she recovered in the mental health ward and was cleared for outside conversation, she was extremely open and vulnerable in discussing with me the attempted suicide. This opened my eyes. So many of these feelings and thoughts that she had for months leading up to her attempt were so familiar. Was I depressed?
Two months later, I found myself waking up most mornings wishing that life would just be over. I wanted to get better. I started a gym membership. I went four and five times a week. The rush from the exercise helped, but only momentarily. I sought solace in my faith, music, prayer, but nothing everything seemed to just scratch the surface. Finally, recalling my friend’s story, I though, “I might be depressed.” After discussing it with my husband, we were at the doctor the same week.
I am certainly not done with my journey. I am still on medication and work to maintain a healthy mindset. I have started seeing a psychologist to help me in understanding how I function and to give me the tools I need to work within my own brain. In fact, today I was diagnosed with anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD. Through this, I’ve learned a couple of things that I want those of you who are dealing with any of this to know.
You do not have to do this alone. You are allowed to ask for help.
It’s scary to talk to someone about needing help. Believe me, I know. Before going to meet my psychiatrist, I had a panic attack in the waiting room. Even during my session, the anxiety continued so badly that when I left, the chair I was sitting in had sweat marks like I’d been to the gym! It’s ok. You are not weird. You are not the only who has a hard time doing this. No one – no one – is going to think poorly of you for taking care of yourself. Not your doctor, not your counselor, and certainly not me.
I am so incredibly blessed to have friends who shared their story with me. Because of that, I decided I wasn’t the exception to the rule, and that as hard as it was, I needed to ask for help. I have a husband who supported me, and a doctor who listened. All of these things put me in an optimal place for recovery.
Sadly, not everyone is in such a place.
I speak openly about my depression because I know I might be able to help someone else who is struggling. I want neuro-typical people to understand that, throughout my numerous makeup tutorials, happy posts, and (really great) selfies, I was depressed. And the only way you are going to know is to do life next to that person. A comment or a like on Facebook aren’t going to get you to the heart of each other. It is within the safety of healthy relationships that trust blooms. You are not responsible for everyone’s mental health. But hopefully, by following along my journey as I share it, you will begin to recognize ways to help others.
Happy World Mental Health Day