There is a huge stigma around having a mental illness. It’s something that 18.5% of people face at some point in their lives. For over half of these people, including myself, it begins around age 141. Sometimes, it only lasts for a few years, while a person’s brain develops or they’re facing a trauma. Other times, like my case, mental illness is a life-long partner. It took me a very long time to come to terms with the fact I have depression and anxiety. It started when I was a freshman in high school and it was a crippling problem. It was hard for me to do anything. My depression said don’t bother and my anxiety picked apart all the issues stemming from ‘not bothering’. I couldn’t speak in class and if the teacher asked me a question, even one I knew the answer to, my face would become hot, my breathing shorten, and I would feel like I could no longer see. This would happen even if I wanted to answer the question. I would sign up for interesting events in college or at work and then not show up because my anxiety was overwhelming. I was excited when my friends cancelled plans, secretly sometimes I still am. If they didn’t cancel, I would.
In high school, I tired many different medications. Some made me feel like I was constantly swimming through fog, one made me incredibly suicidal, some increased my anxiety. All of these side effects caused me to constantly quit taking medication and go through weeks of withdrawal. By the time I was in college, I was scared of medication. I started trying holistic methods. Some of these really did help but none helped enough. I can still hear people telling me I didn’t try everything and giving me something else to try. It felt incredibly disheartening when people did this. It made me feel like it was my fault nothing was working. I learned yoga and meditation techniques. These were helpful and I still use them today. I began using essential oils and vitamins. I never felt a difference with the vitamins but the essential oils are amazing. I use the essential oils to ward off insomnia and have brighter days. I began an incredibly healthy diet and exercising. These helped my physical health and were a very short term depression fix. However, they didn’t truly seem to affect my mental health. I bought a DSLR camera and began taking pictures. I truly love doing this. It does help my depression and anxiety while I’m in action. I would encourage everyone to attempt to find an activity they’re passionate about. I joined Toastmasters International and forced myself to go. Toastmasters is a club that helps to improve people speaking techniques. I hoped it would take away some of my anxiety. I tried everything the internet and family told me to try but nothing helped me truly overcome the illness. I felt like I was fighting every day and there was no room for peace in my life.
I accepted the fact that both anxiety and depression are partners in my life. Things that will walk beside me for all of my days. Mental illness something that becomes so intertwined with one’s life that you might wonder who the original person is and who is the partner. It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times. It’s important to recognize that a person with, let’s say depression, is not depression. The original soul is still intact, you are still here. It’s also important to note that mental illness is just as valid a disease as anything else, diabetes, migraines, what-have-you. With all of these diseases some people can cope with them through diet, exercise, and holistic methods. However, not everyone can. Some people require medications to prevent their diseases from getting worse, and simply to help relieve some of the symptoms. I considered going back on medication for over two years. I was terrified to relive the worse symptoms of previous medications. I also didn’t want to stigma of being on medication. It felt silly for there to be a stigma around feeling better but I was still impacted by this. One day, I had a panic attack at work, over nothing. At this point my illnesses were affecting my life in ways I considered unacceptable. So I made a doctor’s appointment. I made sure to tell her about the previous medications, the issues I had with them, and my fears. She was incredibly helpful. She put me on a medication that affects a different part of my brain than the previous ones. This medication turned out to be the right one. I still include some of the holistic elements in my life but I no longer have to fight through the day.
This also made me realize that I hadn’t been valuing myself enough. The tipping point for me wasn’t the sleepless nights, the lack of a social life, or the fear of going anywhere. It wasn’t even how it affected my education. It was when it affected the ability for me to make money. Money isn’t as important as my well-being. I had been letting my mental illnesses control my life and I decided to take back control. I found the right balance of medication and holistic help. This will always be a journey with ups and downs but peace and happiness is a destination worth the travel. Everyone is worthy of peace and happiness. Everyone can also find it. You just have to keep looking and find out what works for you.
1. Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among Adults. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-adults.shtml - See more at: http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers#sthash.unMirxvP.dpuf
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