End The Stigma: Mental Illness

January 25th was Bell Let’s Talk day. I’m so bummed that I didn’t know about it until after so I didn’t get to participate but I love the initiative so I wanted to open up about my journey with mental illness.

Last year, I was in the worst place I had ever been mentally. I was in a new city, out of school for the first time, looking for a job while being unemployed. One thing after another kept going wrong and I could not catch a break. This is not something I like to talk about but the thought of suicide definitely crossed my mind. The main reason I don’t like talking about it is because it makes things seem way worse than they were. It was weird because the thoughts came knowing that I believe, down to my core, that everything can be overcome. I have a memory burned into my brain of my dad saying “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Even in my darkest times, I knew that this too shall pass and things would start turning around. The thought  of suicide was more “Now I understand how people can do that.” I talked to my therapist about it and we came up with a plan if I ever thought seriously about it. It was in that moment that I decided I needed medication because it was becoming too much for me to handle on my own.

My therapist, doctor, and I talked about my options and we decided on a low dose anti-depressant and blood pressure medication. The anti-depressant to bring my brain back to normal so that I could do life as “normal” as possible. The blood pressure medication for me to take when I feel panic attacks coming on – it slows your heart down so your adrenaline doesn’t spike and put you into fight or flight, kinda like Xanax for your body instead of your brain. I took the anti-depressants for a few months while I dealing with everything then stopped taking them when I felt normal again.

For me, medication was a short term solution. I needed it to make my brain feel normal while nothing around me felt normal. However, the evened out feeling made me feel like I wasn’t myself. I had just learned to love the fact that I can cry and laugh while watching the same 30 sec commercial. My sensitivity and emotional range is just as much a part of me as my sense of humor. I cry all the fucking time, but that’s me. When I was on anti-depressants, I craved the relief of tears but they just wouldn’t come. That’s when I decided that it wasn’t a long term solution for me.

I don’t want to discredit medication as a long term solution, I have so many loved ones who medication has done incredible things for. I also am so thankful that I can talk to my doctor anytime I feel like I’m at rock bottom and have medication as an option. There will probably be more times in my life where I need it. We are so lucky to have a wealth of options.

If you are struggling with mental illness, remember it takes time to dial in the formula to make everything “normal”. For me, I feel in control when I’m eating healthy food I choose for myself, get my body moving, and make plenty of time for myself. I feel more in control of my mental illness, but I still have good days and bad days. Everyone is different so talk to your doctor, therapist, parents, confidants, etc. to figure out how to thrive with mental illness.

Here are some things I do to make things a little easier:

This is the most important one: Talk about it. When I first started dealing with my anxiety, my first strategy was to keep everything inside, it’s a personal problem…right? I viewed it as my responsibility and kept my struggles under wraps. It took me a long time to realize that the only way to truly get ahead of it is give yourself a break. I was so insecure about my mental illness that I would never let anyone (except my therapist) know how I am actually doing. I couldn’t tell you the amount of times I would say “I’m doing great!” while holding back tears. You have to remember that you are human. While not everyone has experienced mental illness, every single person you ever talk to has gone through a rough period in their time. It’s okay to not be “great!” 100% of the time. You will feel so much more free by allowing yourself to be in the bad place. Nothing lasts forever. Don’t compartmentalize yourself. You have flaws and the people you love should see all parts of you.

Gratitude is everything. You have to appreciate the little things, especially when just getting out of bed everyday is a struggle. There is something good to appreciate in every single day, you just have to take a second to do so. Even if it’s appreciating the fact that you made it through the day so that you can get back in bed. It takes a lot of work to shift to a gratitude mindset but if you take it one day at a time, you will start seeing results.

Live with it, don’t try to fix it or get rid of it. I have a very vivid memory of sitting in my therapists office, sobbing about how I hate that I can’t control my emotions and that I cry all the time. She helped me to look at it another way – to see the beauty in it. Whenever I get frustrated with my anxiety, I think back  to that moment. My anxiety will always be there so I want to learn to use it to my advantage.

Love your brain, flaws and all.

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