Today, I thought I would tell you all a story about me and mental illness. It isn’t a fun story. There are no gifs or jokes. Just a raw, brutally honest story about me and how I have gone from the bottom and am slowly working my way up. Trigger warning for panic attacks, self-harm.
I think I had always had mental health issues, I was just never able to identify them. When I was in primary school and high school I would go through bouts of depression where I would feel numb and lost, a lot of the times for no reason at all. I would retreat to my room and hang out on my own, listening to music or writing, instead of playing with my sisters or friends.
When I was 20 I had my first real panic attack. My life was going pretty well, I had a new job and life in general was going really good. It came out of nowhere, which therefore led to questions on how and why. If life was so good, why the hell did I feel that way? I questioned absolutely everything in my life – my relationships, work, myself. I stopped eating and lost 10kg. People told me I looked really good because I had lost weight, which therefore caused more anxiety because I wasn’t losing weight deliberately.
I was sleeping all day and pulled away from my friends and family. I remember watching the Simpsons and actually wishing I was a cartoon because they all seemed so happy and didn’t feel the way I was feeling. I honestly felt like I was going crazy. Some days I craved death and the peace it would bring me.
That was the beginning. It was 2006 and for years after that I couldn’t even look at the number 2006 without fear of a panic attack…it was a massive trigger. I blamed myself so much for the panic attack, and I had so much guilt for feeling the way I did. I started to self-medicate which made me feel better only for a little while.
From 2006 onwards, anxiety has ruled my life. It stopped me from going out to dinner, meeting with friends, leaving the house, eating, sleeping. I would center certain activities around my anxiety, making sure there was a way to get out of the situation in case I had a panic attack. I lost friends because I didn’t keep in touch with them, I didn’t think I was worth it. And when those friends stopped contacting me, it re-iterated to myself that I wasn’t worth it and therefore made me even more anxious and depressed.
I started taking anti-depressants in 2013 after getting to the point where I was sick and tired of not living my life. Unfortunately the medication I was on only seemed to make my anxiety worse, and therefore made my self-medicating worse. I tried counselling which didn’t really help because I don’t think it really touched on the things that I had issues with. Up until October last year, I was still quite unwell, with constant anxiety and depression. Then I finally made the big leap of going to my GP and getting a referral to a Psychiatrist.
Now, in no way do I enjoy going to the Psychiatrist. I would honestly rather be reading a book or even be at work than go to these appointments. However, I feel like it has helped so, so much in my recovery. Firstly, the Psychiatrist changed my medication and I have been slowly coming off the medication that was problematic. Secondly, I have learnt mindfulness and the benefits that come along with it. I have also learnt that I am not my mental illness – which has probably been one of the hardest things to come to terms with. For so long, I have defined myself as anxiety and depression and made life decisions based on this definition.
I am not ‘healed’ and am not sure if it is something that ever will happen. However I have learnt how to recognise my anxiety for what it is and in some ways thank it for trying to protect me.
The reason I have written this post, is because I want you to know that if you are suffering from a mental illness, know that you aren’t alone. You aren’t weird or crazy. You aren’t abnormal. You are a beautiful, strong human being with an internal battle going on inside your body, which makes you even more of a warrior. Yes you may have battle scars, and yes there are days where you don’t want to get out of bed. But you are worth it and continuing on despite what life throws at you is worth it.
I want you to know that there are healthy ways you can go about treating your mental illness. There is absolutely NO SHAME in taking medication, seeing a Psychologist or a Psychiatrist. There are also websites you can go to with forums, where you can talk to other people who are going through the same thing as yourself. In Australia, we have beyondblue and I have gone on there many times and talked with other people, and have felt that it helps knowing that you aren’t alone.
Talk. Share your story. Educate others. Help make mental illness less of a taboo subject. The more we normalise it, the more it will help others and might even save lives. We’re all in this together, so let’s spread the love.