Today's blog post is much different than usual, but it’s something I’m passionate about, and I wanted to share. This post is deeply personal, and I’m not sharing it because I want any pity or pats on the back, but because I’ve always felt like if something I say or do can help one person, then it’s worth it…so with that hope, here we go. :)
Today is World Mental Health Day. While mental health is spoken about a lot more now than in the past, many misconceptions and stigmas surround mental illnesses. I am by no means an expert, but as someone who has struggled for the last four years with anxiety and depression, I can offer you my experience and insight so that, hopefully, if you’ve never experienced these kinds of struggles, you have a little more of an understanding about them.
In May 2018, my dad passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly. For the first few months after he died, I was grieving, but I also put on a good front. When I was around people, I wore a smile, I laughed…I was “normal.” At home, I was falling apart. By late summer of that year, I started to have panic attacks. I didn’t realize that’s what they were at first. They would come on suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, and either show up as me blowing up over something seemingly insignificant or as a complete meltdown with crying, hyperventilating, chest pain, shaking, etc. I had never experienced anything like it, and it was terrifying. On top of all of that, I was experiencing some pretty deep depression. I slept a lot. It was hard for me to do anything. There were days when I didn’t get a shower and didn’t eat. Not because I didn’t want to. Not because I didn’t know that I SHOULD be getting up but because I physically could not do it. I felt exhausted and more tired than I’d ever felt in my life and gained almost twenty pounds.
Stephen was concerned about me. He spoke to several of my family members and then made an appointment for me to talk to a counselor. When I finally went, the woman I worked with was, quite literally, a lifesaver. She recognized that many of the issues I had stemmed from the trauma I’d experienced. She helped me work through the things I was dealing with and helped to stop the spiral I was on. While I was working with her, Stephen was still very concerned. I was making progress but still struggling with depression and anxiety. With encouragement from him and my family, I also went to see my doctor, and he started me on medication to help with my depression and anxiety.
For those who haven’t experienced mental illness, you may think that’s where my story ends. I saw a counselor, started meds, and lived happily ever after. And that is where you would be wrong. People tend to think that once you see a counselor and get on medication, you are back to “normal.” For a while, I struggled to understand that too. Why wasn’t I back to how I was before I started this journey? When would I get back to the way I was “before?” It took me a couple of years to realize that I would never be the same person I was before my dad died. It took me time after that to finally be okay with that and to learn to love the person I am now. I read a lot about trauma and how it affects the brain. I read scripture, I read “It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way” by Lysa TerKeurst, I prayed, I journaled, I continued counseling, and slowly but surely, I began to understand who I am today.
The truth is, I’m not the same person I was before May 2018. I don’t like to go to crowded places. There are days when I really want to do something fun, but I can’t. I get nervous in new situations. I don’t like going places by myself. I get overwhelmed very easily. I still have panic attacks. I still have days where I am really sad for no real reason. I don’t like the unknown. I want a plan, and I don’t like when it changes at the last minute. I isolate myself to recharge because being around a lot of people many days in a row is exhausting to me. But I now also have deep empathy for those who have lost a loved one. I ache when I see others hurting. I know how to help someone who is having a panic attack. I think things through a lot more now than I did before. I am intentional about spending time with and talking to my family. I take a lot of pictures. Of big moments or small ones, it doesn’t matter. I know the importance of them even more now. I tell the people I love how I feel. Often.
The pictures I’ve shared in this blog post (except the one of my dad and me) are all from the two years when I was struggling the most. Looking at them, you’d probably never guess the things I was dealing with, which is kind of the point.
I decided to write this blog post to educate and to put a face and a personal story to something that still has so much misunderstanding around it. Mental illness doesn’t always “look” like what you’d imagine mental illness should look like. It doesn’t “go away” with medication like an infection does with an antibiotic. Even when medication is working, counseling is working, and things are looking up, it never truly goes away.
I hope that this post reaches those who need it. If you’re struggling with mental health, please contact someone for help. There are many resources to help you, and you’re not alone. If you have a loved one you are concerned about, ask them how you can help them and then keep asking them, even if they tell you they’re fine. Understand that you don’t know what you don’t know, and if you’ve never experienced the things I’ve talked about or any other mental health issues, for that matter, you may want to brush these things off or discount them in some way. The truth is until you’ve walked it, you will never fully understand it, but you can become an encourager, a supporter, a listener, and an advocate. I'm so thankful for the many people in my life who do that for me when things get tough.