Disclaimer: Everyone is different and has their own experience with depression , anxiety, PTSD and other mental health disorders. This is MY story and that is what worked for ME.
Today I was sparked to write about something that no one wants to talk about, but I will. We all know that I have no shame in my game and most of the times I am 100% unfiltered, but I too never wanted to talk about this until March 14. That day I wrote the following post on Facebook:
OK – I’m never one to actually put serious posts up, so I thought now is as good of a time as any. So here goes…I deal with anxiety. Not like the “I’m stressed out about what to wear to the party” anxiety – but the severe panic attack that stops you dead in your tracks kind of anxiety. And I hate it. I hate that my body does something that I don’t understand and I can’t control. I hate that no one talks about it and I hate that I feel like I need to be ashamed of it. But I don’t have to. So today I choose not to feel “weak” or embarrassed, but accept it for what it is – something that is a part of who I am at this very moment, but won’t be with me forever. I am going to work on to be a healthier version of me: mind, body and spirit.
The amount of love and support I was given was incredible. I had so many private messages from people who were dealing with the same thing. I was amazed how they were able to tell me their feelings, fears and “deepest secrets” and I was a stranger to most of them. But what kind of threw me off was that all of these conversations were done privately. Even though it’s something that we shouldn’t be ashamed of, I felt like we were all having a forbidden conversation. Now, I know not everyone wants their entire lives on social media and some things they want to keep private – which is TOTALLY OK – but why did I feel like anxiety and depression were something we feel we need to hide?
Again in my blog post My “Mess”age, I mentioned my struggles with anxiety, depression and PTSD. I promised in a later post to go into more detail, but I guess life got in the way and I totally forgot. So I am finally going to do it….I am going to put it all out there. For one, I am going to do it for me and second I am going to do it for those who feel alone in this battle. The ugly, the scary, the worst of the worst – I’m going to spill it all with a rawness that even scares me. Some of these things I still hide from and don’t want to “relive” even if it’s in my head, but if I don’t open this subject up and let people know that it’s ok to talk about it, who will? So, please beware that there will be some colorful words in this post. Sorry, I’m not sorry, but sometimes letting a four letter word fly is the only thing you can do to feel in control at a time when you have NO control.
Growing up I always dealt with lots of emotions. Being a girl, surrounded by sisters and being a part of the whole “I hate you today, but tomorrow you will be my best friend again” school girl stuff had something to do with it when I was a teenager, but I knew things were a little different as I got into my late teens/early 20’s. I had a (how I explained it) heaviness that I couldn’t explain. I went on anti depressants, but I still went through bouts of ups and downs. Then in 2000 I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and every emotion stopped. As I went through the process of doctor visits, surgeries and recoveries, I hardly felt anything. I remember crying the day I found out what the next steps in my treatment were going to be, but after that I kind of went on autopilot. I went through the motions, but I didn’t feel the emotions. I knew I had to be strong for everyone around me, so I let them have the emotions for me.
As I recovered and life got back to normal, I realized how lucky I was that things worked out the way they did and, even more so, I was blessed to be alive. The momentum of gratitude and new found life carried me for years. I was so happy and carefree. I felt moments of the depression set back in, but I pushed it away. “I’m alive and healthy, what do I have to be sad about?” became my mantra.
Then in 2007, I got a scary phone call that changed it all. I had a routine MRI and the results came back with “changes”. Something looked different from the previous years MRI and I had to wait for my doctor to get back to me. And as I waited for a week until my appointment, I prayed and I freaked out and I prayed some more and felt an anxiousness that overwhelmed me. Thank God, when I saw my Doctor he assured me that everything was ok and I was to go on my merry way. But I couldn’t. Now I had this little voice in my head whispering “what if my tumor comes back?”
Yes I was grateful that I was healthy, and yes I understood my blessing, but for whatever reason my body and my brain didn’t. No matter how many times I repeated my mantra, I felt like I was spiraling downward.
This was the beginning of years of depression and severe anxiety. Like many people are, I was ashamed of what was happening to me, so I hid it to the best of my ability. How could I feel this way when I survived a brain tumor? When I had a loving family? A great husband? A beautiful home? My health? I have all of this, so in my mind no one wanted to hear (in my mind) a “poor me” story.
A few years ago the panic attacks became so severe that I ended up in the ER not once but twice. I remember sitting on the gurney waiting for the doctor to bring in the wonderful shot that would end the racing heart, cold sweats, the incessant thoughts and full body tremors, when I got into a full out fight with my husband. (Now when you read this, don’t get mad at him for being “insensitive” or not understanding, because most people who have never had a panic attack can’t understand them – and that’s ok. Panic attacks are like migraines, if you have never had one, it’s hard to understand what they really feel like. He was just as scared and as frustrated as I was. He sat along side me through many of attacks and was my quiet place to rest while they were happening). Long story short, he didn’t understand what my problem was because I couldn’t explain what was “wrong” and I became frustrated when I couldn’t tell him because I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I didn’t understand what was going on, so how was I supposed to explain to someone without sounding like I was crazy?
Most of my panic attacks came out of nowhere. Some would start with a simple thought, others would be triggered by a small pain in my head and some just came out of the blue. Some would last a few seconds and others would last all day. My body and mind were out of control and for me that was excruciatingly frustrating. And for anyone who has ever felt this you know how horrible it feels to have no control over anything during a panic attack. You literally want to climb out of your skin and run as fast as you can and crawl into a hole at the same time. Every second feels like an hour. You can’t breathe, think or move. Everything ounce of you is being controlled while you are out of control and it’s scary. No, it’s fucking terrifying! And even though I was surrounded by people who love me and support me, I felt all alone.
But at this point I was SO done. I knew I couldn’t keep “living” my life this way. Being on a roller coaster of ups and downs and sporadic free falls was exhausting. I was no longer living, I was just existing between anxiety attacks and depressions. After talking to a close friend, I decided to give therapy a try. I shied away from it before because if I went, then that would mean I would have to admit that I wasn’t as put together as I portrayed I was to the world. Even during my first few sessions, I tried to bullshit my way through it by slapping a smile on my face and down playing everything. But I came to the realization if I ever wanted to get better I had to get real and stop being ashamed of who I was. So I did. Through our work, my therapist began to recognize the symptoms of disassociation and PTSD. I was then referred to a PTSD specialist and the real work began. During my treatment, I discovered that much of what was happening to me stemmed from my brain tumor surgery. When I “shut off” emotionally during that time, I disassociated from the situation in order to protect myself from what was happening . I only remember bits and pieces of my surgery and recovery, but during my sessions with the therapist, I had to relive the moments that I could remember in order to work through the emotions that I needed to feel in order to move forward. One moment that I had to revisit was when I had a halo put on me prior to one of my surgeries. As I talked through it, I started to panic. Everything flooded back. I remembered being given something to relax me and then the nurse started pushing a needle into my skull to numb me. Inside my head I was screaming for her to stop, but the medication she gave me left me unable to form the words. Each needle push I felt and when it came time to drill the halo to my head I finally mouthed “ouch” but she kept going. When it was all over , I remember looking up and seeing my mom and dad come into the room and going “blank” again. But this time when I spoke of my experience something else happened. I didn’t feel blank. I felt a release like it was something I needed to get out of me in order to move on. That moment was the break through I needed to start healing.
Once I was done with therapy, I was able to be ok with the fact that I have depression (which I can manage) and I have anxiety issues (which I can manage) and I have PTSD (which I can manage). It is part of me, but it is not who I AM. I have the tools to control it and not let it control me.At this moment I feel incredible, but that doesn’t mean I always will. I may have times when I am depressed, anxious or feel out of control, but I don’t have to let that stop me from living. And part of living is speaking our truth. This is my truth. It is what I have been through.
Having a mental health disorder, no matter what it is, can be a very lonely feeling. No one wants to talk about it, no one wants to admit they have it for fear of judgment and no one wants to see themselves as “out of control”. But why do speak about it in hushed tones when 1 in 5 Americans suffers from some type of mental health issue? I am here to tell that you are NOT alone and you should NOT be ashamed and you do not have to live your life feeling the way I did for so long. It’s ok to talk about it. By opening up and sharing your story, you may be the person that helps another person get through a hard time. That is my hope in sharing my story. We all deserve to be happy and at peace in our lives and, whether I know you or not, I am here for you.