Mental Health Monday is a weekly post from bloggers, authors and everyday people who wish to share their mental health stories and struggles. I also share reviews of books based around Mental Health, as well as my own personal experiences. Check out here for more information.
This week’s guest for Mental Health Monday is none other than my own beautiful sister. We’ve both had our fair share of struggle with mental health throughout the years, and I remember this time in her life so clearly. It’s hard to watch someone you love battle the demons and walls that are being thrown in front of them. But man, did she ever put up a good fight. She kicked ass.
So please, Enjoy this incredible piece of writing from my magnificent sister, Crystal.
“She has sad sickness. Lost in a world of ghosts” – Natural Born Killers
I recently saw Natural Born Killers for the first time. This quote, to me, is the perfect definition of mental illness of any kind. The ghosts don’t have to be people. The ghosts can be depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts…the list is pretty much endless because mental illness takes so many different forms for each individual person. My depression is going to be different from his; my social anxiety is going to be different from hers. Everyone’s journey through mental health is unique, which is why it’s so hard to think of ignorant people lumping every diagnosis into the same category.
My personal journey is long, with many twists and turns. I was a dark teenager, with dark thoughts. I had a suicide list, ways I could do it, and I never felt comfortable unless I had it with me. It was in my wallet, it went into my school bag, and if I had neither it was in my pocket. By the time I finally got rid of it, it was so creased you could barely read it. I’m OK with that. I’m glad I don’t have it any more, and I have no desire for it. I couldn’t tell you when I got rid of it, only that I did. I confided all of those deep, dark feelings to a friend – she promptly told my mom. I was angry for a while, but I know she cared and that’s why she did it. I think I specifically chose to confide in her and not one of my “best friends” because I knew she would take action. My mom tried to help. I saw therapists as a teenager. Not a single one mentioned depression, social anxiety, or medication. ALL of my problems were caused by my low self-esteem, instead of my low self-esteem being considered a symptom of a bigger problem. In my late teens, my family doctor prescribed an anti-depressant, and for the first time, I felt better! It was wonderful. I had a high school sweetheart who treated me like I was the most deserving person in the world, I had a great group of friends, I was a band geek and I loved playing music; I played flute and went to band camp…anyone remember how “popular” those kids were? I didn’t care about popularity. I never felt anxiety when playing my music. I had teachers allow me to make presentations to them and only them, to avoid public speaking, but with the flute or the saxophone, I needed no special allowances. I played solos, I played in every band, I just played.
In the summer of 2003, I turned 20; on Christmas Eve of that same year, my mother passed away. She fought the cancer hard, and bravely, but in the end it won; seems like these days it almost always wins. Some people say “my mom is my best friend, we are so close” and I wonder if they really mean it. When I say it, I mean it. I don’t mean she let me get away with everything because she wanted to be my friend and not my mother. She was, first and foremost, my mother, and she was amazing. She was hands down the best mother anyone could EVER ask for. When I say she was my best friend too I mean that she talked to me about anything. Nothing was ever too big or too small, and it didn’t matter what she was doing at the time. If I needed to talk she was there to listen. Nothing was off the table. I remember one time I had mentioned right after becoming sexually active that sometimes it wasn’t comfortable. She reached under her bed, pulled out a bottle of Astroglide, laughed as she brushed/blew off the layer of dust on it and said “you can tell how often this gets used” and told me that maybe I just need lube and that this was a good brand to try. She wasn’t just my mom, or my best friend, she was my PERSON. Sometimes your person is your partner, sometimes a person is your friend, sometimes they are a family member and she was mine. Even in the height of her sickness, when her mind was going little by little and she forgot everyone else’s name she always remembered mine. She didn’t know my dad, my brother, my boyfriend (who was practically a member of the family) or my aunts but she knew mine. I was her person too.
Losing her was devastating, and I had many years of spiraling out of control after she left. I drank, I partied, I was promiscuous, I put myself in bad situations. My high school sweetheart was long gone, and I moved from one serious relationship to another looking for someone to “fix” me. I was no longer on antidepressants, the one I had been on stopped working and my doctor didn’t put me on anything else. I didn’t ask her for anything and she didn’t offer, I just stopped the one that didn’t work. Fast-forward five years to 2008. I met my ex that summer, after leaving another long term relationship that just didn’t work out. I was with him for almost six years. He was an alcoholic and an asshole who didn’t care what I wanted because he had already had it; I wanted to be married and to have kids, he had almost been married and had two kids to a woman he couldn’t stand and didn’t want to do it ever again. In the middle of this relationship, something came up at work. I hadn’t had to work a Christmas Eve since my mother had passed. I thought I was doing the right thing. I went to my doctor and had her write me a note to give to my employer explaining that for medical reasons I couldn’t work on Christmas Eve. My work told me that they couldn’t accept a sick note in advance and because I had handed it in trying to do the right thing that if I called in sick that day I might lose my job because I had previously asked for it off. I had a panic attack in the middle of work and went home. I filled out the short-term disability paperwork the next day. I booked an appointment with my doctor for later in the week when she had an availability, and when I went in I had gotten maybe three hours of sleep in the past three days. The following week I was in to see a psychiatrist.
That short-term disability turned into long-term disability. I was put on medication after medication, each one of them with its own special side effects. Some made me nauseous, some made me lightheaded, one made me actually pass out, and one made me completely suicidal. I called my doctor after suffering through two weeks of literally being ready to die and he told me to stop it immediately. While the medications were being sorted out I saw therapist after therapist trying to find the right fit. I finally had one I was comfortable with, and I opened up about EVERYTHING leading up to my life at this point. The abuse I had suffered as a child (NOT my parents, let’s just make that clear) that I had never told anyone, my mom dying, every little thing that caused me to feel the way I did I opened up about. Over the next three years I was off work, trying to get better. One of the therapists finally diagnosed me with social anxiety bordering on social phobia (I could have been diagnosed years before it all of my problems weren’t attributed to “low self-esteem”) and I entered an anxiety work group. We finally found a medication that worked and I’m still on it today. I tried to go without it I think three years ago when my prescription ran out and I hadn’t gotten it filled, and three days without it and I was a crying mess on the floor – I definitely have a chemical imbalance. I’m ok with that. If I have to take one pill every day until the day I die to feel normal, then I will take that one pill every day until I die.
In the midst of all the medication changing and therapy going, my once supportive boyfriend became basically the bane of my existence. He accused me of using him, staying in bed all day and doing nothing because he was working and I didn’t need to do it. He was TOXIC. Part of my problem that I didn’t discuss with the therapist was that I wanted kids at some point, and I wanted to be married. I knew that if I told them that, and that my boyfriend never wanted those things with me that they would suggest I leave him and I just wasn’t ready for that.
In 2014 I was no longer seeing my therapist because she’d given me all of the tools I needed to succeed. I’d been back at work for a while and aside from still being with that asshole, my life was going well. I loved my job, I was finally feeling good about being me and I was also ready to make a change. I met someone. Someone who wanted what I want out of life, a family. I left the asshole behind. I didn’t leave him to be with someone else, not specifically. I left him because leaving him was the first step to getting the life I want. I don’t want a life of alcoholism and partying. I’m quiet, I’m a homebody and I want a family. October 2014 I got engaged; November 2014 I found out I was pregnant; March 2015, I had my wedding day and August 2015 my beautiful baby girl was born. I was extremely worried about PPD because my history of depression means I’m more prone to it than your average woman. Turns out, all that worry was for nothing. I never suffered from it.
I’m at a point in my life now where I make a decision every single day to be happy. Do I think I could make that same decision if I wasn’t on medication? No, I don’t. Without the medication to keep me stable I believe every day would be a bad day. With the medication, I get to chose what kind of day I’m going to have. Do I want to be negative today? Or do I want to have the best day I can today? The answer is always to have the best day I can. I still have bad days. Everybody has bad days, even people who don’t have depression have bad days, so to expect that I never ever have a bad day (even while on medication) is an unrealistic expectation. My strength comes from choosing how to deal with my bad days. I still play with my daughter, I still do something in the house that’s productive, but if I don’t do everything I had planned on doing, that’s ok too. Maybe the dishes get done but the vacuuming waits until tomorrow. If nothing gets done, if I spend the day playing with my little girl, snuggling her and giggling with her, and I spend her naptime curled up in bed with either a book or taking a nap, that’s ok too.
It was Mother’s Day the other day. I used to cry on that day. Sometimes all day, sometimes only for a little while but there were always tears. Grief still comes in waves; there’s no magic pill for grief. I have days where I still do cry when I think about my mom, but it wasn’t on Mother’s Day this year. I felt happy and blessed. I am the best mom I can be because I had the best mom I could have had. I still don’t have great self-esteem and that’s a fact. The one and only thing that I am confident about in this life is my ability to be a mother. My anxiety makes some things hard – we live in the city, and although I can drive I don’t like driving in the city. My husband takes me where I need to go when he’s not working. When I see kids her age talking, and she’s not talking yet, my anxiety makes me want to compare and contrast her skills to their skills – it takes a lot of strength to talk myself down from that, and to not compare. She is perfect just the way she is, and she will talk when she is ready. A lot of my days have quite a bit of internal discussion, and I’m just so grateful that I’m at a place in my life where I can actually choose how I want to feel! To not have to react a certain way to something that would have set me off just four years ago; to have the skills given to me by my last (and best) therapist to weigh my options for feelings and reactions and to chose the one that I feel is the most appropriate.
I have worked my ass off to have the mental stability that I have now. No one handed it to me; my search for finding someone to “fix” me ended with myself. I stand where I am today because I brought myself here, through medication and therapy and hell and I am damn proud of it. I do have sad sickness; I am no longer lost in a world of ghosts.