Mental health is so important, but unfortunately, it does not receive the awareness it needs. Too many people struggle silently, and this struggle has even cost people their lives. I would like to raise awareness and help those suffering with mental illness get the help they need, and so I will be writing an article every week highlighting a mental health issue, such as specific disorders.
To begin, I will be sharing my personal mental health journey. I want you to know that if you struggle, you are not alone. I struggle too. So do others. And that is okay.
Like many people, I had no idea I struggled with mental illness growing up. I was labeled “shy,” and people often told me, “you don’t talk much.” This felt like an insult, and it did not encourage me to “open up,” but rather reclused me to avoid further judgement. I could be open, talkative and downright “crazy” with my close friends, though, so I just assumed I was an introvert.
Sophomore year of high school, I decided I wanted to become “healthy,” but this quickly became an obsession. I struggled with anorexia and bulimia, and it took years for my parents to recognize the signs and to get me the help I desperately needed but was too embarrassed to ask for. I remember lying to my friends about where I was when I went to therapy sessions, because I did not want them to know. This was my first mental health diagnosis.
When I was twenty years old, my brother died by suicide. He struggled his entire life with anxiety, depression, addiction and ADHD. Unfortunately, no one in my family recognized that he was mentally ill because we were unaware of the symptoms, and we all just assumed he was an alcoholic. In reality, he was self-medicating with alcohol because it was the only way he knew how to get through the day.
Though I now realize that I have always struggled with anxiety, it became much worse after my brother’s death. Juggling that and my personal life, I soon became overwhelmed and was unable to leave my apartment by myself without experiencing debilitating anxiety.
After hearing about the success my mom had after she went on anxiety medication, I finally decided to go on it as well, even though I was worried about what people would think about me or that it would make me “different.” My life completely changed after going on medication, and I could make it through the day without having uncontrollable, irrational fears.
Unfortunately, the only treatment I received at that time was medication, so when I decided to get off that medication, I did not have the coping mechanisms necessary to deal with the anxiety and depression that began to suffocate me. I felt utterly hopeless, and though I tried many different things, nothing I did made me feel better.
I remember having my first full-blown panic attack around this time. I thought I was dying, and my boyfriend drove me to the ER.
After that, I experienced weeks of uncontrollable crying, overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and fear and the belief that something was physically wrong with me — that I was dying. I kept telling my mom, “I don’t feel like myself.”
After multiple visits to the ER, I felt like no one was taking my concerns seriously because the doctors kept insisting that I was physically fine. The truth is, I was physically fine, but I was mentally suffering with anxiety, depression, panic disorder and dissociation.
When I decided I did not want to live anymore, that was when I knew I desperately needed help. In a way, my brother saved my life. I did not want to put my family through losing another sibling/child/grandchild to suicide, so I committed myself to a mental health facility where I finally began receiving the help I so desperately needed.
Currently, I am on medication, and I see a therapist regularly. Through her, I have learned that the way I take in the world has had a huge influence on my mental health. I have learned that I am an empath and a highly sensitive person. Understanding how my brain works and how I perceive the world has allowed me to better understand my own mental health.
I wanted to do this mental health series, because raising awareness and getting rid of the stigmas associated with mental health is so important. Being aware of symptoms and knowing how and where to get help can literally save lives.
Follow along each week to learn about specific disorders. In the meantime, see the below resources if you need help.
UCCS Wellness Center: 719-255-7515
Colorado Crisis Services: 1-844-493-8255
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255