My Mental Health Journey

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So this week, I have talked with a few different people about my journey to good mental health and I thought that you may also want to hear my story.

Now, I do want to add a disclaimer here that I will not be sharing the details of my trauma as I do not want that information all over the internet, so this will not be that kind of story if that is what you are looking for.

My story begins when I was 14 years old. At the time, I had just started high school in a new place and I didn't really know anyone outside of the marching band. I was a very quiet and shy person then and mostly just stuck to reading books instead of being super social. Luckily, my mom had convinced me to go to band camp before school started, so I had a group of friends that had adopted me (as all introverts will understand) and I finally began to have a social life.

As I started to come out of my shell, I also started to notice that no matter who I was with or what I was doing, I felt like I was behind a pane of glass. I could see everything and interact with everyone, but I didn't really feel any joy from the things I was doing. This is when I first suspected that I could have depression.

I talked to some friends about it and they were very supportive. The majority of them had experienced something similar and we all just helped each other as the years went on in school. I would write short stories, draw , paint, and sing to express my feelings and that tended to help a lot. I could get through the day most of the time and deal with things on my own until I was about 19.

This is when I began experiencing PTSD nightmares and began developing triggers for certain things. I had experienced some trauma growing up (my parents are amazing and had nothing to do with this but I won't' go into any more details) and it was starting to haunt me every night. I would wake up crying sometimes and my anxiety will be through the roof for days after I had an episode or experienced a trigger. I began having panic attacks and that is when I really knew I needed to get help.

I began to see a therapist who helped me understand that there were different things I could do right away to help with my anxiety. I worked at Starbucks at the time and I was downing espresso like nobody's business and she taught me to cut down on the caffeine. This made a huge difference in the number of panic attacks I was having right away and it's the first piece of advice I give anyone who is dealing with them. I also started taking medication with the help of my Doctor and for the first six months, it actually seemed like things were getting better.

Then, the September after my 20th birthday I went to work like any other day, however, something was off about me. I started having compulsive feelings about hurting myself and I was scared. I texted my roommates who worked at the same place and one of them came to work to take my place. It wasn't safe for me to work in a kitchen with things I could harm myself with. I then called my therapist and my doctor and we all agreed that I needed to go to the hospital. This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life and probably the thing that causes the most shame in my journey.

I know now that there are a lot of people who have been in mental hospitals at some point in their life and there is nothing to be ashamed of but the stigma of mental health is still strong and it's still hard to talk about.

My mom came to my apartment and after a lot of crying, we packed up some things and I stayed in a hospital for six days. I was really scared when I was first admitted. My only experience with these types of places was what I saw on TV and we all know that it isn't good. I kept to myself the first couple of days and just observed everyone around me. As I went through group therapy, I realized that I was definitely not alone in my struggles and I started to open up. After lots of talking and lots of medication, I was allowed to leave.

I felt worse after going to the hospital than I did when I was there. I felt very fragile and everyone in my life was really worried and checking up on me all the time. I felt like a failure as an adult because I struggled with things that other people didn't even care about. I would miss a lot of work because getting out of bed seemed like too much to handle and after a few months, I was fired because of my attendance record.

Now you would think that this experience would make me worse, but it actually helped me a lot. I realized that day, that I couldn't keep being like this and that even if I didn't feel like doing something or if I felt like I couldn't do something I just needed to do it. That day I put in 12 applications and I got a call for an interview the very same day.

I also realized that my medication regimen at the time wasn't doing me any favors. I was on too many medications and they made me just want to be asleep all of the time. I couldn't get things done because I had no energy. So I dropped my psychiatrist and went back to seeing a counselor and having my doctor prescribe me medication. With this change alone, I went from taking 7 medications to three and it made a world of difference.

My new counselor didn't allow me to avoid the serious things I needed to address and really helped me deal with things head-on. We used CBT therapy to help me see my world in a different way and over time the panic attacks started to fade away. I could identify my triggers before they happened and work through them at the moment and not be upset for days. We also realized that I had ADHD and that it was the cause of most of my anxiety. My brain was just trying to process too many things at once and once I started my medication my anxiety went away for the most part.

In the end, it took about five years of therapy, two psychiatrists, two counselors, several medications, and a hospital visit for me to finally be better. It's now been over two years since I've had a panic attack and I have been off medication for two years. I also have had an amazing support system with my family, my partners, and my job. Each person has helped me through things and has been there for me and I feel like that made all of the difference in the world.

My life looks completely different than it did nine years ago and I couldn't be more grateful.

The habits that have helped me the most are :

  1. Only consuming one cup of caffeine a day. If I wake up already feeling a little anxious, I avoid caffeine altogether.

  2. Having a routine has helped me get things done without feeling overly stressed. I do change my routines to incorporate different goals or just when life changes in general but they help a lot. I have a whiteboard in my room with my routine written on it so I don't forget.

3.If you are feeling bad and there is a social event, go anyway. I've found that if I'm starting to feel down, scheduling things with my favorite people is much better than staying inside by myself. Too much free time can be bad when your brain is saying mean things to you and having your cheerleaders around to remind you of how awesome you are, helps tremendously.

4.Excerise is a very good way to get rid of bad feelings. I just started this a few months ago and every time I have a session with my trainer, I feel so happy and energized afterward. Exercise naturally releases those feel-good hormones and it's a very healthy way to feel better. You also gain more confidence as you start to grow muscles and get stronger.

5.Tell people when you aren't feeling well. Keeping your feelings bottled up only makes things worse. When you have a trusted friend or partner, they can help you get better. Make sure to tell a few people what steps you need to take to get out of your funk. My mom always can tell when something is going on and reminds me of the things I need to do.

Every person's journey is a little different and will require different steps to get better. I'm so incredibly grateful that I went through this because I am a more empathetic and compassionate person now. I also have the power to help other people and there isn't a better feeling than helping someone escape anxiety and depression.

If you feel like you are dealing with any of these things, please feel free to reach out to me and I'm more than happy to be a part of your support system.

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