The Reality of Mental Illness
Living With Mental Illness
As a lifelong sufferer of mental illness, I want to share all I have come to learn about the illness. I have an inside track, so to speak.
My hope is to help fight the stigma of mental illness by speaking out. I believe there are many sufferers out there that will be able to relate. Perhaps they won't feel so alone, because it can be a lonely disease.
I believe it is important for us with mental illness to know as much as we can about this brain disease. This includes some scientific as well as practical information. I will share some of my day to day struggles and triumphs and how being able to laugh at the absurdities of life helps me get through.
* All images shown here are mine.
Mental Illness In All It's Glory
Am I Crazy?
Mental Illness is a brain disease. Certainly no one asks to be mentally ill. Now THAT would be crazy!
There are so many different types of mental illness and the list seems to grow every year. Some would say that doctors are just inventing more illnesses that don't really exist to explain every little, slightly off behavior. I beg to differ. Unless you have walked in the shoes of the mentally ill, you can not judge, you must not judge. You are just kicking someone when they are down.
Another fact is that many mental conditions can overlap. Also, many degrees of each illness exist and each individual experiences them differently. It is a huge gray area of gray matter. The brain is so complex, it may take centuries or forever to fully understand it.
Now, some people will tell you it's all in your head. No kidding! The brain controls everything about us: our body and all it's functions, our ability to form thoughts, our ability to have emotions of all kinds. Our brain has to produce a certain combination of chemicals in the proper amounts for it to work optimally.
If our brain is physically unable to produce one or several chemicals, or if it over produces any, our brain will not work properly. This may cause over reactive emotions, the lack of emotions, an inability to feel happiness, overwhelming despair and hopelessness, hallucinations, and a slew of other problems with thinking and perception.
People with mental illnesses not only have a terrible illness, but they are kicked when they are down. They are shunned, misunderstood, called crazy and generally marginalized by society. God forbid a person be a little different. That makes people uncomfortable.
We are not crazy. We have an illness. Everyone has something wrong with them. Some are just better at hiding their monsters.
I Doodle to Relax My Spirit - A window into the subconsciousClick thumbnail to view full-size
Depression Sounds Depressing
Am I Depressed or Just Sad?
Yes, there is a difference. One is an illness and one is a normal reaction to some of life's hardships, such as a death in the family. With regular sadness, a person eventually comes out of it. Depression is a whole different ballgame.
According to the DSM-IV, a manual used to diagnose mental disorders, depression occurs when you have at least five of the following symptoms at the same time:
A depressed mood during most of the day, particularly in the morning
Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
Insomnia (an inability to sleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day
Recurring thoughts of death or suicide (not just fearing death)
A sense of restlessness or being slowed down
Significant weight loss or weight gain
A key sign of depression is either depressed mood or loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. For a diagnosis of depression, these signs should be present most of the day either daily or nearly daily for at least two weeks. In addition, the depressive symptoms need to cause clinically significant distress or impairment. They cannot be due to the direct effects of a substance, for example, a drug or medication. Nor can they be the result of a medical condition such as hypothyroidism. Finally, symptoms that occur within two months of the loss of a loved one are not considered to be clinical depression.
Symptoms of Depression
Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
Fatigue and decreased energy
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
Insomnia, early morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
Loss of pleasure in life
Overeating or appetite loss
Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
Some of this clinical information was borrowed from Web MD
Stigma Be Gone
Fighting Stigma by Speaking Out
I am telling my story because someone may be able to relate and not feel so alone, not because I am stuck in the past. I am able to talk about it because I have dealt with it. Countless hours of therapy and reading to not feel I am to blame or ashamed. It wasn't my fault and I won't let anyone shame me for speaking out.
It is this feeling of victims that they must be quiet because it makes others uncomfortable. That is how we stay sick. We must talk. It takes courage and strength to speak out. This doesn't mean that my chemical imbalance has magically gone away. That is a physical illness that no amount of therapy will cure. I can just hopefully find the correct combo of meds.
Those who love me, will love me anyway.
Art is good therapy - Artsy Doodles by MeClick thumbnail to view full-size
How It Began For Me
Just A Kid
What a story! How do I begin? It's a long story, to be sure. I may have to do it in installments, for Heaven's sake. It is a life long story and it is a story that continues to this day and will continue until I die. It took me a long time to accept that fact and some days I still have a hard time accepting this illness. This illness is mental illness; primarily Major Depression and Anxiety. I'm nervous, but here goes...
I was born the 5th of 7 children to a mother and a father that both suffered from mental illness. There are debates about their precise diagnoses, but suffice it to say that it was pretty severe. I can remember both of them having multiple stays at inpatient psych wards. My mother finally kicked my father out when I was 4 or 5 years old. Now my mother had 7 kids, the youngest being just an infant and no help from my father, financially or otherwise.
My mother shortly became unable to take care of all of us. The 3 oldest were teenagers and could do for themselves, but us 4 youngest ones were sent to an orphanage / children's home. It was an institution. I was 6 years old. Looking back I can see that this is when my own mental illness was first triggered. This is when I first became terrified of the world around me
I began to do anything to avoid school and when I did go I wouldn't talk or do the school work. After this scary place, we were sent to a scary Catholic run orphanage and then scary foster homes. I was gone for 2 years; I was in a constant state of fear and high anxiety. Every moment of every day I pined for my mother. When I finally got to go home, my new step-father began sexually abusing me. This lasted for years.
That was the beginning, although I wasn't diagnosed for the first time until I was 20 or 21 years old. I had a very strong genetic tendency for mental illness that was triggered at a very early age by traumatic experiences. I can just remember always feeling like I wasn't right. I couldn't name it or describe it, but I knew there was something terribly wrong with me.
I will continue my story on another day and tell you where my illness sent me. I am telling this because I know others will be able to relate and perhaps not feel so alone.
Recommended Reading - The Effects of Childhood Trauma
I am a compulsive reader. I can't help it. I believe that the more I learn about the issues that affect me, the more I will learn about myself, how I tick and therefore how I can help myself. I have read many books about childhood trauma and they have helped me feel a little less alone. Here are a few books I find interesting and hope to add to my library soon.
But it is also important to get expert advice from knowledgeable sources who can be objective. I find getting my information from both peers and pros. I was struck by the title of this book because some of my perceptions of the world are so deeply ingrained.
My Saga Continues
It Get's Harder
I wrote earlier about the beginnings of my life and the genetics and early trauma at the root of my mental illness. I can remember, as a kid, thinking heavy thoughts, worrying too much and having an almost constant feeling of dread and fear.
I recall sitting in my house on a nice day, looking out my window, seeing other kids riding their bikes and being too afraid to leave the house. Sometimes I could go out, sometimes not. I stayed home from school as often as I could get away with it because I frequently felt an unnamable terror that kept me glued to my bed, paralyzed.
My first suicide attempt was at 15 years of age. I was in unbearable psychic pain and just wanted to stop the pain. There was no one I felt I could tell. I didn't even know how to verbalize it; explain it. I felt no one would believe me or understand. I felt hopeless.
I looked for whatever medicines I could find in the house to take until I went blank. I took a whole bunch of aspirins; Nyquil and sniffed aerosol because it said it could be fatal. I became violently ill, vomited and then dry heaved for at least 2 days.
I told no one what I did, even after my mother took me to the doctor, because of the non-stop heaving, and he asked me if I took anything. I was ashamed. I suffered in silence. I was alone. But looking from the outside, no one would know I was in so much pain. I became adept at hiding it from the masses and pretending I was normal.
My next attempt was at about 20 years old. I took a bunch of speed this time. I was taking a few at a time so I wouldn't throw them up; started getting a massive headache and again proceeded to be horribly sick for a couple of days. I told no one. By this time I had dropped out of college for the third time. I was just seen as unreliable and lazy. That is how I thought of myself too.
Somewhere in here I must have seen a doctor and gotten some kind of diagnosis, because my third attempt involved taking almost 100 antidepressant pills. Obviously they weren't working. I took the pills, locked the doors and laid down. I waited to drift peaceably into oblivion.
After an hour, I knew it wasn't going to work and I became afraid. I called my mother and she called an ambulance. I was hospitalized until I was physically stable and then they sent me to the psych floor. Now everyone I knew or ever met (it seemed), knew I was "crazy". Oh, the shame I felt!
Now began a rollercoaster of medication juggling. It wasn't going to be quick and it wasn't going to be easy.
To be continued...
Read All About It - Knowledge is Power
Dealing with depression during different stages of life.
All Grown Up and Making a Family - I'm Up and Then I'm Down Again
I had many periods of feeling okay, good and even great. Sometimes medications worked for a couple of years at a time. Usually, after a few years, whatever medicine I was on stopped working though. This happened many times over the years.
I would once again fall, fall, fall, into a deep depression. I wouldn't get out of bed for days, even weeks at a time, except to go to the bathroom and get something to eat. I wouldn't shower, call anyone or want to see anyone. I had no motivation for anything. The thought of having to get out from under the covers and go somewhere created intense anxiety and fear.
During an upswing, I met my husband. I told him all about my illness. In fact I warned him away, but all he saw was an upbeat, happy girl. We got married and had our children.
I had a fairly long period of mental stability during this time, It wasn't depression free, but it was definitely the happiest time for me. No matter how I felt, I couldn't and wouldn't ignore my babies. They completely depended on me and my body filled with the adrenaline needed to take care of them.
I knew now I could never hurt myself again and leave them.
I would like to say that the deep depression never came back again.....but it did. As my children grew and became able to do more for themselves, that survival adrenaline, couldn't be magically conjured up at will when I was depressed. It was hard on them and I hated myself for my illness.
Friends and family would say things like, "Just get up and make yourself do it!" or "Just think positively!" or "Just stop feeling sorry for yourself!". I would think, "Golly gee, why didn't I think of that?! All this time I could have been cured!".
Then I would hatefully wish depression on them, just for a short time, so they could understand how I feel and how insulting their words are. I have come to realize that they aren't trying to be hurtful; they just don't get it. Many people don't get it and I mustn't take it personally.
It is just important that I understand it. And it is a blessing in my life that my husband understands it. It was a hard won understanding, for sure!
To be continued
The Healing Power of Music and Meditation - Heal Thyself
I can not stress enough how wonderfully healing music and meditation can be. It helps me sooth my racing mind. It relaxes my tense spirit. Maybe it won't feel natural at first and you won't think it is helping. Just keep doing it and you will see that you can really calm the storms inside of you.
The Years March On And So Do I
Up and Down and All Around
Sometimes everything comes together and works for awhile and other times, not so much. Over the years I saw several therapists who helped me come to terms with my past, learn coping skills and ways to take care myself. Sometimes it still all fell apart because it is very hard to care about much, especially yourself during a bout of depression.
I also saw several different psychiatrists who prescribed many combinations of psychotropic medications, inpatient and outpatient. Some combinations worked for awhile and many didn't. I was told that I have a treatment resistant depression. It wasn't responsive to many medications. This doesn't mean that I refuse to respond, it is my brain that won't cooperate.
This doesn't mean that it is hopeless. It just takes longer to find the right combinations of medicine and then they seem to stop working after several years. This is just personal experience. Everyone is affected differently. Some people are able to find a medicine that works and it works beautifully for them for many, many years.
I struggled and I still struggle. But I have had and still have happy times. When I have an okay day, it feels absolutely wonderful. I can really appreciate the little moments of just being glad to be alive. I can be grateful for the good in my life, especially my beautiful children and caring husband. I know I am lucky and I frequently remind myself of that, daily.
Remaining grateful today.
Send me a comment about any thoughts and feelings you have on what I have written above. Thank you in advance for taking the time to read about this important subject.
Last updated on February 23, 2014
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