I’ve written and rewritten this post at least a dozen times. Drafts sit unfinished in the depths of my computer, gathering virtual dust.
I’m passionate about this subject, yet have never written about it publicly. My pride has always stood in the way.
In light of the the tragic news regarding the death of Robin Williams, I feel compelled to put my pride in my pocket and share my personal struggles with mental illness. I would much rather write about the usual NFred fodder, but I feel like this is something I need to do.
I’m not looking for pity or hugs or offers of warm beverages. I’m looking for an opportunity to shed some insight into the mind of person who has struggled with both anxiety and depression for a very long time.
So get comfy, grab a snack…it’s time to get deep with NFred.
My last year of high school, I felt insane. I’d always been an anxious, somewhat high strung individual, but when I was eighteen something changed. It seemed like out of nowhere my mind went into overdrive and I began having horribly macabre thoughts. These thoughts made my anxiety almost unbearabIe. I became consumed by completely irrational fears. I obsessed with thoughts of fainting in the middle of class or barfing in front of my peers or swallowing my own tongue. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I felt like I was living my life in a constant state of panic, waiting for something horrendous to strike.
All this was going on inside of me and I told no one. Not a soul. I didn’t want anyone to know how crazy I had become. I was horrified that someone would find out my secret and have me hauled off to a mental institution. Being committed was at the top of my list of irrational fears.
In the spring of that year, my mom got sick. Breast cancer. My anxiety went postal and I couldn’t deal with it anymore. I broke down and told my parents. They took me to my family doctor who sent me to a psychologist. I was sure that the psychologist was going to take one look at me and demand that I be locked up for life. I imagined burly men in white scrubs dragging me away as I screamed hysterically for someone to help.
The psychologist was a warm person with a pleasant demeanor. Once I started telling her my symptoms, I couldn’t stop rambling on about how I was feeling. It was like a dam had broken and my deepest, most secret thoughts were flowing out of me without reservation. She diagnosed me with an anxiety disorder and depression. I saw her for several months and learned how to change my thinking patterns. I felt better, went off to university and thought that my mental illness had disappeared. I was wrong.
In my third year of university, I stopped sleeping. I knew that my mental health was starting to decline, but I ignored it as best I could. Then my mind starting racing again. I discovered that the only time I felt good was when I was drunk, so I tried to drink as often as I could. I knew I was treading dangerous waters, but I wasn’t ready to admit that to myself or anyone else. One night, while laying in bed awake, I had this overwhelming urge to leave school. It was after midnight when I packed up my bags and left. I got home to my parent’s house at six o’clock in the morning. My mom greeted me as I walked in the door and I collapsed into her arms. I was done. I’d thrown in the towel, waved the white flag and let my mental illness win the battle that was raging on inside of me. I couldn’t pretend any longer. I needed help.
Back to the psychologist I went. We worked together for over a year. I reluctantly went on meds and slowly began to feel better. I got a job, moved out of my parent’s house and fell in love. Was I cured? No. I still had my moments. The happy days outweighed the sad ones. I got married, had two children and enjoyed my life.
My third pregnancy was extremely complicated. I was put on bed rest and was constantly stressed that the baby was going to be born prematurely. I would sit on my couch, day in and day out, worrying. I felt like the dark shadows of anxiety and depression looming over me. I willed myself to stay sane, to not think about getting sick again. I needed to be strong for the baby. I didn’t have time to fall apart. I needed to pull up my bootstraps and carry on.
I thought that as soon as the baby was born I would instantly be better. After a horrific delivery where both my daughter and I almost lost our lives, I felt worse than ever. The moment the nurse placed my baby in my arms, I knew something wasn’t right. I felt like I couldn’t breath, like the air in the room was too thick to fit into my lungs. I should have said something then and there, but I didn’t. It wasn’t time for me to fall apart. That was my mantra for the next couple of weeks. I repeated those words over and over as I sobbed uncontrollably in the shower, as I worried about my daughter’s health obsessively, as I feared for my own sanity.
About three weeks after my daughter’s birth, I confided in both my husband and my mother that I wasn’t feeling good. I was so anxious that I couldn’t sleep or eat. I felt like I was living my life in fast forward. I was so tense, so panicked that I couldn’t relax for a single moment. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something catastrophic was going to happen to me or my loved ones.I knew these feelings weren’t going to go away on their own. I lost all hope that I would wake up one morning and magically be better. I knew I needed help, again.
When I walked into my psychologist’s office for the first time in over twelve years, I was a complete mess. I felt like a failure as a mother, a wife and a human being. I was consumed by guilt and worry. I felt utterly defeated. I spent the entire hour sobbing. For over a year, I saw her twice a week. It was grueling and gut wrenching. It was a team effort between my psychologist, my doctor and my close family and friends to get me back on my feet. I’m extremely lucky to have had such amazing people in my life who selflessly lifted me up when I had fallen down.
Today, my daughter is three years old and I feel good. Am I cured? No. I’ll never be cured. My mental illness is just as much a part of me as my brown eyes or my freakishly small feet. I can’t change the way I am, but I can change how I THINK about the way that I am. In other words, I’m no longer at war with my illness and have finally learned to accept it as one of the many sentences that makes up the story of me.
It’s been just over twenty four hours since the news of Robin Williams’s death broke. The main tone of the media is one of shock and disbelief that someone who appeared to be so full of life could have been struggling so deeply. What I take away from this sad event is the reminder that EVERYONE is dealing with SOMETHING. Whether it be Depression or Anxiety or Bipolar Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Even the most out going, fun-loving, witty individuals who seem to have it all can be plagued by mental illness. Old, young, skinny, fat, mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Robin Williams is the perfect example of this.
If you’ve ever met me in person, you probably think that I’m a fun loving gal with a pretty good sense of humour. Like Robin Williams, I love to make people laugh. I’m a clown, a goof and a total ham. This is who I am. Just because I have a mental illness, it doesn’t change the fact that I love life despite all of its ebbs and flows. I’m not pretending to be someone I’m not, and I presume Robin Williams never did either.
If you’re struggling with mental illness, it’s okay to talk about it publicly. It’s nothing to be ashamed about. It’s not 1950 anymore, I promise you won’t be sent for a lobotomy. The more honest we are with ourselves, the better we’ll feel. Tell a loved one, see a doctor and above all else,remember to be kind to yourself.
Thanks for reading this post, it means the world to me.
I promise I’ll be back to writing about sharks and poop in no time!
Keep your chin up,