Living with Mental Illness: A Guest Blog by Listener Andrea Schaefer
I have no shame or embarrassment anymore about having and living with mental illness. The topic of mental health seems to be one of the last taboo’s of our society and yet the reality is more than one third of our population suffers from mental illness. Most never speak out, seek treatment or even acknowledge that something is off in their thoughts, moods and over all mental health.
I had no idea I had mental illness. Hard to believe, I know. Three medical labels, a team of emotional and mental wellness professionals and never once did I even consider the fact I suffered from mental illness. I was sent to an out- patient program called “journey to wellness”, and it was there I realized that I wasn’t just a person struggling with major depression, anxiety and PTSD; I was also a person living with Mental Illness. I actually asked the facilitator what she meant when she referred to us as having mental illness. Mental Illness is a broad umbrella term used by professionals that includes most if not all mental illness including but not limited to bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, all anxiety, clinical depression, major depressive episodes and mood disorders.
At first when referring to my illness I would always either put mental illness in quotes or call myself crazy sarcastically. It really wasn’t until my youngest sister Sarah mentioned to me that when I did those things it gave the impression I was making fun of it.
She was right. Old habits die hard – especially when you don’t want them to. I didn’t want to be stigmatised, I didn’t want to be attached to the label of Mental Illness. I was ashamed, felt like a failure and weak for not being able to handle this and “just get over it” as I was told many times by many family and friends. I also knew being ignorant and not being taken seriously was not what I wanted. So I changed, and owned it.
Mental Illness does not go away. There is no cure or quick fix. Once recognized and diagnosed, a lot of mental illnesses can be managed through treatment such as medication and talk therapy. Sounds simple, but it isn’t. Even with regular treatment lapses are a real possibility and personally I have had more than a few. I am always battling my emotions, trying to manage them or figure them out. Consider the idea of consciously trying to change your thought process and perceptions constantly. This involves learning to change the tapes in our mind that have always been there. Self talk is something we all do but not something that can be changed overnight. It is an on-going process, day in and day out and it takes a lot of energy and focus. Even after 18 months I still need to work on this every single day.
My reality is I will re-lapse in and out of depression for the rest of my life. I deal with anxiety each day. Some days are good, and others are nothing less than torture. Sometimes I shake and shiver so intensely I can’t button my coat or even hold a glass of water. At its worst, I can’t bear to leave the house, or even my room. Sounds silly – but the feeling is overwhelming. Just thinking about it now makes me want to vomit, that is how overpowering it is. I have medication to help however it is highly addictive. I only take it when absolutely necessary. More than three days in a row and I have with drawl when I don’t keep taking it. In the last 18 months I have had three bouts of dependency and therefore three withdrawal periods. One also included other prescribed medication and was the worst lasting just over 7 weeks. The anxiety is tied into having PTSD. I now know some triggers but they still unexpectedly present themselves to me. Random smells, sounds and sights have all sent me into unexpected and unexplained panic and cold sweats.
Revealing my story, thoughts and experiences on here will hopefully help someone. Help them know they are not alone, or help someone understand what living with mental illness is like. Check back often as I will periodically post snippets of my life and journey.
If you think you might be suffering – please get help. Please check my resource page for information on how to get started in your journey to wellness.
Read more of Andrea’s writing at her blog http://thegreat38.wordpress.com/