(Disclaimer: The story ahead is true and may be triggering for some individuals who suffer with depression, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts. I am not a doctor or medical professional and can only speak from my own personal experiences. If you are suffering from anxiety or depression please know you are not alone. There are amazing resources for you listed here.)
Today I’m going to write a post that is a little different than my usual articles. This will be one of my stories (there are many.) I have a diagnosed mental illness. My journey has a lot of mountains and valleys. What I want to talk about today is society’s expectations of where I should be in my treatment.
My entire life I have been the type of person who burns the candle at two ends and then crashes. I thought I was at my best when I was over scheduled. In the end, I could never maintain that lifestyle forever. Ultimately I would always crash or give up.
For the longest time, I thought I just couldn’t stick to my commitments. I always started off strong and ultimately, my drive would fizzle until it was completely gone. Through all of this, I never considered myself someone who suffered from mental illness.
Though mental illness ran in my family, I was sure that wasn’t me. Yes I was emotional, overly so according to some. In general though I had a very positive and sweet personality. How can a positive, extrovert have depression?
Things began to chip away after my daughter was born for many reasons I won’t go into in this article. In early 2017 was the breaking point. I felt such complete and utter hopelessness that I didn’t know how to engage with my life. Everything, even the small things, were either painful or lacking emotion at all.
Daily suicidal thoughts began to control my mind. I couldn’t be around people or communicate with those around me because I couldn’t communicate with myself. A lot of bridges were burned during that time because I was ashamed of what was going on inside of me. I lashed out at the world because lashing out at myself wasn’t helping.
After leaving my job and beginning to see a therapist and psychiatrist, things began looking up. I was balancing medication and processing my past. Everything felt like it was coming back on track. In true Jen fashion, I decided to pour everything into something new. A goal and drive would certainly turn me around.
There I was, burning the candle at both ends again, not realizing that it was about to set me up for the biggest crash of my life. One day while on a business trip, I had my first panic attack in 15 years. For two months straight after that they came daily, sometimes even multiple times a day.
I couldn’t leave the house. I barely showered. My husband, Rich, had to completely take over all the household responsibilities. I put my life and my business on hold while I curled in a corner and died inside. Of course the suicidal thoughts came back. Finally my therapist and psychiatrist told me it was time for me to seek a deeper level of care.
I admitted myself to an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) at Princeton House Behavioral Health. While there I worked with their treatment team to balance out my medications and use Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to help me learn skills to manage through my mental illness.
This is when I first realized the weight of my mental illness. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. So much suddenly became clear. All those years of being in either overdrive or reverse made sense. I felt like I had lost my identity. My professional career had hindered on this concept that I was a driven, high-functioning, and highly-coachable person. What if all those qualities were ones I only had when I was manic?
After two treatment stays in the IOP program, I have come a long, long way. I have shared a large part of my journey in my online community and throughout different social media channels. Countless people have reached out to me and said thank you for speaking out because they felt all alone. I decided I wanted to speak up more.
The problem is that now people expect one of two things. Either they believe that I should be all better now, because I’ve had such successful treatment, or that I’m just continuing to seek attention and am beyond help. In reality neither of these are true.
Yes, I have made enormous strides in my mental health. I do not have daily panic attacks. For the first time in almost a year I do see a live worth living in my future. Somedays it seems more distant then others and I can see it all the same.
Notice that I didn’t say “but I can see it all the same.” If I used the word “but,” it would be implying that anything before it was of less importance. It is extremely important to note that both the facts (that I see it and that some days its very far away) are true.
Do you have to worry that I’m suicidal? On a daily basis no. Does that mean I never have or never will have more suicidal thoughts? No. That is what my skills are for. The skills I learned in therapy will not eliminate my feelings. They will work to make them manageable and help me reach my life worth living goal.
Today was a bad day. Last night after having spent some amazing time with my daughter, I just wanted her to go away. Not because I don’t love her. It was because at that moment when she was being a rebellious defiant two year old, I felt like a failure. That isn’t her fault. It’s an emotion inside of me that I couldn’t control.
My guilt sunk in and my shame began to rise. The thoughts in my head began to race faster than I could comprehend them. I played over and over in my mind the events of the day. “I shouldn’t have said this to her. Maybe I shouldn’t have let her do that.” At the end of the day, I found myself laying in bed and a thought of self-harm entered my mind.
Don’t worry, I was quickly able to engage my wise mind and push the thought away. I can say with all of my being right now that I want to live. This doesn’t mean that I am perfect though and that’s OK. Somedays will be difficult and society has a hard time understanding why I would back slide for “no reason.”
That’s the thing, society doesn’t have to see the reason. The reason is that my brain doesn’t function like everyone else’s. Not even like others who have mental illness. Each of our journey’s is different.
Just because one person who received help was able to live on without another bought of depression doesn’t mean everyone can. One person may have severe anxiety and an amazing ability to suppress it to continue with everyday functioning. Another person could be crippled by this same anxiety.
Trying to assume you understand someone else’s journey or mind is like assuming you know what the color blue looks like to every human on Earth. You don’t get to walk in someone else’s shoes. With that in mind, you can walk behind them, in front of them, or beside them. Some days they may even need to lean on you in order to take a step.
Remember that sometimes people will stumble, fall, or even take a couple steps backwards. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t further along their journey then they were before. The great thing about this journey is that there really isn’t a final destination. It’s just about moving along at whatever pace you can.
Mental Illness Recovery
My journey doesn’t end here. For those of you who wonder, yes I can talk all about being skillful and overcoming my mental illness. There will always be a part of me that is a positive extrovert on the outside. This may make it difficult for you to acknowledge my pain when it’s there. In fact you don’t even need to acknowledge my pain. Only I need to justify my own feelings.
We all know that no one can tell us how to feel right? So then own it. Whatever it is you feel, it is justified. It’s how you react to those feelings that is something you can work to change.
I guess in the end, all I’m asking for is that the people of the world stop judging each other’s journeys. In this instance I’m talking about mental illness and this still applies to all aspects of life. Why do you have to label me as better or worse than I was before? Why does my recovery have to be on a graded scale that society creates?
Today I stand here and I struggle. That’s alright though because today I also brushed my teeth, kissed my daughter, danced, sang, and wrote this article to my blog. In my mind as long as I can look back on the day/week/month/year and see the positive then I think I’m going to be alright, even when I’m not.