First of all, let me just say that I’m so nervous to write this post, because I’m scared of what people will think. And that is exactly why it is so important that I write this. If I were to write about having the flu, no one would bat an eye. I would maybe get a few comments along the lines of “feel better!” “Sorry you’re not feeling well!” “Hope you’re back in full health soon!” So why isn’t mental health treated the exact same way? Because, guess what- depression, anxiety, bipolar… they’re all illnesses. They shouldn’t be taboo topics. And it shouldn’t make people nervous to talk about. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. And it’s no reason to judge someone.
I think it all comes down to ignorance and misunderstanding. When someone who has never suffered from mental illness sees someone else having a panic attack, they wonder, “why don’t they just calm down?” When they see someone with depression unable to get out of bed in the morning, they may think they’re just being dramatic or lazy or using it as an excuse to not go to work, because they’ve never experienced it for themselves. They have never experienced the intensity of it. Is mental illness manageable? Yes. Can people with mental illness just turn it off and get over it? No.
So- it’s mental health awareness week. Which makes this the perfect opportunity to make everyone aware (obviously). I’m not going to pretend to be an expert. I didn’t study psychology in college and I’m not a doctor. But I have lived with it and I have learned
(for the most part) to cope with it. So I’d like to just share my experience and personal knowledge to educate my readers to the best of my ability.
So now I’d like to talk about my own experience with mental illness and how I’ve learned to live and cope with it (something I have NEVER talked about except for anonymously online and to my doctor).
It’s about to get real personal, y’all. *takes deep breath*
Two years ago, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, although I’ve had it for most of my life.
Fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed with ADHD.
Five years ago, I struggled with an addiction to self-harm.
And because of all of the above, I often struggle with depression.
I’m going to be completely upfront- I take medication to help me manage all of the above. I have seen many, many counselors. I, in no way, have my shit together. But I’m still here, aren’t I? I haven’t had a panic attack in months. I wake up, go to work, go out and do fun things, have great friends, maintain a fantastic job and, most importantly, I’m happy. It is possible to be happy, despite mental illness. In fact, most people I know have no idea I struggle with these things. (I’m sure my friends who are reading this right now are staring at the screen with their mouths gaping open).
So I want to give you guys some advice on how to cope with it and live with it, as well as talk about what having these disorders/illnesses is like.
I realized recently that although I was only diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in the past two years (after months of going to different doctors and going through every physical test possible to rule out any physical illness my symptoms could be related to) that I have had this for a very, very long time. As a child, I saw a psychiatrist who understood that I was scared of a LOT of stuff. My family can tell you that I was scared of practically EVERYTHING growing up. I would feel like I couldn’t breathe and I had nervous twitches that a lot of my classmates teased me about. I had to sleep in my parents’ bedroom for a long time because I felt like my room was closing in around me. My doctor told me to breathe into a paper bag when I felt like I couldn’t breathe, because it was all in my head. He wanted me to watch the paper bag fill up and close with air, so I could physically see myself breathing. I had completely forgotten about that until recently, when I was on the phone with my mom and told her I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Even on medication, that is something that still bothers me day to day. At work, my co-workers often think I’m sighing at my desk, when really I’m just trying to catch my breath. I feel a bit jittery sometimes and my stomach will get butterflies for no reason at all. But it’s manageable now.
Before I was diagnosed, I would have up to three panic attacks in a day. It would cause me to get physically ill. I would vomit, I couldn’t eat, I dropped about 20 pounds in less than a month (my school nurse was seriously concerned about me because of my weight loss), I would break out in sweat and shivers and chills. I would be freezing cold and burning up at the same time. I couldn’t get out of bed. I felt like I was dying. I felt like I wanted to die.
When you’re in the middle of a panic attack, you forget what it’s like to want to live. You are surrounded by this feeling that just suffocates you and you can’t see past that. It’s terrifying. It got so severe for me, that I would get panic attacks because I was so afraid of my next panic attack. It was an endless cycle. I was starting to forget why I even bothered anymore. I didn’t want to go on like that. I just wanted it all to end.
The hardest thing I ever did was tell my mom what was going on. I love my mom. She’s my best friend. And I have lived away from her since I was 18. So knowing that I was going to have to tell her what I was feeling, and that she would be worried about me from hundreds of miles away… it broke my heart. But, as it turns out, it was the best decision I could have made. My mom was the one who sat up with me all night, every night, for months on the phone. My mom was the one who let me sleep in the bed with her when I finally came home. My mom was the one who found me passed out on the floor because the stress became too much and held my hair while I was sick. My mom was the one who got me to a doctor and didn’t bat an eye when the doctor put me on medication. My mom was the one who believed I could still move to NY, despite my recent diagnosis. She supported me and she was there for me, even though she didn’t understand everything I was going through. She knew that I would be able to live a normal life, even when I didn’t believe it.
So I guess the moral of this is to talk to someone. Find someone to support you. See a doctor. Most importantly, find a doctor that understands you and has a way of coping that works for you. Everyone is different. Medication worked for me. Exercise worked for another of my friend’s who suffers from anxiety. Seeing a psychologist every week and just talking helps others. There are so many options. (Also, I adore Zoella and she had a great interview with Glamour magazine about anxiety that you should all read)
Edit: Oh my god, you guys LOOK! Zoella also did a vlog forever ago about anxiety that is pretty much word for word what I wrote above (but in a lovely British accent), and 100% in line with my own experiences.
There is so much misunderstanding around ADHD it’s unreal. The first thing you probably think of when you hear ADHD is ‘hyper.’ Am I right? Unless you live with it, in which case you realize that the symptoms around this disorder are so much more complex and daunting. Let me just give you a quick run-down on ADHD. Some symptoms that many aren’t aware of include: anger, anxiety, depression, hyperfocus, stress, mood swings, low self-esteem, unstable relationships, impulsiveness, disorganization, poor self-image, no motivation, changing employers often…
Guess what? I have all of the above.
Guess what else? There are so many plus-sides to ADHD, too: Creativity, flexibility, ability to multitask, high energy, enthusiasm, quick wit 😉
It took me a long time to accept and embrace my ADHD. It’s not really something I think about a lot now. I get angry really quickly and will blow up before I stop and think about it, and I realize that my depression and anxiety is tied in with it, but that’s about all the thought I spare for it these days.
It was something I really struggled with growing up, though, and I had to take medication for it in school because I was failing classes due to my inability to focus and pay attention (and seriously, the medication helps SO much. Fuck everyone who thinks otherwise. I went from having F’s in school to having all A’s in the course of one semester, solely from starting medication).
Having ADHD is a lot like having 3 or 4 tvs playing a different program with the volume turned up all the way at the same time… at all times. It’s quite exhausting, to be honest. I tire very easily and quite often because I’m constantly going going going thinking going thinking thinking going. It’s a lot! But I don’t know any other way to be. I was born with it. This is just how my brain has always worked. I didn’t realize that most people just have one thought at a time, whereas I’m able to sing a song in my head, type a blog post, hold a conversation, and think about what I want for dinner all at the same time. I can’t get any work done without background noise. And if you talk to me for more than a minute, I automatically tune out (which puts a strain on my relationships and is also why I prefer writing to talking- because I lose track of what I’m saying after a minute, as well, and if you write something to me, I will read the whole thing without losing my train of thought).
I suppose my advice to those with ADHD is to embrace it and look at all the positive things that come with it. I can learn to play musical instruments EXTREMELY quickly because of it. I am very creative. I can multitask like nobody’s business. And I can type 120 wpm. I’d say it’s a win-win diagnosis, wouldn’t you?
This one is going to be tough because this is something I have NEVER talked about.
Let me start off by saying that self-harm does not equal suicidal. Like, at all. Probably in 90% of people who self-harm, it’s just for the act in and of itself, nothing more.
The act of self-harm releases endorphins. It makes you feel high and in control. It is a distraction. It is a coping mechanism. And it is 100% an addiction.
My self-harm was tied in with my anxiety, ADHD and depression… I was living a life that felt so completely out of control. I was going through some tough stuff with my family. I was scared and hurting on the inside and I felt so completely alone. By self-harming, I physically manifested everything I was feeling on the inside and turn it outward. I could tune out all the pain I was feeling and focus it to one single point on my body, distracting myself from the real issue. I was in control. Until I wasn’t anymore.
Like all addictions, you can not stop until YOU decide to. You have to sit down and say, “I’m done with this. I’m going to stop. I WANT to stop.” That is when you can move on. And it’s hard. Oh my god, is it hard. You go through withdrawals, just like any other addiction. You crave more. You slip up. Which is why it is SO important that you tell someone. Tell someone that you want to stop. Have someone hold you accountable. Have someone you can go to and check-in with. Have someone who encourages you and supports you and has your back. Someone who will not judge you or criticize you. Because you have nothing to be ashamed of. You are so, SO strong. And if you wear scars on your body, wear them with pride, because you made it. Forget what other people think- they have no idea what you went through. You are beautiful and you are amazing and you are so strong.
I have sat here staring at the computer screen for about ten minutes trying to figure out what to say about depression. This is the one illness that I just… I don’t know. This is probably one of the most misunderstood ones. When I call out of work sick because I can’t get out of bed in the morning, I feel guilty. When I don’t want to hang out with my friends because I can’t put on a smile that day, I feel terrible. When I’m sad and can’t for the life of me pinpoint a reason why, I get frustrated. And that just shouldn’t be the case. Because it is so completely out of my control. I feel like depression is the most taboo of all mental illnesses and I don’t get why that is. Because it’s such a real issue and such a difficult struggle- there should be nothing but support and understanding surrounding it.
For someone who has never struggled with depression, it is so difficult to explain in words the severity of it. How it consumes you and you can’t crawl out of it and you can’t snap out of it and it’s just out of your control. Honestly, I can only really explain it and describe it when I’m feeling it, but when I’m feeling it, I don’t want to sit down and write about it, because I’m not motivated to sit there and write. So yeah… it’s hard. This is a hard one.
You feel numb, I guess. Numb is probably the best word.
The main thing I have to say about depression is to just be accepting of it as a culture and a society. Don’t try to fix someone who has depression, because they’re not broken. Don’t blow them off and say that they’re just sad, or being selfish, or that they’re not really sick. Yes, it’s frustrating watching someone with depression, but trust me, it’s frustrating for them, too.
My advice for people who are struggling with depression- talk to a psychologist. See someone who can help you learn to manage it. I’m on medication for it now and I feel like I can tackle the world again. Find your own way of dealing with it so that you can be the best version of you.
Right, so, in summary, how do I personally cope with all of these things? Well, although most people who know me don’t believe me when I tell them this, I’m a MAJOR introvert. I HAVE to take time to myself every single day, or else I just shut down and freak out and get angry and stressed. So that’s the big one for me- taking time to myself every day to just relax, have some quiet time, read a book, watch a TV show, watch silly youtube videos…. just peace and quiet and escape. I dance around my room to songs that make me really happy. And I write. Writing is the best stress-relief in the entire world, and it lets me escape and just get things out and see things in a different light. It gets me out of my head and helps me focus. I take medication to help me manage things now, too. It’s not a cure, but it helps.
The most important thing for people who don’t have mental illness to understand is that people who suffer from a mental illness are NOT broken. We don’t need to be fixed. We need support. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with me. I’m just different from other people. But, then again, isn’t everyone? I have an illness that affects my life, but it doesn’t make me any less of a person. It doesn’t make me a walking time bomb. It doesn’t make me damaged. It just makes me me. I’m still Kristen. I’m not my illness. My illness doesn’t define me. It’s just a part of me- just like I have brown hair, crooked teeth, and love the color green.
And, on a semi-random note, because I always have my head stuck in a book, here are some books I highly recommend that beautifully deal with mental health!
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
- Girl, Online by Zoella (Zoe Sugg)
- All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
If you think you may have a mental health issue, talk to someone! I can not stress that enough. Do not keep it to yourself. Do not try to ignore it in the hopes that it will go away. Do not feel like you have to deal with it alone. Talk to a counselor. Talk to a family member. Talk to a friend. Write a blog post. Just talk about it! You do not have to be alone in this!
If you are suffering from mental health issue and are struggling with it, here are some people you can talk to. It is ok to ask for help.
- Mental Health America – For a referral to specific mental health service or support program in your community
Phone: 800-969-NMHA (6642)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness – Provides support, information, and referrals
Phone: 800-950-NAMI (6264)
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
- National Eating Disorders Association Information and Referral Helpline – Support services, help, and guidance to people struggling with eating disorders, their loved ones, and families
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline
Phone: 800-273-TALK (8255)
- S.A.F.E. Alternatives
Phone: 800-DONTCUT (800-366-8288)
- Suicide & Crisis Hotline
- Suicide Prevention – The Trevor HelpLine
(Specializing in gay and lesbian youth suicide prevention).
- CHADD-Children & Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder