I have decided that if I truly want to end the stigma around mental health and start more conversations about this topic, I need to be vulnerable and open about my own mental health journey and struggles. I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, not knowing whether I should post it to the internet for the world to see. Not knowing if my story was “good enough.” Not knowing if anyone really cared. But I am hoping that if I am willing to talk about it and create the space for this type of conversation, that it is a step toward reducing the stigma surrounding mental health.
Truth be told, I have been in therapy since I was a kid. I first went to a divorce parent’s group called Rainbows and eventually started seeing an individual therapist. I always felt different. None of my friends went to therapists, well at least no one talked about it. I sometimes felt like no one really understood who I truly was. And then there was high school…
As most of us know, high school is a tough time for a lot of adolescents and I felt it was a particularly tough transition for me. I had to move in with new caregivers and start at a new school with barely anyone from my grade school. I became increasingly anxious and felt like my emotions had extreme power over me. I became impulsive, but also needed to be a perfectionist. I felt the need to be two different people. The perfect student, but also the rebel. I felt a need for control. In situations where I didn’t have that control or where there was a bit of uncertainty about the outcome, I felt extreme anxiety. I started to lose touch with who I was.
My anxiety started to impact my relationships. I felt a need to always be liked, a need to always say the right thing. Yet I struggled to really connect. To connect with friends, partners, and my parents. I put up this big wall, but also acted like I was this open book. I kept everyone at arm’s length so that ultimately I wouldn’t get hurt. I felt alone.
I started to shift into a feeling of despair and felt that I was unlovable and unworthy. That I didn’t have any control over what was happening inside of me and I wanted to just give up. I began having thoughts about suicide. What would it be like if I tried to kill myself? Would it be worth it? How could I do it? Would anybody care? Would it fix things?
I got to the point where I thought that I wanted to drive my car off the side of the road. I sat in my car sobbing. Terrified. Frozen.
I felt like I had truly hit rock bottom. No one understood me. I didn’t understand myself. So what was the point? I felt overwhelmed by everything I was feeling and thinking.
I drove home, still feeling unsafe. My family and I discussed being hospitalized for my safety, but ultimately I didn’t go.
It’s strange thinking back on this night. I sometimes feel like it wasn’t real, but at the same time it’s a night that I will never forget. It feels like a blur, but I can also immediately go back and remember the intense emotions I felt in my body. Sometimes it even feels like it didn’t happen to me. But it did.
At this point, I was already on Lexapro for my anxiety, so my psychiatrist added Abilify into the mix. My family told me that I needed to go to therapy at the same time as I was taking the medication. (My poor therapist… I was a tough cookie for her for a while.) However, when I started the Abilify I started to feel nothing. Absolutely nothing. Numbness. And I hated it. I am a person that feels emotions deeply. I have very high highs and very low lows, but these emotions make me feel human. So the fact that I couldn’t even feel happy scared me. I wanted off the meds ASAP.
*I want to say though that medication can be great for some people! If it works for you, good! Keep taking them! I think it depends on the individual and what works for them. I just didn’t feel like the ones I was taking weren’t a good fit.*
So, I agreed to do the work in therapy. I worked really hard to find coping skills that worked for me and to sort through all my “baggage” to try to understand why I felt the way that I did. And sometimes there wasn’t a reason why I felt the way I did. Brain chemistry can do powerful things to your mood. I had to learn to educate myself, but also to accept it and find ways to minimize the hold these emotions or moods could have on me.
These were some of the most difficult times of my life. I grew so much as a person. However, I still have my moments of anxiety and feeling of panic attacks creeping up. I am not perfect and I still struggle to take hold of some of my emotions. I still have periods of sadness, but I now recognize that having a spectrum of emotions is okay. I can identify the bodily sensations better and can work to prevent it from becoming a more severe issue by utilizing my coping skills. I no longer have suicidal ideation and haven’t since high school. But I realize that mental health is something I need to constantly work on in my life. I am still working hard to try and maintain my mental health. I stumble and have my moments, but I am proud of how far I have come.
I am still in therapy and have been on and off since high school. I personally find it incredibly helpful for me to have an unbiased source of support. I have used therapy for different reasons: to process thoughts, to get through difficult times, and to connect things from my childhood that have shaped who I am today.
Everyone’s story is different and unique. Everyone goes through some tough time in their life. I wanted to share my story to that I can help to reduce the stigma. I feel so exposed, vulnerable, and self-conscious… but I want to encourage others to see that they are not alone. That struggling with mental health is nothing to be ashamed about. That you are not alone.
Written by Shana Sanchez