The Silent Struggle: A Moment of Transparency
Like many people with mental health issues, I didn’t let on to anyone what was really going on inside my head for many years. I was vocal but only about surface level things. Over time it became apparent that this was more serious than I first thought. Throughout my life I dealt with issues by just overworking myself into a frenzy. If I ran myself ragged, I wouldn’t have to deal with the thoughts in my mind. If I did more than no one would notice how much of a nervous wreck I really was, I was damn good at it too. So much so that the lie convinced me.
My childhood consisted of a single mom who suffered with her own struggles while raising 3 children and a father who simply wasn’t there due to addiction issues. Searching for love in all the wrong places left me with an unwanted pregnancy and the decision to terminate it wreaked havoc for years to come. To silence the emerging self-hate of becoming a societal statistic, I drank heavily.
The only stable bond I truly had was left void when my grandmother passed, this insinuated a downward spiral of depression, but I looked okay on the outside. Instead of dealing with the pain, I continued to allow life to layer more hurts and pains on me unaddressed. Drinking and partying kept the hurt and thoughts at bay…but it was temporary, and happiness continued to be fleeting. When I tried to talk to people about it, the conversation went a little like this – I’m praying for you, life could be worse, or you will be alright. Don’t get me wrong I am a firm believer of the power of pray, just also think there is an action component required as well. That was the piece I was missing, taking the step to ASK for help.
My first panic attack (prayerfully my last) happened in my late 20’s. The weight of a strained relationship, a new born, 2 children under 5 and becoming a special needs mom finally took its toll. I stood standing in the kitchen sobbing hysterically and struggling to catch my breath. I felt like a parental failure and that I couldn’t fix the situation. Doubt crept in with every decision I had to make regarding my child who was diagnosed with Autism. He had what doctors called Regressive Autism where you lose speech and social skills. What ifs plagued my mind as we navigated through getting him the help, he needed to regain his language and social skills. These years were tough, so I withdrew slowly from friends and outings as to not cause alarm.
I found it very difficult to accept what was happening to me. I was used to being numb to my emotions or at least not letting them get in my way. Now I was dealing with the idea of carrying these labels of anxiety, depression, and special needs parent everywhere I went. I felt overwhelmed, weak, and powerless. So, I did what I was good at, working myself to the bone. Joining this, volunteering here, I became the YES girl. My lifestyle was burning me out. I worked myself too hard. I had to deal with my inner demons.
I needed help! Doctors however are a whole other ball game. Attended a few sessions of group therapy and they were the most awkward of my life. I thought if I go for 3-4 sessions, I’ll be good as new. Showed up hoping for a magic cure for my anxiety and depression, but I quickly realized that this doesn’t exist. I swiftly wrote off that I wasn’t as bad as the other people in my group, just being transparent. This led me to rationalize that I didn’t need to be there in the first place…WRONG! However, I choose to do nothing instead and the consequences manifested into other physical health issues. One being high blood pressure. My primary doctor told me that I could be on blood pressure meds for the rest of my life if I didn’t make some serious changes. Not the type of life I wanted for myself as a young adult. The changes needed to start from within.
Loving myself had to be pushed to the top of my agenda. It’s difficult because for most of my life I’ve hidden from allowing myself to feel exactly what has been going on in my head, but I’ve started to heal and learn how to truly communicate. Had to relearn how to relax, unplug from life and even returned to a childhood passion of leisure reading. Haven’t mastered it yet but have made lots of progress. My version of unplugged is dancing the night away and exploring great food with people I love; having great conversation and creating lasting memories. I’ve come to terms that not all situations need to be fixed, especially by me. No is a word that I’ve added back into my vocabulary. The internal conflict still exists where I wonder if people will think differently of me…but my opinion of myself matters more. As a mom it’s my charge to love my children unconditional but not solve everything for them but rather guide their growth and help them to make choices of their own. Being a wife, it’s not my job to make my husband happy but to offer him unrestricted love and a safe space to be him. As a friend, my job is to simply be me.
To people going through something similar – anxiety and depression can be scary, there is no denying that, but stories connect people. Penning this has been a therapeutic experience within itself for me. Your journey may be the story someone needs to hear to make the choice to truly live. If you can love yourself, seek professional help, and hang in there, then you’ll make progress.