This is something I’ve been wanting to write about, but having a mental illness can sometimes affect my ability to get things done in a timely manner. I’ll start something and then if my mood gets low and I have no energy then I don’t pick up on it and finish it until I feel better (if I ever finish it, that is). So let’s just say that mentally, this has been hard to write about and put out there but I knew I wanted to do it.
The other week, I had a friend ask me what my next blog was going to be about. When I told him I wanted to talk about mental health, his reply was “oh, that’s something I never thought you struggled with.” At first I didn’t know how to react, I was shocked that someone could make that assumption, but then I thought, well it’s something that I’m not very open about and when someone is struggling it’s not always something you can see.
With it being World Mental Health Day, I thought it was a perfect time to share my experiences with mental health in hopes that I can help others feel more comfortable talking about it. I believe that mental health is something that some people are still ashamed to talk about. I say this because I was one of them. I used to feel embarrassed that this was something I struggled with most of my life. So I went for most of my life struggling silently, and by this I mean that not even my best friends knew the severity of what I was going through. My mother was the person who knew most of what was going on, and that’s just because she’s my mother and started taking me to therapy when I was 9 years old and who I made go to doctor with me still in my 20’s. And even then, not even my mother knew everything I was going through. If you know me, you know I hate to talk about my problems and that it’s hard for me to admit when something isn’t going right. So talking about all of this is extremely hard for me.
It’s sad that we can look at someone and think to ourselves “they need help”, and then look at someone else and think they have their sh*t together and are completely fine. In reality, the person who seems fine is more likely the one to be struggling and the person we think needs help is probably just overreacting about something. Every year, about 42.5 million Americans, that’s about 18% or 1 in 5 Americans, suffers from some mental illness and still there is a stigma on mental health, which makes most of us too afraid to speak up when we are struggling.
I want to tell my story because after someone told me that my life seemed fine, I realized that it was actually completely true. The image I put out for others to see made it appear that I had no struggles at all. I put out everything good going on in my life for others to see, I mean who wants to put their struggles and hardships out there? And that’s the problem, the problem is that we believe the image that others choose to put out, especially in this day where we basically live our lives on social media and think we know someone’s whole life story, when in reality we don’t. We believe that if someone says they’re fine that they’re fine, that if they look happy then they’re completely happy. But I know this isn’t true.
Bipolar disorder. Something I will struggle with for the rest of my life. Something that doesn’t just go away and never comes back. It will always be something that I have and need to work at. It would make sense to say that my first experience with depression was caused by childhood trauma. I lost my father unexpectedly when I was 7 years old. It forced me to grow up fast, instilled a sense of fear in me of the world, and caused me to suppress my emotions. My childhood was great and my mom did everything to make sure my brother and I were comfortable, happy, and had everything we wanted and more. I would say my mental health didn’t get bad until I reached high school. I would go (and still go through) phases where I would be depressed for a week or longer, not want to leave the house, not want to make plans with anyone, or if I did make plans with someone I would end up cancelling just to stay home and lay in bed with literally no energy at all. There would be points during these times where I would sleep for 12+ hours a night, wake up and then nap on and off all day. For me during this period it feels as if I’m sick. And sometimes that’s what I’ll tell people, I’ll tell them I’m sick so that I don’t have to deal with explaining it all. My body feels physically ill, I’ll have no appetite, sometimes I’ll have a stress headache or be nauseous, and sometimes it’ll even be a struggle for me to get out and do something as simple as going on a walk. Also, I’ll have extremely negative thoughts, high anxiety, and sometimes paranoia. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the “manic” phases. Even though I hate using the word manic, it really is the best way to describe these phases. During these times I’ll have extreme energy, happiness and determination. I know, it doesn’t sound bad, but it can be. I try to look at the positive, so during these times I’m grateful that I have energy to get a ton of things done and I usually overbook my schedule and try to make up for the time I spent with no energy at all. I could be busy doing things non-stop all day and come home and still have energy. During these times I usually don’t sleep a lot either. I could get 4 hours of sleep and wake up feeling rested. Another downside to the manic phase is spending. I’ll go out and buy whatever I want without being responsible about it. If I want new clothes, an electronic, anything expensive and completely irresponsible, I’ll buy it. And it makes me feel good at the time to go out and buy these new things. So you’re probably seeing now how these phases I go through can be unhealthy for me. These periods of extremes can be draining and harmful to my health, which is why I have to do my best to monitor my mental health and find ways of coping without prescription drugs. I try to stay stable but it isn’t always easy, I’m still learning and trying new things to try to make the best of this illness.
There are more dangers to bipolar disorder besides the depressive and manic phases that many people don’t realize. Before I realized that this is what I had, I went to the doctor because my grades were slipping and my mom knew this wasn’t like me. I always took school seriously and never had problems. But during school, my mind was elsewhere. I could go a whole class period without being able to pay attention or process anything that was being said. The doctor assumed I had ADHD and put me on Adderall. I was 15 years old and took Adderall everyday for the next 4 years. The energy and focus I got from the Adderall helped me get through high school and to bypass the depressive periods by giving me energy I normally wouldn’t have during these times, but it also harmed my health more than it helped me. While on Adderall, I wouldn’t eat much and I wouldn’t sleep much. If you’re familiar with the affects of Adderall then you know that it completely takes away your appetite and can have you up all night. I once went 72 hours without sleeping, and to say I felt like a zombie is an understatement. After a while your body adjusts and I was able to sleep at night but never felt like I was in a deep sleep. If I didn’t take Adderall one day I would literally have no energy at all. I wouldn’t be able to focus or get anything done. I became dependent on this very addictive drug and once I realized this, it scared the shit out of me. It was when I was a freshman in college I decided to get off Adderall for good. I’m not going to lie; the first few weeks were hard. I was extremely depressed, had no energy, and kept contemplating if it was worth it to get off this drug. Somehow though, I made it through and I’d say it took about 2 months before I felt “normal” again. Long story short, Adderall left me with worse depressive episodes than I had had before, resulting in my doctor prescribing me an anti-depressant and when I stopped taking that I was prescribed Valium, which basically just made me feel numb and emotionless. Eventually I stopped taking all prescription drugs and decided that things like yoga, meditation, and exercise helped me more than all of these drugs ever could. The drugs may have masked my problems, but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to feel better on my own without having to rely on prescription drugs anymore and deal with the shitty side effects they were giving me.
The reason I tell you all of this and go into detail about my journey is because I want to outline that there is no clear-cut path or miracle drug to cure mental health issues. And sometimes you have to do your own research to determine what exactly is going on in your head. If I had done my own research at the time then maybe I could have told my doctor that no I don’t have ADHD and possibly prevented all the damage that Adderall did to my health. But I learned something from all of this and I’m grateful to be where I am today. Obviously I don’t believe in prescription drugs and want you to be aware that prescription drugs will not help your illness at all. It may help stabilize your mood for the time being, but for me, the side effects don’t make it worthwhile to take these drugs. I believe that if you really want to get better than you can find healthy, natural ways to cope with your illness rather than taking a prescription drug to mask the problem.
Mental health should be taken seriously. If you feel like something is wrong then please go get help or at least do something that is beneficial to you. Like I said, yoga, mediation, exercise, or just being outside in nature are what works for me to help keep my mood stable. Also be aware of your triggers, as in what sets off your depressive moods. For me, drinking excess alcohol, stress, and not getting enough physical activity are some things that can lead up to my depressive state. Some days when I’m going through a depressive phase, it takes A LOT to even get me out of the house. I have to almost force myself to get outside and just go for a 10-minute walk, but once I do I feel so much better. Another thing, be more comfortable talking about what you’re going through. It’s still even hard for me to talk about because there’s this stigma with having a mental illness. It’s not easy, but I’ve learned that opening up to people and talking about what you’re going through can help them understand and show them that this isn’t something you can control all the time and that you’re not just over-reacting.
Also, I want to add that I am completely fine and have my mental illness under control. I have had enough years of experience dealing with this and know myself well enough to be able to get through these hard times. I only share these experiences so that if anyone else is going through something similar they know they are not alone and that there is hope. If you don’t have a strong support system built up yet or aren’t comfortable talking about your illness with people you know, there is a number you can call just to talk to someone anonymously. And of course if you are having ANY suicidal thoughts, please reach out and get help. No one should be alone in this battle. If we all just took the time to understand mental health better and not be afraid to reach out when we need help, then we can stop the stigma about mental health and make it that much easier to deal with.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line: Text “home” to 741741
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)