Mental Health is on everyone’s mind right now. We’ve sadly lost several high-profile individuals to suicide over the last year due to mental illness. The show “Thirteen Reasons Why” came out last year as well, and it addressed mental health and suicide in teenagers. It’s an issue that is being widely discussed, debated and criticized.
I know that many of us struggle with mental health issues. For some, it comes out of nowhere and hits us like a ton of bricks. For others, it’s a life long battle that we have to stay on top of. I’m always encouraged when people I know open up and share their mental health story. My friend (and down-the-street neighbor) Holley Grainger (Holley Grainger Nutrition) recently shared hers. I was blown away by her honesty (view her video here ). It made me feel like I was not alone and it inspired me to share my own story.
I started struggling with my mental health when I was a teenager. I was oversensitive and self-conscious, and had difficulty coping with teenage pressures. The fitting in, the gossiping, the body shaming, the betrayal of a boyfriend… they were all difficult for my mind and heart to navigate. I was also experiencing instability in the home during those years. These events really affected me. And although I would try to put on a brave face and act like I was fine, I couldn’t seem to forget them or move on. I would feel overwhelmed, sad and anxious for months…. maybe even years afterwards. I started to develop eating disorders, which I’ve written about before. I was internalizing so many emotions and I felt that I couldn’t trust anyone with them. My pain was channelled into an obsession with food, calorie counting and the scale. I was crippled with anxiety every day and the control I had over food and my body, gave me temporary comfort.
I carried around emotional stress through high school and into my college years. I pushed through, making friends and pretending like everything was ok. I was married at 21 and graduated at 22, and working in the corporate world that same year. On the surface everything looked fine, but I had unresolved emotional stress that was subconsciously taking it’s toll on my mental health. I wasn’t happy. I knew I needed to do something about it. One of the first things I did was start connecting back with friends that I hadn’t seen in a long time. Hanging out with them and socializing really helped me to start feeling like myself again. I became more confident and self assured.
Things started to take a turn for the worse in my marriage. I was feeling that I was no longer seen, heard or valued. I had to make a decision to either save my marriage, or save my soul. I chose to save my soul. I was 24.
During this time, at the recommendation of a work friend, I started seeing a therapist. The therapist helped me to identify what was healthy in a relationship and what wasn’t, because I was really confused. Through our talks, she gave me the tools to work through a lot of grief and pain. I lost a lot of friends during that time, and even the support from my family, and was quickly slipping into a dark place- but she saved me. Her wisdom and guidance saved me. Her thought-provoking questions saved me. Because of her, I was able to step into my next chapter without fear.
My life continued to get better, friendships were mended and I met Chris. He made me feel valued and appreciated. We were married and started a family right away. We experienced a miscarriage with our first pregnancy and we were devastated. It was a terrible time, but we got through it together. A year later, we had a healthy boy. I didn’t experience any baby blues during, or after, that pregnancy. However, when we had our second child a few years later, my anxiety was crippling. I was experiencing the glorious Post Partum Depression that many of us have the gift of suffering through. 🙂
I knew I needed to get help. I made an appointment with my OBGYN and walked in with a list of problems I was experiencing: heart palpitations, shortness of breath, panic, uneasiness, fear of dying, sweaty palms and insomnia. She looked at the list and said that these were symptoms of an anxiety disorder and that she could help me. I left with a prescription for 10mg of Lexapro. I started noticing a difference about 2 weeks into taking it. It didn’t completely take away all my symptoms but it did ease them a lot. I kept taking Lexapro for 4 years; up until I found out I was pregnant with my 3rd child. I consulted with my new doctor (we’d moved back to Alabama at this point) and she said there was not enough information on taking this type of medication while pregnant and the effects on the baby, so it would be best if I could stop taking them. I decided to stop taking them – for 9 months of pregnancy, then another 2 months while breastfeeding. (Please consult your doctor before doing this as they each have their own point of view on it).
It was the hardest most mentally challenging thing I have ever done in my life. I had two kids at home and a demanding career. My oldest had just been diagnosed with autism. Pregnancy was taking it’s toll on my now 34 year old body. I was tired. My anxiety and depression was really bad during this time. I dealt with it the only way I could. One step in front of the other, one day at a time, moving forward, trusting God’s plan. No medication, nothing to ease the symptoms. Intentionally choosing joy everyday, and just sheer will power.
After Wells was born, and I breast fed him for a few months, and then I got back on Lexapro. I stayed on it for a year until I decided to stop taking it. Actually, I forgot to take it so often that I eventually I just stopped. 🙂 Mom of 3 probs. I haven’t been on medication for a while now, and I feel great. Hopefully I will continue to stay this way. If not, I know there are resources available to help should I need them.
I think most of us are struggling with our mental health, but we don’t talk about it because of the stigma that comes with it. In my experience, mental health is no different from physical health. The brain is a part of the body. Anxiety and depression are a chemical imbalance of the brain. It’s not something we can ignore. And just as we wouldn’t tell someone “don’t get cancer” or “don’t get heart disease”… we also shouldn’t tell someone “don’t get mentally ill”.
Mamas, we carry the mental load in our family… the day-to-day demands, the scheduling, the housework, the activities, the groceries, the appointments, the birthday parties, the haircuts, the field trips, the play dates, the dog… you name it and it’s already in our minds to get done. Combine that with the pressures of staying hyper-focused on our kids at all times, we are absolutely mentally strained. Some of us can manage our mental load by exercise, diet, therapy, meditation or prayer. That is totally legitimate and possible. For some, the conditions are genetic and it’s not possible to manage no matter how hard we try. And we need a little extra help. That’s ok too. It doesn’t mean that we are weak or less than or a bad mom if we ask for help. It’s actually very brave and commendable.
I hope that by sharing my story, it will inspire others to share theirs, too. We cannot care for other people well without taking care of ourselves first. It’s time to broaden the conversation and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.
Too much is at stake not to…