‘Recovery’ From Mental Illnesses: My Own Words.
The story of recoveries can seem so messy and confusing. There are tons of beginnings, but never a true ending. Let’s be really honest, most of the conflict and drama and story is always internal, and there’s actually more inactivity than there is activity. The main character of the story will kind of hide in the shadows most of the time, and you often time will not even really know what is truly going on.
To be totally honest, I couldn’t tell you when I officially linked up with the main character of depression, but I will guess that the story began when I was somewhere around the age of 9 or 10. I just remember that I was really young, and still in elementary school. I can remember looking back at the family photos taken. If my memory serves me correctly, in those photos, I was either not even present or it was obvious that I was in those dark and moody shadows.
Both of my parents, though, had their own mental health issues to worry about — not to mention their drug and alcohol addictions that were left untreated, too. My typical childhood memories include my parents drinking and drugging, yelling and screaming, and physical, emotional, mental, and psychological abuse. There were never any in betweens. It was always a dark, gloomy setting. Even when the sun was shining outside, it was downpouring inside. Nobody talked about or even thought about the emotional problems or mental health issues that were so obvious in the family during that time. My mother would occasionally mention having a ‘nervous breakdown’ as if she was going to suddenly fall over and die, but there was never a hint of or a need of getting help for herself or for my father, much less for me or for my siblings. Matter of fact, nobody even worried about us. We were really just in the background. Kind of like extras on the TV screen to make their lives look and appear more real and authentic. But that’s all we were for them. An appearance.
After several years of serious abuse, serious threats, and near death experiences, my mother finally decided enough was enough… she made that final call… it was get help or get out. But truthfully, that only made things worse for the time being. He got some help. He sought psychiatric treatment. He was put on some medications that were not helping, and only made him crazier than what he really was. And then, things got worse. My mother’s drug addiction got worse. She went from using marijuana and cocaine to using methamphetamine and heroine. She went from hiding it to using it in front of us… her own children. And he went from drinking daily in the evenings to drinking all day… every day — while he was on a mood stabilizer. When I say things got worse, things got scary worse.
Finally my mother got out. But her addictions did not stop. They only continued to get worse. Out all night, sleeping all day. I was missing school so I could watch my little brother during the day while she slept because he was barely even two years old and couldn’t take care of himself. The state ended up intervening, and then it was group home after group home. Crying myself to sleep. Never with my siblings. Foster home to foster home. My depression only worsened as the clock ticked.
Take this medication. Go to this counseling session. Migraine headaches. Increasing depression. Go to this psychiatrist. Now you are diagnosed with PTSD. Panic and anxiety disorders. Here’s a new medication for separation anxiety disorder.
Seriously, I am 12 years old, and I have already been diagnosed with 5 different mental health illnesses. Sure, I probably have something at this point. I won’t even deny that — but 5? And here’s my problem with it all, now these strangers want to try to help me, but own family wasn’t doing anything about it. I was confused. I was totally confused about so much going on.
Now I am on medication, and it is time to give Zoloft a try, and something for sleep. Why not? Alright. They set me up on weekly visits with my mom and said that if she did her stuff that I would only be out of the home for about 6 months. 6 months goes by and I have only seen my siblings three times,… but we have weekly visits, remember. Everything is starting to click, and I am starting to drown in those feelings of depression and anxiety. Abandonment. Anger. Sad. Worthless. Hopeless. Confused. The visits remained scheduled weekly, and I continued to go weekly until I started hopping fences and climbing out of windows again. Throughout my teenage years, I pushed my depression underground. Feelings were just too dangerous for me. I was angry, and I was scared of who I was becoming by suppressing my own feelings. But, it was the only way to not feel so abnormal.
I just wanted to be a fuckin kid for crying out loud. I was missing out on so many opportunities in my middle school and high school life because I was being moved here and moved there. I wasn’t happy here because there was no personable tones with this foster home, so I ran away. Hopped the fence. Gone like the wind. Or I wasn’t happy here cause these people just showed me to my room, told me I couldn’t use the phone to let my family know I was safe, and then walked out. Out the window I went. I was miserable! And I was just a child. I was confused. So I continued to suppress my feelings because they were becoming more and more dangeous. There were just too many feelings that were angry and violent — so I decided to just keep my emotions and my feelings under wrap, even more so than I did during childhood. I pretended that nothing phased me inside or outside the home, and I started sowing almost no signs of reactions to anything, even when I was just boiling with anger and fear inside. Instead, I was spending longer hours alone, in my room.
When I was 14, I arrived at a new foster home after several runaway attempts. Dodge City, Kansas. This town STUNK! It was so far away from everything I knew, and it STUNK! Literally — it smelled really bad. But, the new foster home, itself, was just a tad bit different. It was the first time I felt welcomed with open arms, and to be 100% honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be here because of that. What did these people want? Why were they being so nice to me? I continued trying to suppress my emotions and feeling, but these people were pretty good at tearing down that wall that I had built so high. They were building me up while breaking down my walls. Interesting, to say the least. Within a week or two, I knew their whole family. Parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, kids — and all the in-laws too… and it was… a family. They all welcomed me, and the other foster kids in with open arms. We weren’t treated like outcasts. Or like numbers. Or like monthly checks. We were treated like… family members. Weird.
I started noticing that my mental illness symptoms were starting to decrease quite a bit. It was an up and down roller coaster of emotion still, but they ups and downs were less often… the ups lasted longer, and the downs didn’t last as long. I wasn’t staying in bed for as many days at a time. I was making friends. I had a social life, for once. I had some sort of stability. I was playing sports. I was involved in extracurricular activities in school.
And for once, I had that thing they call ‘a family.’ We went on trips. We went shopping. We had family days. We did holidays. But I still struggled sometimes with the idea that this wasn’t my family. I still had my episodes and my days of being down and depressed. I had days of not wanting to do something because of my anxiety and depression. There were still challenges that would come up throughout this time that I would have to overcome, but they were not as often as before. But at the age of 17, I quit taking my medications and I graduated myself from therapy. I thought since I was no longer in the foster care system that I did not need those things anymore. In my mind, I was ‘cured’.
And, it wasn’t until my late-teens that my I broke all the way open again. Those streams of depression, fear, panic, obsessive love, and anger began to flow out again. In response to panic and anxiety attacks that would last for days on end up to more than a week, I finally broke down and committed to seeing a psychiatrist. After several appointments, he finally put together that the panic attacks, depression, and anxiety together were trauma episodes from my childhood that were triggered by my current romantic relationship. However, I was cured immediately with some new medication, and never, ever had to see that doctor again. Taking medication didn’t last long because I didn’t attend the follow-up appointments. So in 30 days, I was out of medication, but I was ‘cured’— so why did it matter? Even though I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD, I thought since I knew what it was, I didn’t need the fancy medications or the therapy sessions they had suggested. I could use Google and Google could tell me home remedies on how to ‘DIY FIX IT.’ That was my answer for everything.
A few years later, another crisis occurred. This time, a real crisis — the loss of my own child. And I found myself in that same place once again — in that fancy, laid-back chair in, yet again, another psychiatrist’s office. This time, a new psychiatrist, who wanted to try a new medication, at that double it up — two new medications. I took one in the morning to get me going, and I took another one at night to help me sleep. I took this cocktail of medications a little longer than the last time. I was able to get through this crisis, and I even began therapy on a regular basis, and from that moment, I was steadily seeing my psychiatrist and clinically diagnosed with PSTD, major depressive disorder, insomnia, and generalized anxiety disorder.
On and off again medication for several more years. Up and down with my symptoms. There would be stretches that I felt untouchable — as if there was nothing that could break my spirits. I felt better than ever (medicated, of course). I was always so happy, and I was thriving in life. Work, school, mom, and in every aspect of my life — thriving. But then, when I would stop taking my medication, within a week or two, you tell a significant decrease in my energy, increase in nightmares, irritability, mood swings, increase of depression and anxiety, emotionless, and it was extremely hard to concentrate on anything. And then after a few days, I would start taking my medication again, and things would improve again, and then back to not taking it and the opposite impacts. It was such a vicious cycle and I was completely out of control with it.
By the time I was 28, I had tried a variety of drugs to treat my depression, anxiety, insomnia, and PTSD, gradually increasing the potency of the drugs. I would see a psychiatrist and a therapist on a regular basis. I was participating in cognitive behavioral group therapy at one point in time. But I was still sinking even lower and lower into my depression and anxiety — and I could not even understand it or explain it because my mind was so warped.
My day-to-day activities were so alarming that people started becoming concerned about, and even for me. For days (sometimes weeks) on end, I was stuck in bed with deep feelings of sadness and hopelessness, but I was not even sleeping. There were moments I would have complete irritability over the smallest of things. The changes in my appetite was alarming — I would go from not eating at all to complete binge eating. I felt completely worthless and I was always blaming myself for everything, and I had frequent thoughts that the world was just a better place without me in it. In addition, when I was like this, I was consistently worrying about things that were out of my control and overthinking things with all the worst-case outcomes. Everything was a threat to me, even if that wasn’t reality. I couldn’t let go of anything. I was out of control of everything. Everything was so busy and my mind was racing so fast — that it was just… blank. I was miserable and unhappy, and I could not even tell you why.
Yes, it was much like that. A total rant — an explosion of words, and you have no idea how to even filter what is happening around you.
But mental health issues were pushing into every damn corner of my very existence, and every tiny aspect of my life was becoming more and more unmanageable. Medications weren’t being used anymore because I felt as though they were only making me feel detached from reality and immune to the pressure of reality. Kind of like turning my pain signals off — as if there were no long any signs being sent from my body or my brain that something around me might be wrong. I felt “fine,” but everything around me was still going straight to hell.
I let this go on a few more years actually. I allowed it to actually get worse. The ups and downs constantly. Again, I thought I was “fine,” and I had things “under control,” but every little aspect of my life was literally spiraling out of control around me and I had blinders on and could not even see it.
All of this, and we never even touched on my struggles with drug and alcohol addictions that started at a younger age, and lasted many years. I won’t even go into this on this blog because I want to save that for it’s own blog post. We WILL talk about my addictions. We WILL talk about how serious my addictions were, and where I am today. Just know that my drug and alcohol addictions played a part in my mental health issues, and my mental health issues played a part in my drug and alcohol addictions. But neither were an excuse for the other, but coincidentally, each have ‘recovery’ and each have ‘relapse.’ Or maybe that is not a coincidence at all.
Now, I am 32 years old. Clinically diagnosed with bipolar disorder, PSTD, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. I am now, medicated for all of those, and I no longer have that mindset that my the pain signals are turned off. It is about perception.
Now, I won’t say that I do not still have episodes, because I absolutely do — but they are less severe and do not last as long. I have also accepted that I have these mental health illnesses and I am utilizing my coping skills that I have been taught on a daily basis.
My medication is not a ‘fix-all,’ but it is helping me with the symptoms. Therapy is not a ‘fix-all,’ but it is helping me open up and talk about my symptoms and learn new coping skills. Accepting that we have a mental health illness, or more than one if that is the case, is never an easy task to do — but, once we do, we are open to the idea that our lives can very much be more manageable and more sustainable.
Never truly “recovering” from depression is a real thing. But, I am not here to tell you that I am a “victim” of my childhood, nor am I am saying that you are either. I am not here to tell you that depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness is the victor here. I am letting you know that with mental health illness such as recurring anxiety and depression, there are always new beginnings, but never an ending because there is no cure for anxiety and depression.
I want to talk about the concept of recurring anxiety and depression before we move on. Recurring means it strikes more than once, or that it comes back after you have seen an improvement. Mental health issues such anxiety and depression can become chronic or lifelong illnesses, with several recurrences throughout their lifetime. These recurrences have also been known as ‘relapses.’ Again this means there are new beginnings, but there was never a true ending because the depression and anxiety. Essentially, those with these (and other) mental health illnesses stay in the state of ‘recovery’ after an episode.
Even with my acceptance, and medication, and therapy,… I am not ‘cured’ or my slew of diagnosis. I am still a very sick person, and right now I am in a ‘recovery’ state of my last episode. I still have anxiety episodes, often. A trigger for me is the grocery store. I hate going grocery shopping. All the people — no, thank you! Germs at the store — pass! Overcrowded lines — nope! And not many checkout lines available — I’ll stay home! I just hate it. And it NEVER fails, my anxiety starts creeping up when I get to the store, and about halfway through I am doing my breathing techniques, and by the time we are home and the groceries are put away, I am ready for a nap because I have done too much already. That is just ONE of my many triggers. Some of my other triggers include trauma, negative thoughts, conflict, stress, and lack of control. But again, these are only some. You could break these down into even further more defined triggers, but we won’t do that this go-around. I’ll save that for another blog post! Lol.
The point I am making here is just because we are never cured from our mental health issues, does not mean that we get to be victims of our mental health issues. We cannot blame our mental health for everything. We have to accept them for what they are, find a proper path towards solution, and start actively working towards the solution. We also have to accept that we are always going to be in a ‘recovery’ state with mental health, and that we will never be cured. And, that we need to be prepared for that mental health ‘relapse.’