Sometimes in life it can be hard to show the real you to the world, it can be even harder when you don’t show the real you to yourself. With social media and all the expectations we put on ourselves to be the worlds version of perfect (or at least portray that online) we can take damaging blows to our mental health.
When we got back from vacation in March my health took an unexpected turn for the worst. Chronic illness can be a challenge to balance and live with, and most of the time I do a pretty good job of it…but I overdid it to the point where my body was screaming for mercy.
Having heart failure is something I don’t usually think about constantly. I don’t ignore it but it’s not usually an all-consuming thought for me, but for months it’s been the only thing I could think of. Summertime heat can be hard, sitting in the shade at a baseball game can cause me to pass out (and be completely humiliated). It took me almost 5 minutes to convince my sweet 5-year-old Gwen the other day that mommy wasn’t playing but really couldn’t get up and all we’d been doing is walking across the grass to the car. My heart will no longer let me enjoy many of the simple things I used to. I have always been the one in the family that did the yard work, fixed the sprinklers, planted and tended the garden, etc. This year I was unable physically accomplish even the most menial tasks and that can really weigh on a persons psyche.
I have struggled with depression since I was a teen. If you think mental illness is kept hush-hush now, it was even worse then. Having a bum heart and having your mortality in front of your face does NOT help the struggle with depression. I have cried and told my husband “this is not living, this is not a life” many times throughout the past 5 months. There were WEEKS where I struggled to get out of bed. Wondering if I didn’t feel well because of my depression or because of my heart. It got to the point where nothing mattered to me anymore. I essentially gave up and let the darkness swallow me up.
During this time I had one friend I could/would talk to about what I was going through. I could mention words like, mania, bipolar, depression, suicide, fear, darkness and she wouldn’t run from me, she would talk when I needed it the very most. I was talking to her just the other day and she mentioned that she could tell I was coming out of “it” and that is the scary part about mental illness…the roller-coaster.
Many of you know me pretty well. You’re my family, my sisters, cousins, close friends, and yet you don’t truly know me at all. I have wondered for years if I should be more vocal about the mental illnesses I battle. I have worried about what people would say, think, and do, especially those that I hold close to my heart. To be honest, I no longer care. A month ago I was told by my cardiologist that I would be lucky to see my son become a teenager if I didn’t make some dramatic changes. I cried and didn’t get out of bed for a week and then started to refocus towards my mental, spiritual and physical health. This blog has been therapeutic for me before and it’s time to let my writing help me again, and who knows maybe it’ll help someone else. I would have never known I could talk to that one friend if she hadn’t been honest with me about the struggles she faces with a loved one who has bipolar disorder. I am going to borrow some of her courage and finally really truly open up.
I know this is a hard topic for many to talk about. It is not pretty, it is dark and scary most of the time. I understand if you don’t read any of the posts I write about it. I’m writing them for me anyway, so neener neener. I am sensitive to those who just don’t get depression or other mental illnesses. I was raised by a wonderful and tremendously loving family but guess what, they have struggled for years with dealing with “it” and all the emotions that come along with my crazy. I’m GLAD they don’t understand in many ways. No one should have to feel crazy, no one should have to mentally battle and wage war on their own psyche to keep surviving. In the same token I am blessed to have a mother who will admit she doesn’t understand but has grown with me through the years to be one of the few people I don’t mind having around and I know I can call during the darkness. She no longer tells me to just shake it off, cheer up, get over it, etc. My siblings have gotten to the point where I’m not sure they really understand but they genuinely don’t make me feel like a crazy freak (most of the time, hehe).
Right now I feel okay. I am functioning, kids dressed, mom dressed, house clean… these were all HUGE hurdles for me the past few months. I am happy, smiling and enjoying the things that I used to enjoy. My house currently smells like brownies that I baked earlier, and yesterday you could smell the homemade french bread into the night. I’m optimistic, I’m excited, and honestly I’m scared. You see in the back of my mind that darkness isn’t gone it’s just waiting. It’s just right now I’m strong enough to tell it that my life is worth living.
When you feel okay you don’t want to seek help, and yet when you slip into an overwhelming cloud of agony you aren’t able to seek help. The key is seeking help before the agony hits, even if it’s all okay at the moment. It’s a never-ending struggle, but it is one I plan on overcoming.
The above video link is for a talk that was given in LDS General Conference October 6, 2013 that is incredibly touching and dear to my heart. Another place to find more information is at https://www.lds.org/topics/disability/list/mental-illness?lang=eng and that page also has links to resources outside of the LDS church as well.