(Trigger warning: Stories about depression, abuse, anxiety, etc. May be sensitive material for some readers.)
Originally, I wanted to write a commentary on mental illnesses and the stigmas surrounding them. It started out as a semi-personal essay about my own depression and anxiety, when I realized I there are a few MIs I can’t speak for, and my own experience with mental illness is not going to be everyone else’s experience. I decided at this point to get others’ input, and the response I got was not the response I was expecting; so the essay I set out to write is not the essay I’m going to be writing.
Here I’m addressing depression, bipolar disorder/manic depression, anxiety, PTSD, as well as the friends and family of people who struggle with these. This is by no means a comprehensive list of mental disorders—I wanted to specifically address anxiety and mood disorders, for several reasons: these are the ones I am most familiar with; these are very commonly stigmatized; these are complicated in the sense that there’s no one or two medications that can fix everything; and these seem to be among the most misunderstood (in my opinion—it’s totally possible that I’m biased on that front).
I want to preface our experiences by listing many negative stigmas surrounding us, and why they’re crap:
- “Safe spaces” do more harm than good. You can’t protect everyone from everything 100% of the time, and all this does is encourage people to hide from their problems instead of facing them. Y’all are just whiners.
Before we do anything else, we should address what definition of “safe space” we’re using. The Daily Banter describes a safe space they found as a “really expensive daycare…literally the kind of thing you could imagine a four-year-old enjoying….cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies…” (http://thedailybanter.com/2015/03/the-world-isnt-a-safe-space/)
The idea that people who suffer from mental illness are searching for a fluffy place in the world where people eat rainbows and sing Kumbaya is incredibly condescending and insulting (inb4 “WAHHH SHE’S OFFENDED”, hear me out). I agree, the space described above sounds ridiculous (if you disagree, please message me about why these are a good idea; I’d love to hear that perspective, if it exists). Safe spaces were, originally, for people who felt marginalized or victims of abuse (not only people with MIs) to gather and find support, and there’s usually a social worker on site to help with this. People read this and still roll their eyes, saying “well the world isn’t a safe place, you can’t hide forever, etc.”, and my issue with that is, we’re not looking to “hide” from anything. We are adults. We understand that we cannot hide, nor do we truly want to. We simply want to find peace, to find support, and to live our lives as normally and healthily and fully as possible. We want to face our problems. People go to therapists and counselors to cope with their issues. People go to yoga, to AA, to church, to find their peace. How is this different? Congregating with people who share a similar goal, to express your fears and concerns and questions, to express your full self, and be with others trying to do the same…how is this a bad thing at all? It is not a hiding place, it is a place free of hatred. It’s not a shield, any more than your own bedroom is a shield, or your kitchen is a restaurant.
- People with anxiety are just spoiled kids who can’t do anything for themselves.
Anxiety isn’t necessarily “caused” by anything—i.e. parents always doing everything for you. My first bouts of anxiety happened at 16, after I left the hospital where I was being treated for depression, ironically. My mother raised me to be independent: I was to help around the house, take care of my own pets, get my homework done without her having to tell me, and when I was 17, I started working full time and helping pay bills, before I moved out completely on my own 3 months after I turned 18. I never had problems doing things myself. I got an apartment without a cosigner at 18, I scheduled my own doctor (and vet) appointments…all that to say, anxiety has nothing to do with dependence. I still haven’t figured out why my anxiety has gotten as bad as it has—I went to the campus food court the other day to get a bowl of pho, had a panic attack at the thought of ordering food, and walked away. I’m not a psychologist, and I don’t really have an explanation for that.
Contrary to this popular stereotype, most of us are high-functioning. We go to school, we work, we’re active members of society. It’s hard to speak about anxiety, because so many people experience it and are affected by it differently. Hopefully the next few stories will be a little more enlightening.
- We all choose who we are, people with mental illnesses included. You have nobody to blame but yourselves.
This one is especially hurtful because part of being depressed, bipolar, anxious, etc. is the constant feeling of being inadequate. We don’t choose to feel inferior. We are continually in a state of feeling like a failure. We are continually wishing that our efforts were enough. The widely accepted “cure” for most mental illnesses is “just try harder to be happy”, as if we enjoy feeling miserable for little to no external reason. This isn’t a desperate grab for attention—believe me, the last thing we want is the spotlight. But we’re often picked on or called out for asking for help. It is an illness, not a lifestyle choice. You don’t choose depression any more than you choose T1 diabetes.
- People with mental illnesses are unpredictable and unreliable.
The fact that you think my depression makes me “unreliable” is, again, insulting. My depression and sick days are no more “unpredictable” than Happy Sally in Accounting, or Perfectly Functional Jeff in the Mailroom. For instance, at a job, you’d call in one day because you have a stomach virus, or a cold, or you simply don’t feel good; I’d call in one day because I’m crying every 30 minutes, and hyperventilating so hard I want to puke and sleep and cry simultaneously, and I don’t feel good. You call in when you’re sick because you know it will affect other people and your work performance; I call in for the same reasons. Again, it is an When I am at work and functioning, I do really, really well. I am dependable. But there are days when I just…can’t. It is physical, but will usually subside after a day of breathing and taking care of myself, as most sicknesses do.
- People with bipolar disorder are unpredictable and violent.
And I mean, this can be true…but you’ve got to understand that A. this is unusual, B. there is almost always a trigger, and C. there are 5 types of bipolar disorder, not all of which exhibit hysteria and violence. Mania is a tricky thing—mania is not always a bull charging at a red flag; mania is sometimes extreme amounts of energy, sometimes it’s a hysterical euphoria that can inspire you to go 90 in a 50 zone, sometimes it’s just overactivity. A functioning, medicated person with bipolar disorder will generally not have episodes like this. In almost any instance of stereotypes, the compassionate majority will step in and say “that’s not right, you can’t label everyone in this group as _____ because these few did _________”, and the same should apply to people with bipolar disorder.
I’ve collected a few stories from others who suffer from these things, and put them all in one post to show the varying degrees of mental illness, the severity of such illnesses, and how they affect others daily. I hope to shed some light on what living with these things is like. The first is mine, and the rest were anonymous submissions. Questions in italics were questions I asked personally.
I’ve been depressed for as long as I’ve been thinking independently, I guess since I was 12. I’ve always hated my body, felt like my family wasn’t there for me, felt like people just generally didn’t like me aside from a handful of them. It took me a long time to realize that my depression was more deeply rooted in anger than sadness. I was angry at my dad for not noticing or caring how little I was eating, how many of his diet pills went missing, how fast I was losing weight, how I never wore short sleeves, even in the summer. I was angry at people at school for making fun of my weight. I was angry at my mom for the way she treated me when I was a kid, before she got herself together. I was angry at myself for just…being me, I guess.
When I went into high school, I hung out with a little bit of everybody, I flirted, I was loud, I was obnoxious, and I felt really great because it was a place where people actually liked me. I asked for numbers whenever I damn well pleased and I got them. I had more friends and boyfriends than I ever imagined I would. People were nicer to me here than they had ever been, and I still don’t understand why my depression and body dysmorphia decided to act up here. I felt more loved than I ever had, but I hated myself and my body more than I ever did.
My sophomore year of high school, my depression got really bad. I was OD’ing on diet pills (one pill was enough for an overweight man, I was taking 3 at a time), I was feeling really, truly suicidal. I went to my dad for help, and all he said was “well since it’s close to the holidays (it was November), it’s gonna be really hard to find a counselor but I’ll see what I can do”, and that was the end of it. A week later my mom came and picked me up, withdrew me from school, and put me on suicide watch in a hospital ward for teens with depression.
Fast forward 3 years. My anxiety was unpredictable, my depression was mostly passive. I’d been in an abusive relationship for 2.5 of those years, but it felt normal to me. For a long time I wasn’t suffering the way I should have been. I suffered emotional, verbal, severe physical, and on one occasion, sexual abuse at the hands of this guy, but it didn’t sink in that I was in a bad relationship. I knew how awful his family and home life was, I knew people with issues with anger, so it was something that for a long time I just accepted. I miscarried with him, and he was just as heartbroken as I was, if not more, so I held onto that to excuse the rest of his behavior. “Surely he wouldn’t have grieved the way he did if he were a bad person,” was my justification. Everyone close to me knew what was going on, and they begged me to leave for a while, before simply disappearing from my life because they couldn’t stand to see me live that way but couldn’t make me leave. I tried to kill myself twice over the course of the relationship, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave. One day it got so bad that he was arrested, and for the months after that I grieved. I hurt, I screamed myself to sleep, I had constant panic attacks at work, I broke down several times a day, I kept the same sad songs on repeat. For a couple of months after that I continued to see him, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore, and I decided to move to Houston to leave that behind and be closer to my mom’s side of the family, since my dad’s side really had nothing to do with me.
December 2015, I was fairly stable. Depression was still passive, anxiety was at a low level, and I started dating a boy from my hometown. I struggled with self-esteem issues still, but I was eating regularly, I was active, I was social, I was functional. He was a breath of fresh air. He seemed to be the exact opposite of the guy I was used to—he liked to go out, he was vibrant and fun, intelligent, vain. The first four months were an absolute blast.
Around month 5, the worst starting to come out in both of us. The first problems arose when he got an old Xbox (lmao right?), and wouldn’t come to bed until 4 am on a regular basis. He didn’t understand why that made me upset, I didn’t understand why GTA was better than coming to bed with me and cuddling talking all night like we usually did. We both got really comfortable with our ugly real quick. My mental health began deteriorating. I was severely depressed, horribly anxious, I lashed out when I felt I was being put down, and he began getting mean. Initially I did what I do best and I made excuses for him. Finals are stressful, his mom is a pain, I am a pain, he fucked himself financially, he had a lot of reasons to be stressed. But the more excuses I made, the meaner he got, as it goes. It got to the point where my depression, my miscarriage, my scars, my family problems, were no longer off limits for him. He tore me down for anything and everything I had ever trusted him with, and I’m ashamed to say I stooped to his level for a long time. It became a “who can hurt the other more” contest, and he always won, because I’ve come to realize that he didn’t love me at all, and you can’t hurt at the hands of somebody you don’t love. He had no boundaries, so I stripped myself of mine and attacked him for everything I could. And I never felt anything but guilt, because I knew I was lying to him when I said hurtful things—I knew his flaws, but I never saw them as flaws, whereas he revealed to me how disgusted he was by mine. I never got any satisfaction from being hateful, which made it all the more painful that he enjoyed it so much.
I don’t want this to become an ex-bashing, so I’ll leave him there, but for the last couple of months I have suffered more than I did for the last 4 years combined. The abuse, the betrayal, the bullying, the neglect, the ignorance, have all overwhelmed me. In anyone else’s situation, I would tell them that the hatefulness reflects more on him than it does her, but I can’t help feeling like he was right about so much of it.
I’ve since started getting help to deal with all that I’ve been through. I took responsibility for myself, and I’ve started working my mental health. What I’ve been doing hasn’t been working, so I’m temporarily on medication, and have started seeing someone to talk about the things I never moved past. I’ve been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (not Multiple Personality Disorder, which I will write about in a separate blog post), which in many cases (including mine) is in a way a kind of PTSD that results in depression, anxiety, bipolar/manic depression.
I have been terrified of writing this because I’ve been worried about what people will think. Since I left the hospital in November, I’ve been procrastinating this because honestly, I’m ashamed. Part of it is self-awareness, part of it is the past 6 months that I’ve let this “man” (I use the term very loosely) tear me down and make me believe in the worst in myself. I’m afraid of how people knowing this will affect my future, people’s opinion of me, but I want to live in a world where we can speak freely about our mental illnesses without fear of judgement. I know I will receive judgement for this, but we have to create the world we want to live in, and that starts with things like this. I want people to not feel the shame that I feel, and I hope that I can empower someone, even one or two people, to be open and seek the help they deserve. We all ask for help, whether it be from our parents or our friends or our preachers, and I feel this should be no different. I want people to learn to be comfortable with themselves. That doesn’t necessarily mean writing about it on a blog, but I want you all to not live in fear of what people are going to think because of the things that you’ve experienced and the way they affected you. You’re not your diagnosis. Your diagnosis is an adjective, just like you being arthritic or tall or thick. You are not just a person with arthritis, you are not just a tall person, you are not just a thick person, you are a complete person that happens to have and be those things. No one thing defines you, and mental illness is no different. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not a whole person or a “normal” person because your brain works in a way that they don’t understand.
I’m completely aware that this is all more than y’all needed to know, and I get a lot of questions about being so personal online, but I feel like this is all essential to understanding mental illness. I feel like I need to be open and honest and hand out too much information at my own expense in an attempt to help people understand that there is always more to the story than “she’s afraid of ordering her own food”. Not everyone knows why they have been affected by life the way they have, but I feel that this might hopefully bring some enlightenment on the subject, and help people who don’t struggle with these things or even judge us to be more compassionate, if not empathetic. This was so hard to write and even harder to publish, but I want to help people, and I can’t help people like me if they don’t trust or understand me. This is the kind of world I want to live in.
I’ve always been a relatively anxious person, to claim it’s only a recent development would be a lie. But it didn’t impact me on an everyday basis. I’d stress a little more than my peers over a test, get a little extra nervous over a school play. It wasn’t really social based, just mostly things people normally worried about, just a step or two above “average.” Maybe it made me more prone to developing a mental state/disorder (whichever you’d like to classify PTSD as). I used to think my life was normal, that most people had experienced as many deaths and things as I had. That I wasn’t anything unique. I’ve always considered people’s lives to be apples to oranges, different experiences impact people different ways. Even with that in mind, I’ve started to realize my “trauma’s” went above and beyond what most average people ever encounter, even at my young age. It was after meeting my soon to be husband that I realized something was wrong, we’ve known each other a very long time. He’s the first person I really ever confided anything to; I honestly owe him my life.
I was in the military for a short time, I got medically discharged for an injury I sustained, and most people assume my mental state is from that. I never saw war, I never was in a combat situation, the military was perhaps the one place things sort of made sense. It scratched that part of my mind that craved and needed structure. PTSD normally, from what I’ve gathered and come to understand doesn’t actually develop and or surface until the mind is in a stable position, enough so to where it can begin to comprehend what’s occurred. I guess I’ve been living in a hyper active state since I was a child, I can safely say the living situation I’m in currently is the most stable I’ve ever been and I’ve only just now reached that at, 25.
My entire childhood was rocky, I’m not going to sit here and claim it was the worst thing in the world. My parents got divorced when I was three, my biological mother is wonderful (aside from being a little unpredictable), she remarried when I was four. My step father adopted and raised me as his own. My biological father popped in and out of the picture frequently, to start fights with my mother, mentally manipulate me to get back at her, to warp my perception. My step father died unexpectedly when I was fourteen, a few days before the end of summer break. My mother, desperate to provide my siblings and I with a distraction, made us start school just four days after his death. We never went through grief counselling, nor did my mother look into ways to establish a way to assist us in mentally understanding his death. I guess I never really grieved that my father, the man who’d stepped up and raised me, made me the person I am died in our bathroom floor because of an allergic reaction. Sometimes I still forget he’s gone or have dreams that he’s here. That he’ll meet my future kids, be at my wedding.
I wish I could say my biological father stepped up at that point, but he never did, I did move in with him when I was sixteen in a desperate attempt to bond with a father figure, a step I never should have taken. My bio dad was a meth addict, apparently he had been for several years, he just managed to hide it. I’d never been around drugs until I moved in with him, but it made him angry. I’d never even really known my bio father, but the version of him I got to know was enough. My father’s a Vietnam veteran, he has chronic PTSD (ironic), so as you can imagine, unmedicated, an alcoholic, and piling meth on top of that makes him violent. I lived with him for two years, too scared of what he’d do if I tried to move back home to my mom (who lives 500 miles away from him). I’d dropped out of highschool and got my GED when I was fifteen, so I had no obligations and no one locally knew me. He’d lock me in my room for days at a time without food or water, and when he was sober he’d make fun of me for eating whenever I did so in front of him. Then started limiting my meals to once a day or every other day, whichever he felt was best. It’s worth mentioning I’m 5’8 and at this point only weighed 120, he still deemed I was overweight. When I say meal, I mean a can of Campbell’s soup. If that wasn’t enough he’d go on super binges, be high for weeks on end and threaten to kill me, endlessly. How he’d do it, where he’d hide my body, that no one would even know it was him or find me. He’d throw me around to prove how much stronger he was than me, that I wouldn’t stand a chance if he did decide that he wanted to kill me, I’d be helpless. Once he took out a police baton and threw me to the ground, before attempting to beat me with it, luckily someone was there to stop him. I’ve recently been informed that my father is dying; understandably, I don’t give a shit.
I moved home (Mom’s) finally, tried to be a normal young adult and never told anyone about the depth of things that happened while I lived with my sperm donor. Unfortunately for me when I was twenty I started dating a sociopath. Someone that forced sex onto me at least every other day. I’d moved in with him, I felt that I had nowhere else to go and allowed it, my mom was in no position to worry about me; my younger brother had developed a meth addiction, leaving her preoccupied. I even convinced myself for a while that this is what normal relationships were like, sometimes girls just didn’t want sex and guys took it. I’ve only recently realized that it’s rape, despite the fact that at the time he’d been my “boyfriend.” I eventually got brave and left him, though he still stalks me, literally and sends me threats when he can, it’s been almost five-six years since I last saw him in person. I’ve admitted what occurred to a friend; when questioned why I have intimacy issues I was told I was “over reacting, it’s not that bad.” That I can’t possibly still have a sex drive and have intimacy issues at the same time, that’s just not realistic. So, I’ve only admitted it’s happened to my soon to be husband and therapist, now in this article. I’m too ashamed, even now, I feel like I should have been able to stop it, that I should have known better, that I shouldn’t have been so scared of my abuser. That maybe it isn’t that bad, maybe I am over reacting.
I got a steady job, took care of myself for a few years and worked up the courage to enlist in the military, being a girl it was discouraged. People would never hesitate to remind me of military sexual assault statistics, making claims all while not knowing I was an abuse victim. Anyways, I’d love to say that me enlisting in the military worked, that all of my hopes and dreams of making something of myself worked, but they didn’t. I got discharged shortly after basic, without benefits because I hadn’t been active duty 180 days. It’s clearly my fault that I was injured during training (sarcasm), all physical therapy due to the injury has had to be paid for by me. Luckily for me I had a home to come back to, I had my fiancé and his apartment, our two loving cats (kids). I’m happy-ish, as happy as I can remember ever really being, well, sort of. I should be, I have a great job and life. But apparently my brain’s gone into overdrive from living in fear and being paranoid most of my life.
I’m hyper sensitive, a trait I can honestly say I’ve exhibited for a long time. Constantly aware of what’s going on around me; with a creeping sense of paranoia that someone’s going to do something awful. Loud, sudden noises scare the shit out of me, not literally, but they cause awful panic attacks. Sudden movements that people exhibit, sneaking up on me as a “prank” usually results in me screaming and punching. It’s been very awkward in a work environment, once a supervisor happily came up to my desk one morning, in the dead silent office and loudly asked, ”want a donut?” Of course I reacted suspiciously, screaming so loudly that the entire staff heard me, I even started to duck under my desk before comprehending what he’d come to my desk for and said. We laughed it off, him unknowing and me just saying I’m a jumpy person.
It’s progressively gotten worse, though, I think because of me neglecting it and refusing to acknowledge it and process the experiences I’ve had. I haven’t experienced flashbacks as far as I’m aware, I’ll call them intrusive memories and thoughts, they don’t even feel like my own most of the time. Memories of things I’ve tried to forget at the worst possible moment that leave me crippled, maybe they are flashbacks but I’m scared of fitting the most typical PTSD trait that everyone thinks of. I’ve started screaming in my sleep as well, another statistic, I fear. I wake up my fiancé almost every night screaming for something to stop or for someone to help me. I normally don’t remember my dreams even, but the only one that’s prominent that’s stood out recently is of my cat dying. I know how stupid that sounds, but my cat is everything to me, He’s my anchor. I just have images of my mind generating him being ripped apart until he’s dead before I woke up. I’ve discussed the dream with my therapist, apparently I have a fear of losing things dear to me because my life’s been so unpredictable. I agree with her. I have crippling panic attacks and night mares, though, my heart will beat so hard it hurts. I’ll wake up crying. I take Pristiq on a daily basis along with Buspirone as needed. So anytime I go into fight or flight mode I can take this magical little pill that makes me feel like a robot, which is better than actually feeling like the world is about to explode.
I’m a normal person, I think. I like working, I’m a very work oriented person, I have friends and family and goals. When I first got diagnosed a month ago between a therapist and a doctor it definitely made the last few years of my life (at least) make sense. My diagnosis terrifies me, though. On the bright side I likely had PTSD when enlisting and ignored the symptoms, so maybe my injury is for the better, I wouldn’t have been functional in the military. I get to live with my condition as a civilian, but it’s terrifying. I don’t want to tell anyone, I don’t admit it to my friends. Only my fiancé, therapist, mother and sister are aware. I’m ashamed, I feel like I wasn’t strong enough, I don’t want to fall into that class of people that’re constantly “triggered” by everything and can’t function with the rest of society. I’m scared I’m always going to feel this way and that it’ll impact my ability to have and raise kids, to have a functional marriage. I feel like acknowledging it is the first step, though. Which I’m actively trying to do, even writing this out and anonymously admitting it on the internet makes me feel brave.
I am the mother of a 22-year-old bipolar son. He was diagnosed at the age of 14 when he tried to burn my house down with me…him…and his sister in it. He had been for a while saying stuff about seeing guys in his room and having sword fights with people, but I thought he was just making up stories because he had a history of using weed and alcohol and hanging with a rough crowd. Around this time also he had got into trouble for stealing a car and being put on probation. I took him to a psychologist to see if he truly needed help or what. The doctor put him on Zoloft and told him “you know the stuff is not real”, and that was it. Well not even a week later he was admitted and given the diagnosis of Bipolar (Disorder). He went in and out of hospitals for over 3 years including Waco State School and a program in Marshall for drug users. He has used PCP…meth…coke…and who knows what else. But his main drug now is weed and that’s what he depends on for his bipolar disorder. He is supposed to be on Welbutran and one other. He has had over 7 suicide attempts and one he had to stay overnight for because of taking an overdose of narcotics. He has been given several different diagnosis over the year from manic depressant to pyscho effective…he has his good days and his bad days, but he has learned to manage and live with it….unfortunately, my daughter has suffered a lot because of stuff he has put us through, from threatening to run away to feeling like she is not important. We have had to literally cut him off from use because he will use and use til you drop.
You’ve discovered that weed helps more than any antidepressants? How is he when he’s high, if you don’t mind me asking?
Surrounding people will always call people like us “crazy”. Has he heard that, and do you know how it made him feel?
When he’s high, he goes into what I call his “neutral zone”…what I mean by that is when he is manic, he is aggressive and can blow if some one looks at him wrong. On his depression side is when I have to watch for suicide and him going and disappearing….with the weed a great deal of that disappears and you can have some of a conversation with him. He has heard crazy, psycho, lazy, fake…we can talk when he is depressed; when he is manic, he cusses them out. Tell them they are not right; you are special and just …need a little extra love and support. When he gets in a state of “why am I like this”, I just remind him that it’s not his fault, and he was made special.
What’s he like, when he’s in his neutral zone? What’s his personality like? What does HE like?
Part of my article is digging past our mental illnesses so that people can see…we’re all still people. We’re just people dealing with a lot more than most.
In his neutral zone, he is very caring and helpful. He loves listening to music and hanging with his friends. He will say thank you and love you…
He loves kids. He has two and his sister has two. He likes being a typical 20-year-old, hanging with friends, watching movies and football. He has a very giving personality.
Does he remember his manic episodes? Has he learned to tell the different between a manic hallucination and reality?
No, he still can’t tell the difference….and sometimes he can remember and sometimes not. It depends how long and I call how “far” he goes manic…I know that might sound strange, “how far”, but if he really loses it…it can be days or weeks.
They told me back when he was 17 that if he keeps going like this, he could go full psychotic where he is bipolar and psychotic both. His doctor when he was a teenager was based out of UTMD and was a Telemed doctor….and when he decided at 17 he was going to stop all meds and smoke weed only, (the doctor) said by the time he was 30 he would be what they call full psychotic. He has went on and off meds a couple times but never stays on them long…he’s supposed to be on them right now, and has only taken them a hand full of times in the last three months.
Does he not like the way the meds make him feel?
It’s like he gets back to neutral and feels like he doesn’t need them anymore; then in a year or two he will ask for them again. Point blank, he doesn’t like them. He wants his weed.
(Writer’s note: This particular story was significant to me because it emphasizes that there is no one way to be bipolar, as there are 5 major types. Most people who’ve been diagnosed exhibit bipolar disorder as extreme mood swings, like I do, but some of the less talked-about side effects of the other types are psychosis, hallucinations, and paranoia. Please take this into consideration the next time you make generalizations, because there’s no one stereotype that applies to everyone.)
I suffer from severe social anxiety, so every social interaction I have, including online, is extremely hard for me. It’s negatively affected my life, and my relationships. I don’t take any medication for it.
After every social interaction I have, I spend the next few days, weeks, sometimes years obsessing over what I said, it affects my sleep, and can throw off my entire day.
I think for me, one of the hardest parts is, I want to be social, I want to engage in conversations people are having, I want to randomly talk to strangers at the grocery store, I want to compliment people, share my thoughts, ideas, opinions, but my social anxiety completely blocks my brain off, and doesn’t let me talk, or think about what I want to say. It’s almost like I’m trapped inside my own mind, and it’s empty, full of darkness, and I go mute. Sometimes I’ll be talking, and go completely silent mid-sentence because it’s like I’ve forgotten every word I’ve ever known, and can’t think of what I was saying, or what I was going to say, I usually feel rushed to continue what I was saying, so it’s mentally exhausting to battle that. In most one-on-one conversations, when someone finishes saying something, instead of me picking up the conversation, it ends. I can’t think of what to say to keep the conversation going. My brain just shuts completely down.
Most of the time when I’m out, and someone talks to me, I’ll completely ignore them, and act like I didn’t hear them, because I’m so terrified of conversation, and I don’t like putting myself in social situations, it can be painful. Of course I always feel like a terrible person afterwards, especially if it’s a child asking for charity money, but I just can’t do it, I cannot mentally handle it.
If someone asks about a topic I know a lot about, I suddenly forget everything I know about that topic. If it’s online, it’s a lot easier because there’s less pressure and I have time to think about what to say.
I have an extremely hard time making phone calls. Before I have to make an important call, like to my OB/GYN, I have to write everything down first because I will forget everything, even though before I make the call I’ll go over what to say a million times in my head. I’ve never ordered my own food over the phone, I also have a hard time ordering food at restaurants. I have had serious break downs over phone calls where I’ve cried for a couple of hours.
My husband always pushes me to challenge it, fight it, and try to beat it. I have, so many times, but it usually leaves me mentally exhausted, and traumatized, if that’s the right word for it. It can be painful, even if I’m proud of myself for overcoming the fear. It was hard when he wanted me to look for a job, I’ve done 2 interviews in my life and both went terribly wrong and was such a traumatizing experience. It was hard on our relationship because we really needed the money, and he doesn’t understand what social anxiety does to me mentally.
These are pretty much my basics. I know this is all a jumbled up mess, I wish I could’ve answered your questions individually, and I tried to when I first started this, but it’s so hard for me to answer questions like that. It was much easier like this, and I really wanted to talk about it.
I have mixed depressive and insomnia. It started when I moved away from home. My biggest problem for a while was alcohol, but now it’s pot. I’m currently off my medication and I basically spend my life in bed…I have very little interest in existing, lol.
What was it about leaving home that triggered it?
I’m not sure. I just like to stay in bed. I don’t like having to face people and I fear having a meltdown in public.
Have you ever been medicated for it?
Yeah, I took Lexapro. Nothing was wrong with it, my doctor just gave me a short prescription of it because she thought it was a temporary rough time, but I’d really like to get back on it longer term and see how I like it. I also used to take unprescribed Lorazepam for anxiety but I’d say it’s terrible if you also deal with depression because it kind of intensifies that desire to stay in bed 24/7. Like you won’t be anxious, but you won’t be anything else either. You’re just kinda there.
You say you want to stay in bed all day…how does it make you feel? I’m trying to find a way to open up all the effects it has on people, since it’s not as simple as being “chronically sad”. How does it affect your thoughts?
It makes me feel guilty a lot because I know I should be going to class, doing homework, grocery shopping. But I just can’t motivate myself to do those things. And I feel like it puts a real burden on my roommate because she has to pick up my slack and pull both our weights sometimes.
Do you talk to anyone about it? What shitty advice have you gotten and did it upset you? My favorite is “why don’t you work out and eat better and go outside and do all the things depression prevents you from doing??”
I’ve tried to talk to my boyfriend about it and he was like “you just have to get up”, and I quickly explained to him, who has ADHD, “that’s like me telling you to ‘just focus’”.
How is it affecting school? Sometimes it’s a cycle…you get depressed, get bad grades, get depressed because of bad grades, get bad grades because of depression…
Precisely. My grades are SUFFERING.
Do your parents know? I got overwhelmed with my online math class and dropped it, and even though I’m still taking 12 hours, my mom was just like “I KNEW you’d pull something like that”.
My parents have told my whole family that I’m gonna drop out and all this shit.
I had a meltdown my first semester and drove home and said I wasn’t going back. But then I ended up moving away from home, working, got an apartment, and am now going to school. I really had my shit together for a while but now I’m struggling again.
So what triggered your anxiety?
I’ve always had it, but it started acting up badly towards the end of high school/beginning of college. I don’t know where it really came from; when I was a baby, my grandma wanted my mom to take me to a psychologist or something because I cried and screamed and threw tantrums like hell. I can’t recall having panic attacks until I got to high school. I guess high school is when I started encountering stress I couldn’t handle because of certain situations. College is even worse, especially with me being in the Corps.
What does it do to you? Does it affect you physically at all?
I lock up, I don’t have use of my hands nor do I have control of them. It’s sorta like phases—first, I’ll start scratching my face/arms, and I have a hard time talking. My mind will get fuzzy and I can’t think straight, I can’t breathe right. Depending on what triggered it I could be crying, screaming. I just ask my friends to hold me, touch my hair, take my mind away from whatever is happening.
Have you seen a doctor about it or talked about medication?
No, my parents won’t let me see a doctor, or take medication. I tried going to counseling on campus but for some reason that I forget they wouldn’t take me in.
Your parents won’t let you see anyone? And your campus counselor won’t see you??
I asked if I could go see someone for it a few years ago, and they said “as long as you don’t treat it like a problem, it won’t be one”. [I don’t remember why I was rejected]; all I remember is being denied.
[My anxiety attacks] aren’t as frequent anymore, only like once or twice a month. They were more frequent in high school.
Are they worse now than in high school [despite being less frequent]?
No, I don’t think so. I’m more…controlled I guess would be the best word. In the Corps there’s no room for anxiety—of course it’s gonna happen, but you just have to take it by the horns, put a muzzle on it. I learned how to handle it on my own, but I still made people aware of the signs when I was about to burst. While I had my independent solutions, I still had a strong support network.
(Writer’s note: This person has not been diagnosed with anything, but wanted to share with me what it’s like knowing and loving people with depression and anxiety. Their submission was especially important to me because I’ve honestly never given extensive thought to the effects mental illness has on the people surrounding us. This is one of the most loving, giving, empathetic people I have ever met. I wanted so share their story last to emphasize the pain mental illness causes.)
So I’ll start with freshman year in high school and sort of continue from there with different people and how I interact with them.
Before I hadn’t really known anyone who struggled with this. My grandma has it, but is had always been really under control except for when she was really worried.
Katie* was the first person I got really close to who was very open about what she was going through. There’d be mornings when she’d cry and all I could do was sit there until she stopped, and if people asking what was wrong I’d just say I didn’t know, because honestly I didn’t know what triggered it until she’d stop. George* and I would also try just making her laugh and it’d work too. So over time I’ve gotten really good at knowing when something is wrong. She’ll begin to talk less and less and usually I’ll ask what’s up and she’ll tell me she wants to talk later.
Alright, so this is where it really gets me, I’ve noticed I’m almost like a relief to whatever she’s feeling because she starts making jokes [about me]. I can handle it for the most part, but when we’re with a few people she just goes for it, and I know she’s not trying to be mean, but it does get annoying. I’ve never called her out on it and I guess because I know what she’s going through I don’t know how to. Also in general there were so many people [at school] with anxiety/depression that there were times I felt really bad that I didn’t know how they felt. I mean, I definitely had moments when I was sad over grades and all, but it wasn’t a constant thing like everyone else around me and I always wished I could do more.
When Katie talks about [suicide], she usually turns it into a joke and it’s not as intense. However, I do know she used to be a lot worse in how she mentioned it all. I also know she used to cut herself, which is why I’ve kept a small box of her blades for the past several years. Her telling me she wants to die doesn’t get me that badly. Not because she’s less special or anything, but I guess because I know she has other people who can help and who helped before me and can help more than me since they’re around her. I still get really sad because I don’t like to think of her being gone. It gets difficult since she lives so far. Usually her girlfriend will text me when it’s a bad day since she’s even farther away at [a school 300 miles away]. But she lets me know in case I can find a way over and also because Katie will pretend things are fine with me when she decides she doesn’t want to tell me. That’s all good though, because I know she’s talking to someone at least and this is how it’s always been. Her girlfriend just makes sure I’m in the loop in case it gets worse or something. So when I find out I don’t call right away. I’ll text people at [her school] first and see where she is and during this time I start sending memes and stupid shit to cheer her up. If no one can get to her, I call. I don’t bring it up though since technically I wasn’t there to find out what’s wrong. I’ll just keep it casual or find something in my day to overexaggerate so we can both be dramatic. When it does get into a more serious conversation I try and support the best I can, but I’ll still make some jokes to ease up some of tension and to keep myself from crying when she gets really intense. I only cry with her sometimes, but usually I just hold her and let her cry it out.
So [my ex] Alex* also has anxiety and depression. This one’s hit me pretty hard especially since it’s one of the reasons he broke up with me.
There were some nights when I’d get a late call because he needed someone to talk to. For the most part I’d answer and talk until he was better. If it was during a fight or really late I’d try and ignore it, which only made things worse. If I could go back and change one thing, it’d be to answer the phone every time the first time. But every time he had an anxiety attack I just always wished I could make it stop and never happen again. It was awful to sit there and only be able to do so much. I’d just hold him or give him space depending on what he needed and tell him it’d be okay. Sometimes I’d cry because he’d say I didn’t know what he was going through. I mean, I didn’t and I still don’t. Not firsthand and not exactly everything anyways. I was always aware that it could hit him at any moment too, especially if I was out pretty late since he always worried about me. So it wasn’t that I was afraid of him getting upset with me, it was more like I didn’t want him to think something bad had happened to me, but when I was out at night I’d try and give him a time span of how long everything would take. Problem would be if I was out later or lost service. Then there’d be a long phone call.
Just to clarify, it probably sounds worse than it was, but I handled everything and wasn’t like controlled or anything.
So I was really happy I was able to help, but also felt pretty guilty that I hadn’t experiences the pressures and stress that he was constantly going through. I know I also triggered it sometimes when I was difficult. This is where it got really hard. I just got really sad that it was possible that I could do something to set him off. I didn’t really change too much since I didn’t want people to think he was forcing me to act different, but I probably could have been better about certain things. I hated that I was still a trigger even though I loved him a lot. It felt like I should back away even though I wanted to spend time with him. To be honest we were pretty clingy, so I think it did make some things worse. I didn’t really know what to do and I think that’s when it went downhill. It did start to feel like a cycle and that made me really sad too. When he did break up with me he still came to me sometimes, but over the summer he stopped and all I did was worry. I wasn’t who he talked to anymore and I knew he didn’t talk to anyone else before, so I was afraid he still wasn’t and was just bottling it all up. I feel like if he didn’t struggle with anxiety and depression I wouldn’t have been so upset, but it really did fuck me up. There were days I’d be randomly sad and find out later he had an awful day. I always wanted to talk about it with him to help, but he never went into details. I felt useless since I knew talking would help, but I couldn’t do anything about it. Then he started doing things he used to be against, and I just worried even more. I felt sad that he didn’t want my help anymore. It just sucked that I felt like I was someone who could make him feel better and then suddenly not. It also worried me that something really bad would happen that could’ve been prevented by me or whatever.
Alex telling me about his thoughts always got me and thinking back on it still hits me pretty hard at times. I didn’t realize how just hearing those types of things would make me feel. I’d always get really worried, I mean I completely trusted/trust he wouldn’t try anything, but it’s still really scary. With him I did cry a lot more often when he’d tell me about those things. I cried because I knew I was one of very few people who knew what all he was feeling and going through. I cried because if anything were to happen I don’t know what I would do. I cried because I love(d) him more than anyone in that way. It was so sad that someone I was so comfortable with on every emotional and physical level felt that they were so bad off they’d rather quit than keep going. I think it hit me so hard too because we had plans for the future and every time he felt that way I couldn’t help but think, “so none of that matters then?” I hated that he felt that way. We had long conversations in the car and over the phone many times so I could just talk him through everything. In person I held him and did whatever I could to help calm him down.
But like I’ve said, I was really shitty at times too. It’d be late and I’d be really tired after already talking for a while and I’d either fall asleep and upset him, or I’d ask if it could wait until the morning because I wasn’t going to be able to stay up. So there were plenty of arguments from this too. I know I should let go of the past, but this is definitely something I look back on. This is where I wish I had borrowed the car when I could just to drive over and help him feel better, or just have held back on saying certain things just because I was tired and wanting him to hang up. I did tell him to sometimes talk to other people, but he didn’t feel like he could trust others in the same way so a lot came down on me. It was really stressful and I guess in some ways it’s good he broke up with me, but at the same time I still get worried that those thoughts are there and he’s not expressing them.
It does make me wonder if one day other people decide they don’t want anyone’s help, and they cut me and others out of that part of their lives. It feels like I’m watching someone try and carry something they obviously can’t carry on their own after they deny my help. Like please let me be there. I know I can’t help in every situation, but I know there are little things I could do.
And finally, my great-grandma. Last summer she started worrying about me going to college. So she was on this medication since the ‘60s when both my great uncles were deployed, and she had a nervous breakdown when they sent her a telegram saying they couldn’t find one of them after they’d been attacked and that he was possibly dead. (They’re both fine, by the way.) She started taking [the medication] more than usual and basically they’ve been trying to switch her over, but the side effects are like withdrawal. She used to wake up in the middle of the night and call out to us. So I lost a lot of sleep on weekends and during breaks when I was home. She used to be so independent and it’s been really hard to see her like this. It also gets frustrating when all she wants is some type of medication because she thinks it’ll help. She’ll say something hurts and ask for a pill and I’ll tell her, “no, that’s not what it’s for”, and she’ll start with “you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re too young to understand”, or she’ll get salty and ignore me and start throwing shade about me to my sister. I just wish she’d believe me. I also hate that she’s going through this at such an old age, like I wish I could take it on instead of her. I also get frustrated with her when she acts weak or like she’s dying because she’s perfectly fine in terms of physical health. That’s when I feel guilty, because I know it’s not really her fault.
I used to cry a lot about it, but recently I’ve just come to terms with it being something that’ll just need a little time and I need to be patient with her.
She’s not exactly suicidal, but she’ll make comments about how she’s ready to die already even though we tell her she’s perfectly healthy. It’s still something that makes me feel sad. My great grandma is one of the strongest people I know and to hear her say she’s just ready to go kills me a little every time. I don’t like to think about her dying since I’ve spent so much of my life with her. I’ve cried several times, but I make sure it’s not around her since it’ll just trigger her into feeling more sad. I usually wait until I’m going to bed so no one sees me. It’s just something my family is all aware of and helping with, but not something we talk about on an emotional level. Also like I said before, it’s just something we’ve all come to terms with being patient about.
Overall, each just makes me really sad that I can’t do more and that I don’t actually know what all goes on inside. I’m glad I’ve helped and am still able to help when I can, but I hate that it’s something that doesn’t have a cure. I hate that I get upset and lose my patience as well because I know they don’t really mean to be that way. The only time I’ve ever really expressed my frustration was with Alex though, and that’s probably because we were dating. I can’t really say though.
I have depression, anxiety, and social anxiety (I feel they are two separate things to a degree). One thing is I wish people that don’t have any of them would realize that they are real it’s not just excuses to be sad or stay in for the day. Also I wish that people realized that the age old line, when you tell them you have depression, “Well you’re not trying to be happy” does not help. In fact it actually makes it worse. With anxiety I wish that people realized that not everyone with it has the basic panic attack when they’re overwhelmed. Some, like myself, just completely shut down. With social anxiety I wish people would understand that there are days when I want to go out and I’ll be fine and have no problem being with people and then I’ll have days when I literally can’t leave my room because the thought of being around anyone (family, friends, strangers, etc.) makes it impossible to breathe and I just shut down and can’t move. I guess the over all thing that I wish people understood with mental illness in general is that IT IS REAL. It’s not in my head or your head or anyone else’s. There’s nothing wrong with us because we have a mental illness. We aren’t crazy because we have one. We aren’t ticking time bombs because we have them. We are strong.
I hope this brings some comfort to people who struggle with these things silently, as well as awareness to those who don’t. We don’t choose this, and it is a struggle. Nobody in their right mind would choose to live like this, the stigmas that come with it or the negative attention we get or the names we get called or the way we are treated.
My inbox is always open, but here are some resources for you to reach out to:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention/To Write Love On Her Arms: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), www.asfp.org, http://www.twloha.com
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: 1-800-826-3632, http://www.dbsaliance.org
Families for Depression Awareness: 1-781-890-0220, http://www.familyaware.org
Online therapy: http://www.betterhelp.org (I actually used this for a while—it is nice to have and it is pretty affordable, I think like $100 a month for unlimited online chatting and a certain amount of phone calls. It’s free for the first 2 weeks I think, and then after that they bill you quarterly, so you’ll be billed $400 after the 2 weeks unless you cancel.)
Stay safe, be strong, and don’t be afraid to reach out, whether it be to me or to one of the above organizations or someone else. We are all dependent on people in different ways, and this one is no more shameful than any other. Everyone copes differently and I’d love to be there with you if you feel like you need someone. If you’re religious, I’ll pray with you; if you’re not, I’ll meditate with you or talk with you; if you’re alone, I’ll be happy to stick with you and drag you through recovery with me.