I’ve been living with mental illness for over ten years (possibly more, but with my memory as the only indicator it’s difficult to determine how early I started showing signs). Despite this, I did not receive an official diagnosis until last year. It’s not that I didn’t seek out help before, I did. It’s just that our health care system is unfortunately negligent when it comes to mental health and access to proper treatment is a challenge to reach. That, and I had the misfortune of turning to the wrong adults when I needed help as a teenager. Long story short, some unqualified adults took it upon themselves to give me counseling and completely turned me off to the whole concept so when my mother found out and tried to take me to a legitimate therapist I was 100% not having it. And she, unfortunately, didn’t know enough to encourage me to go and walk me through it. In the end, I was on my own.
I knew that I had a depressive disorder. It seemed like a no brainer considering my constant low mood and need to fake it at social gatherings. Life was exhausting. And my need to be the perfect student drilled into me at an early age was an all consuming feat leaving me with no energy or time to really address my own issues. But I was functional. So I kept trudging on through.
“My determination to…basically try to be a superhero took everything I had. And I had nothing left for myself.”
By the time I was in college and working my first part time job I was an expert at looking totally on top of everything, being an A student, and excelling in every task presented to me. Every task except being healthy, that is. My determination to finish school and have a career and keep my boyfriend and please my parents and take care of my grandparents and be a good Christian and volunteer at church and stay on top of my ministry and basically try to be a superhero took everything I had. And I had nothing left for myself.
But, despite my tumultuous relationship with my high school boyfriend ending and other multiple personal dramas, I graduated with my true loved ones by my side. I thought I’d get a Master’s degree in Creative Writing, but studying for the GRE gave me more anxiety than I’d ever experienced in my life. Both unluckily and luckily, I broke my ankle the summer after graduating with my first BA forcing me to take time for myself and heal. I had surgery and was limited in what I could do. But I kept my job because I needed to pay my bills, especially with all the new medical appointments I was going to every other week to monitor my healing. So my body rested, but my mind didn’t.
Nevertheless, I was feeling renewed and inspired. I decided to get a second BA, but this time in Psychology. My time resting allowed me to reflect and realize how much of a passion I have for helping others, so I thought a career in counseling may be better suited for me than teaching and writing. A bit ironic, I suppose, since I’d hardly had any counseling myself (I did some in college with counseling interns, but it was always short lived).
So I found a new job as a Research Assistant in the Developmental Psychology department at my school and started undergrad again. It was honestly one of the best years of my life. I loved studying the human mind and meeting so many passionate brains eager to delve deeper into the psyche and understanding why we do what we do and how we can do better. Part of me even considered getting a PhD with all the excitement.
Approaching my second graduation I was ready to start my applications to graduate schools for counseling. I wanted some relevant work experience, so I started volunteering at my local call center as a Helpline Counselor, but within a few months I was hired and decided to do that for a bit and save money before going to graduate school.
“But an internal time bomb kept ticking.”
And I loved my job. I loved my boyfriend. I loved my life. Things were wonderful for a brief moment. I had purpose and drive and felt like I was finally making a difference in people’s lives and by extension my own. But an internal time bomb kept ticking away.
After almost a year at the job I realized that I’d gone from happy and excited to go to work every morning to anxious and sick with dread. And every evening instead of feeling fulfilled and proud of my work as I had initially, I was feeling broken and unable to stop crying. And this went on every day for weeks. Panic attacks every morning, crying fits every night. So, naturally, one day with one particularly difficult call I broke.
My supervisors were beyond understanding, which was a first for me. I’d never known a job to be understanding of mental health struggles and the need for self care. They told me to take some time to recover from that call and reflect on what I wanted to do moving forward. I wanted to keep going, but I had reached the lowest point I’d ever been in my life. So I resigned from my job (a privilege I was given by my wonderful partner who agreed to support me financially) and decided to take care of myself full time. I finally spoke to my doctor about what was happening and he prescribed me an antidepressant and referred me to a psychiatrist and therapist within the free hospital system I use. And so began the journey to my accepting my mental illnesses as a truth in my life that couldn’t be ignored. I was diagnosed with Dysthymic Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (and a “touch of PTSD” according to my psychiatrist).
I’d love to say that I’m finally getting the help I need, but that would be in a perfect world. I’m finally getting help, but it’s no where near what I actually need. It’s a caveat when it comes to low cost health care in this country. You get what you pay for, essentially. So since I can’t afford a $150 per week counselor, I get a $3 per visit social worker that I get to see every two to four weeks and a psychiatrist I get to see every three months. It’s not ideal, but it’s something.
Being on medication and having time to really study my diagnoses and learn about other people’s journeys has definitely helped me. I am beyond thankful to have the love of my life support me financially while I learn how to function with my illnesses in a healthier way (i.e. not shoving my shit to the side to tackle life’s tasks). I’m still learning, but I’ve come a long way since that last difficult call as a Helpline Counselor. I’m finally prioritizing my mental health and unlearning all the toxic messages that told me I had to keep going or else I wouldn’t be enough.
I am enough. Even if all I can do on a given day is breathe in and out, I am still enough. And so are you.