Today I want to talk to you about a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Not only for personal reasons, but because I find that the more open I am to talk about this, the more open those around me are to open up about their experiences. I’m realizing more and more that some of the closest people around me have experience something similar, but no one talks about it as they should. I want to use this a platform to open the conversation so others can realize they are not alone when suffering with Mental Health Issues. (Full disclosure I have written about this in other forms of media prior to this posting, so if this seems familiar, you’re not wrong.) Those of you who know me most likely already know this about me, but due to a traumatic experience that happened to me six years ago, I was—simply put—diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Anxiety.
Now I want to preface this by saying I did not even have a diagnosis for this right away. In fact, it took almost two years for me to even have a name for what I had been experiencing. All I knew at the time was that I was scared, every single damn day of my life. I was scared that something awful would happen to me. I was scared that I would never get to see my family again. I was scared that each day I woke up, would be my last day here on earth. But more importantly, I was scared that this was my new normal.
The fact of the matter is, after my trauma occurred, it made sense that I would be shaken for a little while. But then those fears–those feelings–the pure dread of everything never went away. It took over my life entirely. It consumed me. I was no longer a separate entity from my fears, I was my fears.
To make matters worse, I quickly realized that my dark thoughts made others uncomfortable (reasonably so, they made me uncomfortable so why would anyone else feel differently?) I became a pro at wearing a mask for those around me, seemingly joyous, all while internally living in a horrific nightmare that I couldn’t escape.
You see, even though I was eventually given a name for what I was experiencing, it would still be another 2 years before I finally got the professional treatment I needed. That is to say, for four entire years I was living in this never-ending nightmare I dreamed up in my mind that I couldn’t shut off. For four years, I was pretending I was ok, when I was literally scared to death. For four years, I believed with my whole heart that I was not going to make it to the next year, next month, next Tuesday, or even seen the light of tomorrow.
My friends would make plans for me to join them out on the weekends and I would agree with a smile on my face while recoiling in the fear thinking If I even make it to then. And more times than not, I would bail on the plan last minute. I have a migraine or I think I have food poisoning or my aunt needs me to babysit. All because I would manifest these ideas in my head convincing myself something terrible would happen. I’ll get hit by a drunk driver very quickly manifested itself into a shooter will attack the place. Any news story I heard would get stored away in my brain as, “possible ways you’ll die if you leave your house.” I was stuck. I was trapped. I was missing out on doing the things I wanted to do all because I couldn’t silence the thoughts and fears my brain refused to let go. And this was my new normal.
My family and friends were trying their best to be as supportive as they could considering this was something they didn’t understand. But honestly, I was just tired of hearing the same “comfort” of, “well you just sound stressed, try exercising,” or “have you tried to meditate?” and of course,—my personal favorite—“well, just don’t think like that.” Yeah, no shit Sherlock. Do you honestly believe I want to think like this? As crazy as this sounds—it’s not something that you can just “switch off.” Believe me, I have tried and tried and tried. But my thoughts would always spiral out of control. A fear of driving on the interstate turned into a fear of riding on a train, turned into a fear of being in a crowded place, turned into a fear of being in a movie theater, or being on a plane, or attending a concert, and so on and so on and so on. Until ultimately, I was terrified to leave my house.
I chose to wear a mask, because I honestly didn’t know how to begin to talk about this. It was almost better to pretend everything was okay, than to let my friends and family see me break down almost daily. But you know what? It was exhausting. Pretending like I was fine, while simultaneously playing out scenarios in my head of how my life could end at any moment but still smiling to the world like everything was okay–that shit is draining. It took everything in me to appear fine to the rest of the world, I was mentally and physically spent. Which made it so much easier for me to justify staying home where it was “safe.” Because why would I go to the grocery store if I’m so tired and I don’t feel safe going anyway? If all I want to do is sleep, why bother leaving the safety of my room?
The truth of the matter was that my fear of dying was so great, that it was preventing me from actually living.
Which brings me to the point of all of this—mental health issues are no fucking joke. Whether it’s anxiety, PTSD, depression, bi-polar, self-harm—or a myriad of others—these are issues that people truly and undeniably struggle with daily. And chances are they are suffering in silence–they may not have a name for it yet, or they feel ashamed to seek help, or take medication, or simply they may not feel that their neurotypical friends can understand. Trust me, it’s the farthest thing from comfort to hear someone you trust say, “oh, well, you just can’t think like that”. The only thing that phrase does is alienate those who are severely suffering. Part of the reason it took so long for me to get the proper help I needed was because those around me simply did not understand what I was experiencing. They made me feel as though I could turn off the spiraling thoughts and since I couldn’t, I believed that I was failing. **
So many people suffer silently daily. And while everyone has their own nightmares to work through, there is one thing I noticed that can be helpful. It was helpful to me to not keep this bottled up inside. it was helpful to me to seek professional help. It was helpful for me to take medication daily. And mostly, it was helpful to me to share my story with others. Eventually, I stopped hiding who I was, and how I was feeling, and explaining in depth what I was going through. Explaining WHY I couldn’t shut off the thoughts, explaining why I felt too scared to leave my house. Explaining how my medication brought me out of the depths of despair. Being unapologetic to how I am and what I’m going through brought me strength. It also brought me closer to friends–who unbeknownst to me–were experiencing a very similar feeling, and it encouraged them to seek help, to talk about it openly, to confide in me as a comfort. The simple act of opening up, helped me find a support system that understood my woes–and in turn I could support them on a different level for the sole reason that we are able to empathize.
So be kind to those around you–you have no idea what silent horrors they are experiencing. Until I opened up about my trauma (after finding a way to handle it) I realized that there are so many of those near and dear to me who felt like I did a few years ago. Mental health issues are no joke–I wear mine proudly–not because it’s all that I am, but because it’s part of who I’ve become. I will not be shamefully silenced about it, I will gladly speak my truth, especially if it means I can help others spear theirs.
**I do want to stress though—I 100% do not blame my family and friends for not understanding the severity of my mental state—I’ve realized that those who do not know the struggle are lucky, because they haven’t suffered in the ways I have. If you don’t have a mental health disorder you can’t begin to understand the depth of it—and that’s okay! I wouldn’t wish this mental state on my worst enemy.