Once upon a time, my mental illnesses were thought personality flaws.
Depression was sadness, and sometimes laziness, and sometimes lack of sleep. Anxiety was a combination of student stress and an overactive imagination. They were fleeting feelings that would pass. They were emotions in my control, emotions that could be managed by deep breathing and time management skills. I didn’t have to worry, I just needed to get my act together.
I started experiencing mental illness symptoms in 2012. At that time, I thought I had enough to reason to brush off the feelings with a simple, “This, too, shall pass”. I was eighteen years old and bridging the cultural gap between high school and college. I was balancing a seventeen-credit schedule with a part time job and commuting forty-five minutes each way to my university four days a week. I was more stressed than I’d ever been, so why shouldn’t I feel sad and nervous and tired and overwhelmed?
One question I got this week was: When did you know that something was wrong?
It wasn’t until 2014, when these feelings had yet to go away and became increasingly coupled with a lack of interest in essentially anything I previously enjoyed (and a lack of energy and motivation to do those things, anyway) that my mom asked: “Are you depressed?”
I hadn’t thought about mental illness before that moment. I hadn’t considered that maybe what was happening to me wasn’t my fault, but was instead the result of something chemically wrong inside of me. I went to the doctor, an appointment which me forced me to face the reality of my suicidal ideation, a symptom which I had been nervously pushing aside since the thoughts first crept into my head, a symptom which made me terrified of myself.
My primary care physician provided me with a prescription to act as a fire extinguisher for my anxiety and negative thoughts and referred me to a psychiatric nurse practitioner, who he felt would be able to give me more adequate care considering the severity of my symptoms at that point and who diagnosed me with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I still see her to this day, and she has been incredible in working with me to find the proper medications to alleviate my symptoms.
This brings me to a second question: Did you experience side effects with any medications?
Side effects are truly difficult to escape from. When I began my first anti-depressant, I had to take at night to try to sleep through the nausea it caused for the first few weeks of taking it. I also had a sleep aid which worked so well the drowsiness it caused stretched far into my mornings, which made me often skip taking it on nights when I had to work early just to be sure I wouldn’t sleep through my alarm. About a year into being on these medications, I mentioned a return of negative thinking to my nurse practitioner. She added an anti-anxiety medication to my regimen to help counteract these affects, and although this helped for a few months, I found myself in the emergency room with suicidal ideation in 2015.
After this, I was switched to another anti-depressant. Although I experienced the same nausea that I did on my first medication, this one has made an incredible difference in alleviating my symptoms, decreasing negative thinking, and overall improving my quality of life. I remain on this medication to this day, though in the last six to twelve months I’ve began decreasing my doses in the hopes to eventually wean off it entirely.
I can go more in-depth into my experiences. I can talk for hours about how isolated I felt living with, or who high my anxiety got when I realized my initial therapist wasn’t helping and that I would have to start all over again with someone new. I could tell you about the days I spent fighting to get out of bed, or how it every step forward felt like trudging through molasses. In fact, I’ve written about all of these things in poetry and prose.
But for the PLEASE HEAR WHAT I’M NOT SAYING anthology, I wanted to offer hope. I wanted to peel back the shadows and show the light at the end of the tunnel. I wanted to share how opening up about my struggles made me feel empowered, and I hope that this might help others who are suffering feel a little empowered, too.
“Concept” is a piece that reflects back on my thoughts during my first turn-around during therapy, the first time in my treatment that I felt like I could get better, and that I felt like this illness could somehow make me a stronger person. First published to my Tumblr page last year, I’m both honored and delighted to have it included in this anthology to benefit the UK-based mental health charity, Mind.
PLEASE HEAR WHAT I’M NOT SAYING is set to release on February 8, 2018.