I didn’t know other people didn’t feel the way I did, or that it wasn’t normal to feel electrical impulses misfiring throughout my body from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I didn’t understand that it wasn’t normal to sometimes dissociate; becoming a distant spectator, watching myself, frozen, and unable to form the words I wanted to express.
Aged twenty-four, I didn’t know I wasn’t dying from a heart attack until I called 911 and the ambulance arrived. I didn’t believe the emergency room doctor who told me I was experiencing anxiety and it was actually just a panic attack.
Until I gave birth to my daughter five years later, still I didn’t believe him. During the emergency cesarean section, at the exact second the doctor pulled my beautiful baby girl from my uterus, I felt that he also removed me: my identity, my reality, all my emotions, and seemingly, my mind. In the afterbirth of my delivery, I was expelled and left in a severe state of detachment and unreality. This was not how I dreamt becoming a mother would be.
After being diagnosed with postpartum depression, I began taking the anti-depressant Prozac. Despite this, my anxiety and mania progressed to the point I was also diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, and PTSD. This long list of labels was now attached to my identity.
My symptoms became so severe I had to quit my successful ten-year career as a special needs teacher. I lost everything – my job, home, money, husband, friends, family, and my sense of self. I was blamed for getting an illness I did not want, discarded, and left alone. I also later learned that I was referred to as the “crazy” teacher.
Over the twenty-five years that followed, I overdosed on psychotropic medications, was hospitalized in psychiatric units, attempted suicide numerous times, was court ordered to live in halfway houses, engaged in self-injurious behaviors, lived in a homeless shelter for over three months, and received countless electroconvulsive therapy treatments.
Anytime a person falls ill with a chronic condition, it can become life-altering. In the midst of adjusting to painful and debilitating symptoms, I also faced the sometimes more damaging and hurtful stigma attached to mental illness.
Stigma has a ripple effect. I experienced it so strongly, cruelly, and regularly throughout the years, I began to self-stigmatize. Allowing the doubt and negativity from others to rub off on me left me hating everything about myself. It wasn’t until I became aware of the fact that I was self-stigmatizing that I began putting in the work that would set me free from shame and self-loathing.
Admittedly, I am a sensitive person and learning not to listen to stigmatizing language is a work in progress. If people bring me down or interfere with my recovery, I keep them out of my life, which has been a necessary and beneficial approach to my continued mental wellness.
I am not ashamed of mental illness, nor am I ashamed of myself. If people decide they are ashamed of me, that is their shame to bear. I am so much more than my mental illness and took steps to accept myself and find hope.
The next step was getting back into work part-time. I was unable to teach special education again, but eventually found work as a resident care assistant providing cares and supporting to seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Helping others is therapeutic for me, provides meaning, and gives me a sense of purpose. When I was a special education teacher, I used to say I got paid to give love. Finally, I can say that again. Returning to work continues to be a necessary component of my recovery and has helped rebuild aspects of my identity that had been missing for years.
Thirdly, it was important for me to reduce the negative thoughts about my mental illness and do my best to distract myself from the ways my life had been adversely affected. So, I fill my mind with positive dialogues, words, thoughts, and music as often as possible. This is a great coping technique that works tremendously for me.
The fourth step was finding purpose beyond work. For me, of course, it has always been the love and adoration of my three children, but it was also imperative for me to find another focus of great value. So, through public speaking and sharing my writing, I am now an advocate for mental health and wellbeing.
Lastly, I have learned to live in the moment and appreciate the small things, and I can honestly say that I am enjoying the beauty of living each breath of my life. I have now been psychotropic medication free for the first time in over twenty-five years (done under medical supervision!).
When I finally stopped taking the benzodiazepine, Klonopin, I endured and survived severe benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. Since that time, my mental health has improved significantly. My mind is clearer and for the first time in my life I do not have severe anxiety.
To reiterate: recovery is a work in progress and not simply a road to cross. Rather, a challenging, complex yet remarkable journey to experience. Some days will feel manageable or even effortless, while others will feel less so. But just remember that recovery is always possible: I am living proof.
I love this quote:
“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think that you’ve lost time. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.” ~Asha Tyson
Thank you for reading and please read my next blog post where I will share what has been going on with the publication of my memoir. Fingers, toes, arms, legs and eyes still crossed. Praying too, of course.
Here is the link for my post titled Recovery is Possible on the Trigger Publishing Blog where I am a featured guest author:
Here is the link to the trigger Publishing blog: http://wwwas.triggerpublishing.com/
They have some amazing mental health books. I think I want to read ALL of THEM.
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