Nothing Is As It Seems
“‘She is always smiling!’ ‘Her life must be really easy.’ ‘Clearly, she has it all together.’ ‘If only I had a life like hers, I could be happy all the time too.’
We are ALL guilty of this. We have all known someone who is ‘always happy’ and we see smiling photos and imagine the amazing, stress-free life that person is living.
Yes, I am a genuinely happy person and God has blessed me with more reasons than I can begin to list that make me smile and laugh every day. However, what you don’t see in my pictures is the person who has fought mental illness for as long as I can remember in my almost 43 years of life.
My Tumultuous Journey With Mental Illness
OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and anxiety are beasts on their own, but pairing them together can literally bring your life to a screeching halt, often with no warning or explanation why. Mental illness runs in my family, and fortunately, my parents were able to recognize what was happening when I was in elementary school and took me to a wonderful pediatric psychiatrist.
Through therapy alone, we were able to manage my symptoms. However, when I got into high school, my symptoms came back stronger than ever and I started taking Wellbutrin to help with my anxiety. By my late teens and early twenties, I secretly battled an eating disorder (Bulimia) to try to create the OCD version of the ‘perfect body,’ which in my mind could never be thin enough. I beat the odds and was actually able to fight back and break away from the torment of my eating disorder by myself. Please note, that I do NOT recommend this method to anyone else, because it was way more difficult than if I had asked for help at that time.
I was doing pretty well in my mid to late twenties, and then I had my son, Stone, at 30 years old. It was like a switch went off in my mind and body. For the first few years of his life, my OCD (mostly debilitating intrusive thoughts) and anxiety were painfully off the charts. Once again, I thought I could handle it on my own, and I just kept taking my Wellbutrin and pushing through each day as best as I could with a smile on my face.
The Turning Point
I remember the night I was reading a book to Stone before bed when he was 4 years old. It had all become too much. The OCD thoughts had completely taken over my reality, and I felt like the worst person and, especially, Mommy in the entire world. I did my best to read the bedtime story through the huge lump in my throat, the heavy pressure in my chest, and the tears pouring down my cheeks and landing on the top of my sweet boy’s head. That was it! I couldn’t do it anymore.
My amazing high school sweetheart and now husband of over 18 years, Jason, is and always has been my ROCK. When I finally reached my limit, he was there to help guide me in the right direction and give me the support I needed to properly heal. I went to a new therapist as well as a new psychiatrist for a few years. It was a lot of trial and error getting my ‘med cocktail’ correct for my needs. In case you don’t know, the med cocktail is a mix of different types of medications prescribed by your Doctor to handle different areas of your brain as well as different symptoms associated with your diagnosis(s). Often it takes time to get the right medications, dosage, and strengths to help the person reach optimum mental health.
By my late thirties, I was finally back to feeling myself again with the help of my life-saving medications: Wellbutrin, Zoloft, and Ativan. I also learned some amazing coping mechanisms and techniques in therapy to better control issues when they arise. I know I will always be on medications, and that’s okay. I also know that if I need a refresher on my coping skills, therapy is always an option to assist me again.
My Best Pieces Of Advice
This is not the first time nor will it be the last time that I share my journey with mental illness, but sharing my journey has not always come easy to me. My therapist once asked me why I was SO AFRAID for people to find out about my mental health issues. She said, ‘You are wearing glasses right now. Are you afraid for people to know you have problems with your eyesight?’ The answer to that question is obviously ‘No,’ and I always remind myself of that when I start to question sharing my journey with others.
Mental illness is no different than any other illness in a person’s body. When our stomach hurts, we don’t think twice about telling someone that it hurts and making an appointment with a doctor. However, that is most often not the case when we are hurting mentally and emotionally. This ‘mental health stigma’ needs to go away, and I feel like we are all definitely on the right track as a society. The more people who are willing to share their own journey, the less people will be afraid to speak up and ask for help. If you feel like you need assistance with your mental health struggles, please find someone today you can trust to talk with; a family member, friend, neighbor, teacher, church or school counselor, manager at work, minister at your church or anyone else who you feel would listen to you.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you know personally, there are nonprofits, businesses, clubs, and associations on both local and national levels that have ways to help you. If you don’t know who to reach out to locally, start with the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) which provides guidance to get you started on your healing journey. Your local community centers would be a great place to start as well, and you could possibly make some connections with people, who need support just as much as you do in your hometown.
PLEASE DO NOT STAY SILENT AND FIGHT THIS ALONE. I have been exactly where you are now! I was in so much pain mentally that I would feel like I was suffocating physically at times, and I was so embarrassed and guilt-ridden. I just pray that you are able to find the help you need to be able to enjoy life the way I am now… not every day is perfect, but it is always perfectly imperfect when your mind and body are healthy. We are stronger together!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Heather Sweatman. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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