Disclaimer: This article is about my own personal journey. If you, or someone you know, needs professional help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
When I was a junior in high school, my grandfather passed away. I strongly think that’s when all of my inner battles started. I was so close to him, and I’ve never felt the same. He died from cancer, and while I’m grateful we got more time with him than they originally thought we were going to get, I’m still heartbroken that he didn’t get to see me graduate, buy a car, that he’ll never get to see me get married, or meet his future great-grandkids.
After he passed, I ended up on a downward spiral. I failed out of two AP classes, failed a grading period of another class, skipped school frequently, and shut myself off from my friends and family. The smallest things started giving me panic attacks, and I found myself hyperventilating often. I lost all ambition I had left for school and a future and wanted to quit all of my once favorite activities. I developed depression, anxiety and a mild form of OCD and was put on medication by my doctor that to this day makes me sick to even think about.
That was 6 years ago, and I still battle with mental illness everyday. While my depression has gotten more manageable, my anxiety and OCD are still very much overactive. The small, simple every day factors of life hit me harder than they do other people. I over think and over react to trivial things, because that's what mental illness does to you. Most days I think people are always whispering about me, that they hate my guts and think I’m stupid. I’ve impulsively left two jobs because of it, because I let my illness take over my mind and make me feel physically sick about a situation. I panic about driving - where I’ll need to exit and what lane I need to be in for example - before I even get in my car. I start to get paralyzingly anxious at the end of the workday and have to leave my office at exactly 3:56 to get “ahead” of traffic, or it throws me off and I have a mental breakdown. I get viciously angry at myself if I’m not moving as fast as I need to be to keep up with my inbox at work, and I’ve started crying on multiple occasions if I start to fall behind or make a simple mistake. I have to count the empty file folders on my desk to make sure there’s always an even number. I deeply over analyze everything anyone says to me. Do they hate me because they just bailed on our plans? Are they going to fire me because I did something wrong? Do they still love me? Am I a complete failure? Am I getting fired at the meeting tomorrow? I constantly feel nauseous from my anxiety, and like my heart is going to jump out of my chest because it's beating so strongly. I constantly feel like a failure.
I've definitely had my fair share of tragic life events, and have my fair share of "normal" everyday anxieties. There have been times in the past when something has happened to me where I’ve felt like my world was ending, and I’ve thought about what would happen if I stepped out into traffic, got into a car accident, took one too many Xanax’s, slit my wrists. Would people miss me? Should I write a note? Should I make amends first? While I know I would never act on any of those thoughts, that doesn’t mean I’ve never had suicidal thoughts or entertained them, sometimes more strongly than others. I’ve always struggled with finding ways to cope with my inner issues. I try my hardest every day to not worry about every little thing as much, but it’s easier said than done. I feel like I’m always actively worrying about or dwelling on something. Mental illness is a constant never-ending battle for me.
I’ve learned to consciously be aware of my breathing, to meditate and to talk through my problems out loud to a mirror. Is it really a big issue? Do I need to be thinking about this at 9 am? Do I need to be crying over this? Can I slow down the hyperventilating?
I will probably battle with my mind for the rest of my life, but I don’t have to let it take over my life.
The biggest mistake I ever made was shutting myself off from the world. It’s not easy to reach out for help and admit that you’re drowning and that you’re not okay - especially when you're really good at putting on a strong face so society deems you as 'okay' because you look okay. I know it contributes to why there are so many suicides every year. I'm here to tell you that It’s okay to not be okay. It’s perfectly normal and human to not be okay. Don’t shut yourself off from your family and friends, I promise you they want to talk you down. They want to help you through this. They want to love on you, and support you, and let you vent to them for a week straight when life just sucks. I was terrified to tell people about what I was feeling inside, because I thought they would just laugh at me and tell me to get over it. While, yes, you will encounter those people who don't believe mental illness is a real thing - there are three good people out there for every bad one, who will show you mercy and grace and climb this mountain with you.
I am currently finally on the journey that is therapy, so I'll let you all know how that goes and how it contributes to my healing. Sometimes, you just need to let a professional who has studied the human brain help you. I am so okay saying I need more help in life.
Every journey has it’s challenges. You might fail, and it might happen often. It’s all about baby steps, every small success you make is a triumph. If you can get out of bed, you've already succeeded. Taken care of something on your to-do list? Another success.
Life is hard, unfair, and sometimes just really sucks. Take care of yourself and know that you don’t have to go it alone. Mental illness is very real, don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
In loving memory of Leo Skinner, Jr. I miss you more and more everyday, grandpa!