Works in Progress // Maddi

Diagnosed with GAD, depression and OCD, Maddi has endured her share of struggles. Taking three years of her life, a couple of jobs, and even her education, her multiple mental illnesses have not been kind.

Despite these obstacles, this beautiful soul is determined to find understanding, patience and peace with help from her family, friends and emotional support animals. Hoping to be a resource for others struggling and to help her own healing, she has also started an insightful, authentic mental health blog – My Bitter Insanity. Meet Maddi and read her courageous story below!

 

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Name: Maddi

Age: 21

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

I have depression, general anxiety, and OCD, and I feel like they were sort of always around, just manageable. Starting in high school, I remember noticing the undercurrent of depression, and the thoughts that came along with it. There’s a strong history of depression on both sides of my family, and I’ve always expected that I would also have depression. I kept my depression to myself all through high school (except for one instance where I trusted the wrong person), but I didn’t think it was that bad because I could still function well.

After graduating high school, I moved away to university at my dream school and in my dream program. I hated living in residence, but other than that, everything was fine – until my second semester.  Second semester hit and I was really struggling to get out of bed and attend my classes – I ended up failing three courses that semester. For a student who’d mostly gotten A’s through school, it was really weird, and I took it really hard. I moved into my own apartment after that semester and adopted my cat (and then another) and stayed in town to work until my second year started up again. During the summer, I was getting worse. I was struggling to get out of bed, clean the apartment, or go to work. My second year started, and it didn’t get better. I was missing all my classes and my apartment was a mess. I mostly only got up to feed my cats or go to the washroom. Eventually, I ended up calling my mom and telling her I really needed help, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I was officially diagnosed with anxiety and depression a few months later, and OCD a year later.

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

I’ve had a few moments like that, actually. It’s been about three years since my first very serious depressive episode hit, and I’ve consistently pushed myself too hard and crashed, over and over again. The first time I decided to get help, I called my mom and moved home for a few months. The other four times, I was severely suicidal and really scared for myself. I want to get help and get better for my family and my (fur-)babies. I love my family and pets more than it’s even possible to explain, and they’ve all been so helpful and supportive of me my whole life, but especially the last few years. Even when I’m feeling suicidal, the thought of potentially never seeing my family again is terrifying. My cats have been with me through it all, they need and love me, and they’ve been able to get me out of bed to help them before I could ever help myself. Though my dog is a more recent addition, it’s almost impossible not to feel loved by him; he is a ball of pure energy and will always let you know how excited he is to see you.

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

Well, I had another depressive ‘crash’ a couple months ago, so I resigned from my job and I am striving to do everything I can so that I can get healthy and go back to school in a few years. I’m not working at the moment, and I’m working towards getting on disability support. I’m on the waiting list for a few outpatient programs, but I am mostly just waiting for something to happen.

I struggle to leave the house or be in public, even the grocery store is a great effort that takes two to four attempts. I’m trying to help keep up the house and cook, but some days getting off the couch seems impossible. I go through cycles of not being able to sleep or sleeping too much, all feeling fatigued no matter what. (Yesterday I woke up at 3 pm after falling asleep after 8 am.) I also struggle with emotional eating, and I binge eat when I’ve had a particularly anxiety- or depression-ridden day or week.

I’m still working on learning to cope. For now, I mostly rely on family and friends to help get me out of the house a few times per week, but often the day calls for a cuddle or long drive with my dog. I’m grateful that when I’m struggling to find the motivation to get ready or get out, I can call my mom and go over to her house for a few hours, we spent a lot of time playing board games on her deck this summer!

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you?

This is a tough and weird question because mostly I feel like my illnesses have taken things from me. They’ve taken three years of my life, a few jobs, and my schooling. But, after I think about it a little more and make an effort to look at the positives, I hope that it’s taught me to be more compassionate, patient, and understanding. I also hope that I’ve been able to reach out and help or be a resource to some friends of mine who have struggled. Of course, I’m hoping that starting up my blog will also help me reach out and help or be a resource to others who are struggling; one of the things that helped me the most was being able to be around people who were also struggling.

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness?

That it’s worth it. It might not necessarily get better quickly or right away, but there will be moments when you forget about all the bad things – even if just for a moment.

Don’t be ashamed. Your mental health isn’t a personal flaw, you’re just sick and now you have to get better.

Finally, try your *hardest* to be patient. Your life was never going to go according to your year-by-year plan, and a year of your life is only one of over eighty to come.

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you could be featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Maria Elena

With anorexia controlling every curve of her body, Maria would feel suicidal if she didn’t have the perfect weight. Fueled by the constant validation she received from being “skinny,” she eventually discovered that something was wrong.

Reaching out to counselors, family and close friends, she was met with comments that downplayed her pain and even congratulated her figure. Taking matters into her own hands, she decided to save herself with help from her boyfriend and close friends.

On a mission to love her body just the way it is, meet Maria Elena and read her story below.

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Name: Maria Elena

Age: 21

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

Once I hit high school, I noticed I started to gain some weight. Anytime I would sit down, my stomach rolls would sit down at the top of my thighs, making me feel oddly uncomfortable. I felt worthless. I started to analyze the women around me, fawning after the skinny ones and fat shaming the not-so-skinny ones. If I wasn’t the skinniest girl in the room, I would feel suicidal. I kept pushing myself further and further until I could feel each and every bone in my body. 

My fuel wasn’t food, it was comments like, “How is your waist so small? Your figure is perfect! Omg, body goals. How did you lose so much weight? Ahhh you’re so tiny and cute!” That’s how my eating disorder developed. It wasn’t even affecting my every daily life…that’s an understatement. It WAS my everyday life. All I thought about was counting calories and my thinspos. It was my obsession.

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

Sadly, I never got professional help despite my desperate need for it. I talked to two school counselors, two doctors, several online chats / hotlines, quite a few friends, and even my family, but everyone downplayed my issues and sometimes even congratulated my figure. I had to take matters into my own hands. I’m not blaming anyone specifically for what happened; I’m blaming the diet-obsessed society that sees my past behavior as normal and even inspiring. I knew I had to save myself. Obviously, I did have some help along the way. Art, documentaries,  inspiring articles, and the support from my boyfriend and close friends.

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

Every now and then I’ll fall into anorexia nostalgia. It’s like, I’ll miss the attention or validation I got when I had an eating disorder. Or I’ll miss fitting into smaller clothes. I miss being seen as small, fragile, cute. I’ll miss the feeling of having complete control over my life. Honestly, it gets hard sometimes and I don’t think I’d be able to cope if society hasn’t changed as much as it did since I had an eating disorder. I live in a diverse city now and society has become more accepting of all body types. That’s what keeps me sane.

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

Empathy. Sooo much empathy. I can feel energies the moment I walk into a room. I can look at someone’s social media feed or talk to them for a few minutes and my heart will FEEL them. I have a hard time hating even my worst enemies because I know they might be dealing with some sort of pain and I don’t want to make them feel even half of what I once felt. People with mental illness are often portrayed as bullies, but I think it’s made me more considerate towards peoples’ feelings.

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

I know you think the world will end if you gain weight, but that is nothing but a lie. In the future, you won’t be skinny, but guess what? You will love yourself, so much. You will inspire thousands of people with your words. You will live in a huge city and still thrive. You will have someone that loves all of your rolls and curves more than you could even imagine. You will eat the best foods the world has to offer and you’ll enjoy every second of it. And you’ll still be beautiful. 

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below to be featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Lauren

Suffering from GAD at a young age, Lauren went through the tough experience of having to self diagnose at only 14. With doctors who weren’t fully listening to her pain, her anxiety worsened.

Not being able to work for the past two years due to her anxiety, this strong soul refuses to let her mental illness win. Realizing a new love for photography and even starting to create a book, meet Lauren and read her story below.

 

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Name: Lauren

Age: 20

 

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time? 

I have been suffering with GAD from a very young age, however it started to get a lot worse when I turned 14. Depression has grown from this over the past two years. The first day of school in 2011 was when I realised something was very wrong, I felt extremely nauseous and had to be sent home. I then became too afraid to even leave the house, because the thought of going back to the place that made me so uncomfortable just wasn’t something I wanted to experience ever again. This continued for two more weeks until the teachers noticed a pattern in my absence, e.g leaving at the same time every week and not returning for the rest of the week. Eating became impossible because I felt so poorly and my whole routine was jumbled.

 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

After self-diagnosing myself at 14 because none of the doctors I went to would listen, these anxiety flare ups would occur at least once a year but in a very intense way. This meant that I would spend 2-3 months each year fearing to leave the house, avoid experiencing fun events, my appetite would drop again and I’d lose weight, I even missed prom because I couldn’t imagine going when I felt so scared. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. It was only until I turned 18 and left college that I realised I desperately needed help.

I’d recently started a new job, which I was so excited for as I was finally starting a new life. However, shortly after I started, catching the train for 7 minutes became a chore for my brain and body. I would sit in the locker room before a shift trying to calm myself down with deep breathing and sips of water, yes I’d get through it but I would already be winding myself up for the next shift. Eventually, it got so bad that I wouldn’t even leave to go to a shift – I was too scared. Whenever I thought about work, I would have an anxiety attack. I couldn’t even go ten minutes down the road to see my best friend without panicking. This meant I had to leave my new job and seek medical help because I couldn’t physically function anymore. I was then put onto Citalopram and have been on it ever since, as well as FINALLY finding a doctor who listened to me and has helped me for two years now. I’m so thankful.

 

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

I still struggle a lot with my anxiety, especially when it comes to traveling or going to events such as concerts, etc. I look forward to when it’s over, instead of looking forward to it starting and experiencing it. I’ve not worked for two years, because my mental health is too unsteady for me to work comfortably at the moment. Going to town with a close friend, or going out for a meal with family can be a huge task for me as nausea and vomiting is a huge part of my anxiety attacks, so understandably I want to avoid that issue in public!

My weight has taken a huge hit, because I find eating difficult when I experience anxiety so I am now underweight. I struggle to maintain friendships and relationships with guys specifically because of a bad past experience, but I’m working on it! I use meditation as a way to cope, calm myself down and bring myself back to the present. Herbal remedies and essential oils are also something I use occasionally when I need a quick fix before going out. Breathing techniques are an obvious tool, but a good one at that! Another tool I use is a hard one, but an important one and that is making myself go to things, even when I really don’t want to.

 

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

It has benefited my life because I’ve experienced things and done things I never thought I would. For example, I’ve started doing photography again and created a project based on my mental health, which is now going to be a book! If someone told me I would have my own book at the age of 20, I would’ve laughed. I’ve met some incredible people who have inspired me immensely with their stories and have also become very good friends! It’s helped me learn what I do and don’t want in life, what friends to keep and who to move on from.

It’s given me the knowledge and strength it takes to get through life, as well as being able to help others which is something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s given me so much I can’t even list it all!

 

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

Just keep going. Simple, but powerful. It’s so easy to just give up and believe that things will never get better, but if we choose to believe this then that will be our biggest downfall! We won’t ever get better if we give up and give in to these illnesses. Even when you’re at your lowest, just remember what you’ve done and what you’re working towards. Who you’re doing this for and why. You can do this, because you’ve gotten this far and that hasn’t been easy. 

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below (or send me an email!) and you might be featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Kimberly

Struggling with depression since she was just 12 years old, Kimberly quit her job of 13 years in a major episode of mania. It wasn’t until she spent time both in jail and a mental institution that the time had come to get help.

Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I, Kimberly has learned that sometimes family can be the company of close friends. Refusing to let the lack of family support stop her recovery, this brave woman inspires others through her work. Writing a novel entitled It’s My Life and I’ll Cry If I Want Too: The Diary of a Bipolar Woman. read Kimberly’s journey below. 

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Name: Kimberly

Age: 50

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

My life was pretty up and down before I experienced mental health symptoms. I had a lot of mood swings and what I now know of manic behavior. However, I did manage to graduate from high school and I obtained a good job with the federal government as a civil service employee. I am a 50 year old African American woman and I have lived in San Diego, California most of my life. I experienced a lot of depression from the time I was 12 years old. I experienced mania that made me impulsive and sometimes reckless with my behavior. I quit my job of 13 years in a bout of mania and tried to take my life or self-harm on several occasions. I divorced twice and my life was in a state of chaos. When I finally went to the doctor, I was 28 years old. Initially, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and two years later, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I. 

 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

I was quite happy to get the diagnoses, but I was confused and didn’t know what to expect in my life going forward. I took my medication as prescribed and managed to live for a few years symptom free. It took me many years to find my acceptance. It wasn’t until I spent five months in jail and one month in a state mental institution did I begin to accept my illness. However, in an intensive outpatient behavioral health program, I learned that I could find peace and a sense of normalcy in my life.

 

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

Recovery today is beautiful. I live a lifestyle that embraces recovery. I practice coping skills everyday through lots of things. I like to read and write and I use a lot of pet therapy with my two year old puppy Emma. I practice good eating and sleeping habits and I am an author today. Initially, my family was afraid of me and did not want anything to do with me because of my challenges. Fortunately, I had some good friends that only wanted to know how they could help. I embraced them and found a good support group.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

One piece of advice that I’d give myself today would be not to allow a lack of family support to stop me. I learned the hard way that help and support is available in many forms. There are helplines, Outpatient Programs, support groups, doctors and nurses who have all helped me in my journey in one way or another.

It’s hard still for my community to accept a mental health diagnoses. Some of them don’t believe that it is legitimate. Most believe that I just need more of God and that he can heal me if I wanted him to. Despite this, I have worked diligently to educate my peers though community work. I currently speak for NAMI’s In Our Own Voice program and I am a recent author. The name of my book is It’s My Life and I’ll Cry If I Want Too: The Diary of a Bipolar Woman. I hope to inspire others to tell their stories and not to be ashamed of some of the things that come along with mental illness.

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you may be featured on the blog!

Works in Progress // Michael

Experiencing a panic attack for the first time back in 2007, Michael didn’t make the decision to get help until 2012. Living alone with his anxiety for five years, he welcomed this new chapter of life.

Recovering from anxiety, depression and agoraphobia, Michael has come out on the other side a kinder, more understanding, and stronger human being. Read Michael’s full story below.

 

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Name: Michael

Age: 26

 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

In 2007, I experienced a panic attack for the first time. It wasn’t until 2012 that I decided I needed professional help. My decision to leave it for five years and to live alone with it, was one of my biggest mistakes during my battle. The first few years, I would have panic attacks and be able to get on with my day as normal, it wasn’t stopping me from traveling, working, having a social life. It was always with me but didn’t have a hold over me. In 2012, I went through a bad break up – this is when my anxiety went from 60% to 110%. This was the stage I first started to experience depression, even though the relationship was very negative and a big cause of most of my anxiety.

It was the first time I felt alone with my anxiety, even though I never told the person I was in a relationship with. I always just felt safe having her by my side. So now, I am alone, anxious, and depressed. I decided this was the time I really need to sort my life out and number one on my list was professional help for my mental illnesses.

 

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

Anxiety is now apart of my day to day life. From the moment I wake up, it’s on my mind until the moment I go to sleep. On bad days it keeps me up. My anxiety over took everything at one point – I moved back home with my parents, left my job, slowly distanced myself from all my friends and I went through a stage of about six months where I didn’t even leave my home. My anxiety and depression now had agoraphobia to add to my mental illnesses.

My life felt like it was done. I was very suicidal. So many suicidal thoughts, but I never really had the intention to follow through. I was at the point where I was so afraid of dying I stopped living. Help wasn’t coming to find me, so I found out you could have therapy session via Skype. My therapist was the first person that made me believe there was a way out. After an hour session I actually had hope. The first thing we worked on was my anxiety – how to cope with a panic attack. I was told to accept the panic attack, reassure myself I will be fine, like the other times and let it pass. Such a simple coping method, but for me so effective. Taking my phone out and playing a game is a coping method I still use now. Distracting my mind during an attack is the most effective way to stop me sitting and overthinking and making it a full blown attack.

I have social anxiety and healthy anxiety. The health anxiety always becomes effective during an attack. I always fear a heart attack, so I use a app called Calm and do some breathing techniques to bring my heart rate back down. My agoraphobia is something I’m still working on, but I have a few methods. I used to drink alcohol just to get me out the house, but this was helping my anxiety for that afternoon. The next day, my anxiety was 100x worse, so I stopped that.

My agoraphobia recovery is simple – I have to face it. It started out with a three minute walk to the end of my street – small steps nothing crazy. Some days I would turn back after 20 seconds. Walking with someone makes it easier for me, walking my dog or having my headphones in. All of these mental illnesses are still in my life, but I don’t fight them anymore. I accept them and let them pass. I face them, the more I meet them, the weaker they are become.

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

It has made me kinder, more understanding, and more grateful for my life. It has helped me become closer with my family and I have made some new amazing friends that understand and support me.

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness?

Talk about it. Get help as soon as possible. Don’t be ashamed that you have a mental illness and don’t be so hard on yourself – you didn’t choose this.

The dark hole you are in now is possible to get out of. I have seen and heard many people doing it and I am half way out myself. 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below to be featured on the blog!

Works in Progress // Dani

Initially misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder and OCD, Dani was struggling at school and other aspects of life. Finally officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder and GAD, she was prone to rash, impulsive decisions such as walking out of class and quitting college entirely.

It wasn’t until January of this year that she took the leap and sought therapy. Grateful for her growth, read Dani’s story of fueling her space and dealing with her mental health.

 

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Name: Dani Pope

Age: 28

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

I was initially misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder and OCD. After, further assessments, I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I was aware of something going on at an early age; certain behaviors, emotions and actions just became “normal” to me for so long and I felt as if I was sinking into a dark hole and losing grip of myself. I would make such impulsive decisions, I was in my last year of undergrad and I literally walked out in the middle of class, stormed down to the admissions office and withdrew myself from college. I quit school.

I was feeling on top of the world and like ‘PFFT. I don’t need this. Fuck school.’ Now, I am actively pursuing my Master’s of Science degree in Nutrition and Integrative Health with a concentration in Human Clinical Nutrition. The taste of impulse is still there, but I check in with myself multiple times throughout the day. By the way, that was just one of the many rash decisions I’ve made in my life. I am committed to a healthier and happier me.

 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

My wife and I were living in Moab, UT when I began experiencing severe anxiety and ongoing depression. I’ve lived with anxiety and depression throughout my entire life, but I reached my breaking point with the daily suffocation of anxious thoughts, major depressive episodes and draining emotional outbursts. January of this year is when I decided that it was time to seek professional help. I’m not going to lie, I was scared shitless at first, but I needed to do this for myself.

 

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?  

My life will never be the same. Not in a negative way, but in a rejuvenated and enlightened type of way. I have a deeper appreciation for the smallest of things. I take joy in things I easily took for granted before. Every day isn’t perfect, but I am grateful for my growth.  

 

I am more patient with myself, my mental health condition and my healing journey.

I am more aware in dealing with depressive and hypomanic episodes.

If I am feeling a lack of energy or in a low mood, I will not force myself to interact or be a part of activities, conversations, events. etc. for the sake of others. My mental health comes first, no matter what. 

 I am opening myself up to real and raw conversations to those around me. I am working on expressing myself in a healthy manner, without closing up or painfully pretending. 

 

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you?  

Living with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder has benefited my life in a number of ways. I now have an entirely renewed perspective on life and living. Some days, I’ll just want to stay in bed. Some days, I won’t have the energy to take our dog out, shower, put away the dishes or wash my hair, and that’s okay. Every day won’t be a walk in the park and some days will bring their own set of challenges, but I am strong as hell and I know that I am able to push through those low times.

Living with multiple mental illnesses has forced me to take better care of my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. I feel as though I am a part of something bigger than myself and my voice is needed to help fight the stigma against mental illness. I’ve gained a sense of confidence in my friendships, relationships and taking time for things that positively fill and fuel my space.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness?  

It may seem impossible right now and the days may seem so dark, but you will not fail. This struggle will only make you stronger and build you into the imperfect perfect person you are meant to be.

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you may be featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Andy

Diagnosed with anxiety, depression and borderline personality disorder, Andy was growing more and more distant from his wife and daughter. Believing he wasn’t worthy of their love, he turned to meaningless online relationships. When his wife confronted him, he hit rock bottom.

Not wanting to hide his pain anymore, Andy reached out for help. Gaining a deeper understanding and patience within himself, he has a newfound purpose to help others not go through the same mistakes. An honest, authentic man dealing with the demons in his mind, meet Andy.

 

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Name: Andy Wagner

Age: 41

 

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

I have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder. I also believe I suffer from PTSD due to my experiences in the Navy, but that’s undiagnosed. I was growing distant from my wife and daughter. I started isolating myself at work. Even though I have a wife and daughter who love me very much, I began looking for meaningless relationships online. I didn’t believe I deserved their love. I didn’t believe I deserved anyone’s love. I was doing my best to shut everyone out.

  

 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

I call it my bottom. I hit my bottom when my wife confronted me about an online relationship. Of course, I was guilty as sin, but I did my best to make her feel like the bad guy. She refused to budge. She held her ground. I was in the Navy at the time, so I couldn’t just call in sick. I eventually made it in, and my Department Head asked me if I was OK. I said no, I wasn’t. He then asked if I might harm myself and/or others. I knew I just had to say no, fake it a little, and I would be off the hook. He would leave me alone. Instead, I replied, “You know, I’m not sure.” That was the moment I decided to stop lying to myself and others. That short statement was my scream for help. I didn’t want to lie anymore. I didn’t want to hide my pain anymore. I was so tired, both emotionally and physically. I just wanted to be OK.

 

 

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

Communication. Communication is key to coping with the demons in my head. I’ve learned that it’s OK not to be OK. Instead of putting on a brave face, sucking it up, and hiding my struggle, I deal with it in the open. It’s allowed me to discover who I can really rely on in these situations, which is a lot more people than I thought. It amazes me that all of us who struggle with anxiety/depression think we’re alone. We’re not. There are so many others who face the same struggles. Most importantly, I’ve learned that when I’m having a bad day, I reach out instead of internalizing. I’ve found that I have so many friends who understand and share my struggles that I never knew were there before. Just being open about how I feel has been liberating for me.

 

 

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

It has given me a better understanding and a whole lot of patience toward others who fight the same battle I do. It has given me a desire to help people not go through the same things I did. I don’t want others to feel the same pain or suffer the way I did. It’s also brought me closer to my family. Understanding what is going on in my head has led to a lot fewer fights. I’ve been able to acknowledge what I’m thinking and feeling, express it, and therefore deal with it in a healthier manner.

 

 

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

It’s OK to talk to someone. It’s OK to reach out for help. It’s OK not to be OK. You don’t have to be happy all the time. It’s OK to have a bad day. More people understand and share what you’re going through than you realize.

 

 

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below to potentially be featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Sanya

***** Trigger warning: sexual assault*****

Since she was just 11 years old, Sanya has been combatting suicidal thoughts. Moving from the U.S. to India at a young age, she was forced to adapt to countless changes. Suffering through anxiety with school, depression and sexual assault, Sanya eventually made the decision to focus on her mental health.

Diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, she still has her low days. The difference is, she now has the tools to save herself when slipping. Raising her voice and sharing an important story of strength within the mental health community online, meet Sanya.

 

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Name: Sanya Singh

Age: 25

 

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time? 

The first time I thought of committing suicide was when I was 11 years old. My parents had moved us from the US to India and the cultural shock was too much for me to handle. I was bullied in school, I didn’t know the local language and basically everything sucked. While going through puberty I had a lot of angst, I started self-harming and even attempted taking my life multiple times. I thought all this was normal teenage angst. I didn’t realize that this was not the norm. I struggled with body image issues throughout high school, more bullying, erratic relationships and a mess of other things.

I thought going away to college would solve all my problems. I enrolled myself into Boston University. The first semester there, I tried drinking away my sadness. I felt isolated, misunderstood and like my soul was being sucked out of me. Second semester I tried taking several pills, I tell everyone that I stopped because my mom called me but in reality I called her. I didn’t want to die, but I also did? The summer after my second semester I went to a psychiatrist – he diagnosed me with depression and anxiety. I didn’t like him at all, I was defiant and found him to be callous and kind of smug, but I went. They wanted me to start medications but I was resistant, I would skip doses and eventually stopped taking it completely. I went back for a third semester, thinking maybe things would be okay. But they were not.

I started smoking pot everyday. My grades were slipping and I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly. Winter 2011 I went back home and had a major breakdown when it was time to head back to Boston. I think that was finally when my parents realized I needed more help. So I withdrew from college, started going for therapy and Reiki healing. I started feeling better, but I still had a lot of emotions I couldn’t deal with. Therapy helped, but when I started college in Delhi, I stopped therapy. I convinced everyone I was okay, I didn’t feel like my soul was being sucked out, so I must be better. I still had intense mood swings and anxiety attacks but I thought those were just normal now.

Three years of college, with a lot of ups and downs, more self-harm, but all this was kept a secret – to everyone else I was better. I didn’t need medication or therapy anymore, I was over my depression. After I graduated, I took a gap year and was working at an organization and out of nowhere all those thoughts came back.

“I hate this job, maybe I should hurt myself so I can quit. Maybe I should die so I don’t have to deal with this? I am worthless, I am useless.”

I spent hours crying on the bathroom floor wondering “Why am I like this?” I told my parents and they kinda freaked out, but were far more supportive. So I met a new psychiatrist who I loved, and he referred me to a therapist who changed my life. She did a bunch of tests and diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. I loved working with her, she didn’t put up with any of my bullshit. I worked through a lot of issues with her, including some trauma I had faced as a child. I had been sexually abused by my grandfather on visits to India when I was younger. And when my family moved back to India, I had to see him and pretend nothing happened. That was one of the major issues I always struggled with, and even then I didn’t come to peace with it. I spoke to her about my past relationships, one of which was emotionally abusive. I told her about all the issues I had with my body and self-worth.

For a few months I worked on therapy, I was doing well in general. So I decided, “Hey let me apply to grad school!” I did, and got into University of Chicago, which was so unexpected. I was ecstatic, I thought “YAY! I am gonna go to Chicago, it’s gonna be awesome cause I am well now.” I got here, and I thought things would be good. But two months in, I started feeling isolated again. I stopped taking medication, again. I stopped therapy, again. I met this guy, and we were in a “non-relationship,” but I would spend all my time with him. And he would drink and smoke pot a lot, so I would drink and smoke pot a lot. By a lot, I mean five to six times a week. Sometimes, even every single day. I wasn’t eating well; I wasn’t sleeping well.

I went to visit my parents in Malta for Spring break and I had to spend the week sober. I also got news that I had failed a class that week. When I got back to Chicago after that week, I broke down. I spent hours crying and called my uncle and told him I need help. I got to Naperville on Wednesday night and Thursday morning I admitted myself into an In-Patient program. During program, I told myself, listen to what they say, do what they say, tell them what they want to hear. I started medication again and went back to campus. Two weeks in, I still hadn’t made any appointments for therapy, I was taking my medication but wasn’t eating. I was sleeping 14 hours a day. I wasn’t bathing or taking care of myself. I had a presentation in class which I broke down during and I knew I was not ready. I went back to Naperville, and then admitted myself into a Partial-Hospitalization Program. I took a leave of absence and decided that I had to focus only on my mental health.  

 

 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

I was in class, trying to give a presentation on material I knew, but I was so tongue-tied and anxious that the professor told me to stop talking. That day I knew I had to do something. I didn’t want to suffer my whole life. I wanted to do so much to help so many people, my goal is to become a teacher and I can’t do that if I am not well. I decided I needed to get my shit together.

 

 

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

The last few months after getting discharged from the program have been relatively easy because I have been spending time with my family. I still have days when I get extremely anxious. I still have days when I worry I won’t be okay or that I am not good enough. There are days when my thoughts overwhelm me and I lay in bed wondering if everything I am doing is wrong. I have my sob-fests. But now, I know what to tell myself, I know that I have to use positive self-talk, that I have to be self-compassionate. I know that I should just ride the wave and let the emotions flow. I’ve been reading a lot about DBT and I have been practicing my skills and they actually help! I never thought they would but they do! I am going back to school in a few weeks, and I know a lot of stressors are going to come my way. But I feel like I have an arsenal ready for all the stuff that life can throw at me. And I know what I have to do if I feel myself slipping. I am also getting a cat, so yay! 

 

  

 

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

I think that it has given me the ability to empathize with people. I feel like when you struggle so much in life, you have a little bit of an understanding of other’s struggles. I also know that it has given me strength, if I can survive all the shit I have done to myself, I can survive anything. It has also helped me figure out what I want to do with my life, I feel like I could really use my experiences to help adolescents with their struggles and plan to pursue a career in guidance counseling.

I also think that it has given me a new voice. For a long time, I was silent about my struggles, but recently I have started speaking out through Instagram. The mental health community on Instagram has been so supportive and kind. We all cheer each other on and it is so beautiful to see. Mental illnesses can be so isolating, it is important to see that you are not alone. 

 

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

Do not give up. Things actually can get better.

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below to be potentially featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Sarah

Growing up in a family with mental illness, Sarah was no stranger to suffering. Living with anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia since she was just four years old, she didn’t reach out and get help until the intense hypomania of her undiagnosed bipolar disorder took a dark turn. 

Trading in her straight-A student role for an out of control musician, this creative soul eventually realized that medication would save her life. Not just surviving, Sarah is thriving through bipolar disorder. Writing music around mental health, performing at high schools to educate teens, and even practicing aerial yoga, these fantastic forms of self care have kept her going, while helping others heal as well.

 

Meet Sarah. 

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Name: Sarah Jickling

Age: 26

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

I’ve had anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia for as long as I can remember. I come from a family with mental illness on both sides, and I grew up watching grown ups struggle, panic, and lose control, so I thought my experiences were just par for the course. When I was four, I slept with a fisher price knife under my pillow because I was scared someone would crawl through my window. When I was eight, my parents gave up trying to find a way to help me sleep after exhausting all their resources. When I was fourteen, I had one of my panic attacks, the one where suddenly everything is in slow motion and I forget basic motor skills, during a french class and failed a test for the first time. No one seemed to think any of this was out of the ordinary, and I never went to the school counsellor because none of the teachers even knew my name. I was too quiet.

But the quiet was about to end. In my late teens and early twenties, I went from a shy straight A student with an artistic side to a university-drop out musician who drank wine on the bus and had screaming matches in the streets. I felt completely out of control. One day I would feel excited, and feel sure that I was in the right place at the right time and it was only a matter of time before I would be opening for Feist on the big stage at a festival, and then I would wake up a few days later feeling heavy, feeling empty, and for the first time, suicidal. I would go to band practice and lie on the floor in tears. Everyone realized something was happening before I did. My behaviour pushed away my best friend, every boyfriend I had, my bandmates, and my roommates. People begged me to get help. People told me that I was broken and I needed to be fixed or no one would ever want anything to do with me. This was bipolar disorder, a new beast that was harder to ignore than anxiety and panic attacks. 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

The thing about bipolar disorder is that it can seem like so many different illnesses depending on when you go to the doctor. The first time I decided to get help was when my best friend told me she wouldn’t be my friend unless I went on medication. I went to my family doctor who promptly diagnosed me with depression and put me on a waitlist to see a psychiatrist. But of course, soon I felt better, I felt like I didn’t need a doctor and I couldn’t imagine why I thought I ever did, and I would cancel the appointment. The second time I went to the doctor, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2. I rejected this diagnosis because I knew I was “crazy,” and I really didn’t want my ex-boyfriend to be right. Bipolar was something people had been teasing me about for quite some time.

The third time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I found myself at the hospital on boxing day, a week after my soulmate told me he couldn’t watch me suffer anymore. The doctor spent some time tracking my moods and finally asked me if I had ever “heard of bipolar disorder before,” worried she would scare me away with that big word. By that time, I had done enough research and read enough books to know that I had bipolar disorder. I accepted the diagnosis without a second thought. The doctor said that treating the bipolar might take away my ability to write songs, and that a lot of people miss the creativity of hypomania when they go on medication. I didn’t care about being a musician anymore. I didn’t care about anything but getting better.

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

It’s true that medication changes the creative process for people with bipolar disorder. Before my recovery, I would black out and wake up with a song. It was the only easy thing in my life. But bipolar doesn’t provide me with my creativity. Hypomania provides artists with a chance to write without our inner critic. I’m now learning to write songs thoughtfully, with extreme focus. It’s harder, but not impossible. 

My medication has completely stabilized me, but it does have it’s unfortunate side effects. I sleep a lot. I am constantly dehydrated. I can’t drink alcohol anymore. And of course, the unexplained ecstasy of hypomania is gone from my life forever.  But I can have a steady job, a real relationship and a working memory, so I think it’s worth it. My life is still all about coping with bipolar, anxiety and panic attacks though. I exercise every single day, I take mindfulness classes, I go to DBT groups, I see my therapist and my psychiatrist often. I put my mental health before any job or other responsibility. I think back to a time not so long ago when I was overdosing, praying I would never wake up, and I remember that vigilant self care is the only thing that has kept me from returning to those life or death situations. 

I also write music about my mental illness and share them with others. I’m lucky to have an outlet, and I’ve found a community of artists also dealing with mental illness who help inspire me to keep going.

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

Living with anxiety has forced me to learn how to rationally face my fears. When your fears are every where, you can’t help but bump into them at every turn. Now I feel as though I can do almost anything, whether that be travel to a different country or play on a stage to thousands of people. Learning to treat my anxiety has introduced me to all sorts of fantastic coping mechanisms… from mindfulness to aerial yoga to pole dancing! 

Living with bipolar disorder, on the other hand, has given me an ability to help other people. I have learned to live with a severe mental illness and now I get to help others, whether that’s through releasing my new album “When I Get Better,” or performing at high schools with the BC Schizophrenia Society’s musical/educational show “Reach Out Psychosis.” It’s also a great way to weed out fickle friends. If you have friends who will stick with you through bipolar treatment, you have very good friends.

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

You are worth loving, even with your mental illnesses. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be forgotten immediately. 

 

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you may be featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Beata

Misdiagnosed with depression, Beata heard the words “bipolar disorder” for the first time in 2008. Finally given a name to her struggle in her thirties, she’s thrived on a detailed plan for mental strength and wellness.

Building a blog, Tickle My Mind, that shares her own journey – as well as the stories of others – Beata preaches a message of self care, support, and sustaining your goals.

 

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Name: Beata English (pronounced Bee-ah-ta)

Age: 44

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time? 

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008 and recently diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).  My first symptoms reared up in my teens. I spent a lot of time in my teens and early 20’s living the party life and living life on an emotional roller coaster. 

In 2008, I heard the word “bipolar disorder” for the very first time. I never felt more alone than I did in that moment sitting in my car outside my doctor’s surgery, looking down at my prescriptions with names I couldn’t pronounce, to treat an illness I had only ever heard bad things about. When the word bipolar was first mentioned to me as an illness, I immediately froze. I did not know anyone who had bipolar and my only experiences with the term had come from overly exaggerated and stigmatizing representations. In that moment I immediately rejected my diagnosis. I didn’t feel comfortable with it. 

I didn’t get properly diagnosed until I was in my thirties. I think I was late in getting diagnosed for a number of different reasons. My psychiatrist and doctor always refer to me being ‘high functioning’. Throughout my journey from undiagnosed teenager to diagnosed in my thirties, my mental health affected almost every area of my life. Education, career, my self-image. 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?-

I was first misdiagnosed with depression only. I was prescribed anti-depressants to treat it and ended up suffering a severe manic episode. In most cases, prescribing anti-depressants only to a person who has bipolar disorder can trigger a manic episode. That was the moment the doctor realized it was more than only depression. Honestly, I did not know what it meant – but I learned pretty quickly. It meant I was very sick, that I was self-medicating an illness I had no idea I had, and that unless I sought and accepted treatment, my life would not be as happy and productive as I had planned or dreamed it would be.

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

Yes I still experience episodes, but these full-blown episodes are now very rare.  

I have created a mental wellness plan that helps keeps me stable and well. I’m constantly learning more about myself and my illness, and any new research – my plan is a living document that can be improved and refined when needed. 

My wellness plan did not get created overnight. It was a process of trial and error over a period of time. To be honest, it’s still a work in progress. Some of the things my plan includes is taking my medication as prescribed every day, visits to the GP, healthy eating, exercise, meditation, tracking and monitoring my triggers and mood, no alcohol or illegal drugs, a strict sleep routine, practicing self-care, gratitude and journaling. 

Positive psychology has also played a big part in my wellness strategy. Scientific research has shown that there are strategies and skills that allow you to navigate the challenges of life more effectively and enjoy life despite the upsets.  It may seem like a lot of hard work, and it is – but it does get easier. I have been diagnosed with a chronic illness and like any chronic illness, there are a number of lifestyle changes that need to be incorporated into your daily life. 

Another important thing that I need to mention – you can’t do this on your own. You need to reach out for help. Your friends, family, GP, mental health organizations – they are all there to support you. With the right combination of lifestyle changes, and medication, I have been able to manage my illness successfully. 

Preventing a relapse requires motivation, a commitment to your own health, discipline, structure, courage, and more importantly a belief that you can get better. Make yourself a priority.  Every battle with a mental illness is different, my message is, be patient. There will be setbacks, sometimes big ones, and possible relapses, but there will also be moments that take your breath away for all the right reasons. My motto is to hold on. It took me a while to learn this and that’s okay. Everyone is on their own journey moving at their own pace. Everyone will have their own ways of coping and their own ways of dealing with their illness – but please don’t be afraid to seek help, or to talk about how you feel.

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

I created Tickle My Mind, which is a place for me to write about my journey with mental illness and a place to empower as many people who have been touched by mental illness to live a healthy, happy, rewarding and balanced life. I am currently writing my first book, part memoir, part mental wellness guide and I’m studying a Diploma of Positive Psychology. I am also a Community Ambassador for RUOK? Day. 

I now find happiness in writing, a pastime I never thought I would be doing. I love spending time writing and promoting mental health awareness. Tickle My Mind is a place I share stories, lessons and tools that helped me to succeed, become well and to continue to stay well. Now, I advocate mental health wellness and I hope the things that I have to share will help someone else – somewhere along their journey. One thing I know for sure – it truly is possible to live a happy, meaningful and productive life despite what it throws in our path.

Without my mental illness, I doubt I would have become the strong, determined person I am today. I have learned to be non-judgmental and I have developed a strong burning desire to help others. I met my husband and soulmate, who is the single most joyful and important thing in my life.

Would I feel so deeply? Would I make the most of every happy day and squeeze as much into them as possible, the way I do now? Would I have created Tickle My Mind and studied Positive Psychology, which means the world to me without the experiences I have had to inspire me?  Would I have learned who my true friends and family are, those who have stood by me no matter what and who make my life so blessed and fulfilled? Would I be the person I am today, who I am so proud to be, without all of those experiences and without my bipolar disorder? I don’t believe any of those things would have happened without my illness. I don’t believe that I would be the person I am today, without what I have been through.  

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

I want to be honest, and say that managing bipolar disorder isn’t easy.  At times you may feel defeated, find yourself discouraged, and want to stop treatment. Every time I feel that way, I need to remind my that my brain isn’t functioning properly. I don’t resent having bipolar disorder, it’s part of the person I have become. I made sure that I continued to reach out to my friends and loved ones for support. 

Looking after myself or self-care, is important in helping me stay at the top of my physical, emotional and mental well-being. When things are getting a bit tough, it becomes so important for me to take good care of myself.  Whether it’s a stressful period at work or home, taking time to focus on self-care is essential to my well-being. Self-care helps me function at a higher level, and feeling good enables me to take on life’s challenges.

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you could be featured on the blog!