Blurry young man, unable sleep because of stress problems

When You're Exhausted From Living With a Mental Illness

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My wife and I were talking last night, about… I’m not sure, something, we talk about a lot of things and the topics either get very silly or very serious. Last night was serious night and we talked for a little bit. Then I told her I loved her and hoped that she truly understood just how much I love her and how sincere I was and am when I do so.

Anyway, last night we were talking about our life of various mental health problems (we tend to flock together easily), and how one thing people tend not to realize is just how exhausting it is to have depression. Hell, to have any kind of mental health problem. It’s physically draining to be like this, even if it’s just for some of the time, and it causes other physical symptoms, too. Like I’m having a bad anxiety day, and I slept, but not peacefully, and I know I slept curled in a ball for a lot of the night because my legs ache so much today. My knees aches and my legs are sore, just from one bad night’s sleep brought on by anxiety.

The anxiety was caused by having a strange cat in my house, who did not want to sleep in my porch (he wanted to be outside), and would bang on the door every now and again. Waking me up thinking we’re being attacked or broken into.

This morning my anxiety was so bad I couldn’t move. I was immobilized by my own panic. My wife had to physically sit me up, stand me up and help me walk to the shower, step by slow step. I could move my own legs, I was holding onto my glasses so tightly she had to take them out of my own hands because she thought I was going to break them. If I hadn’t had so much to do today, I would’ve begged her to leave me.

I’ve begged her to leave me before. Actually God damn begged. Desperately asked her not to pull me out of bed, not to get me, not to help me because I can’t stand to face the world outside because the panic is so overwhelming the only part of my body I can move is my damn mouth and I can’t even breathe and just because I am actually breathing doesn’t mean I can breathe. I can’t breathe.

But I had the cat to take to the vet, and a letter that needed to be written at the charity where I volunteer and I was supposed to see the “The Lego Movie” (my niece was too ill to go in the end) and for the first time since I’ve had a panic attack that bad, I beat it. I got up, went into into town, did the stuff I needed to do, and came home, with the anxiety reduced to the low level I tend to live with on most days.

And when I came home and cleaned up the bathroom and made tea and sat down, I started to panic again because I was so freaking tired. I was too tired to play Skyrim (I kept dying) and I went to bed and slept for four hours (despite the cat crying in the bedroom with me).

I’m exhausted. Right now, I’m physically, and even more so, mentally exhausted. I’m writing this because I’ve had tea, and dinner, and I’m on a writer’s roll. I have words, I will get them out, or I will not sleep. And I really need sleep (lie-in tomorrow though).

And that’s just anxiety. Depression, for me, has always been exhaustion but with self-harm and suicidal tendencies thrown into the mix. When I have depressive days (and I get them still), I get sad to the point where I can move again. Or can’t face a five minute walk to the garage for food (even when there is none in the house), because all the energy is gone, even if I slept well, even if I’ve had all the sleep in China (like the tea, but lazier). I think that makes it worse. All that energy, it just gets sucked into the atmosphere and I lie there, unable to move again, though, able to breathe at least.

I used to get anxiety attacks. Like panic attacks but much more physical. Rocking, violent rocking. The self-harm meant blood loss and, well, anaemia and blood loss are pretty tiring in their own way. And the pain, all that pain takes up the energy I tended not to have in the first place because, well I’m depressed, and in pain — and even on the days where I’m so numb I swear even my heart has stopped working — it’s tiring because you spend all your time trying to figure out why the hell you feel (or don’t feel) like this.

Why you?

You spend all your time thinking, overthinking and then thinking some more and only about this. You think and obsess and get no where because sometimes there is no answer (and more often than not, a diagnosis is not an answer) and you are always desperate for understanding and meaning and change. Change. Better. To be better, but it never comes and your brain never stops.

It never stops.

Once, I suffered from some psychosis mixed with my obsessive compulsive disorder. For six months I didn’t step on a line or crack. Not a single one. I had all sorts of rules for what counted as lines and where I had to walk, and I did this for six months. And do you know why? Because I was convinced, without a moment of doubt in my mind, that the devil was sucking up my soul and my “good things” through the pavement every time I stepped on a line or crack. And sometimes that devil was my dad, and sometimes he was red with horns and the reason my bank account was empty so often. I actually should’ve been on antipsychotics or in a hospital at some point during those six months, they were pretty bad (and I don’t talk about it much), but I was working in temp jobs in Warehouses, sweeping, putting boxes together, etc. I was self-harming every day (at work), I was suicidal and trying (and failing) and while I was in therapy, we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere with that or anything else. Because I was convinced it was the devil and that was all there was to it.

And I managed to work, and stay out of hospital and convince my boyfriend at the time (who I lived with) and my family that everything was normal, and I was (mostly) fine and not going freaking “insane” on them. Which is something else that is exhausting.

Trying to be normal.

Either trying to be normal, or pretending to be normal, or even just trying to stay under the radar of normal people. That is exhausting. Trying not to have a panic attack until you’re alone or at home. Cutting and hiding the cuts and scars from everyone, all year round, including the man you live with. Trying to hide the fact that you are walking funny for six months because if you step on the line the devil will have your soul and if you tell anyone, they’ll put your in hospital and the devil will own you. Own you. Just trying to be normal because you don’t want to explain anything, or talk about it because you can’t guarantee a good reaction, or even a non-reaction and you are so, so scared about being laughed at, or picked on even though school’s been over for years and you’re in your 20s, and if you tell people they might put you in hospital and you don’t want to go there, don’t want to go there and you can’t go there because you have to work and pay the bills some how and you still owe the gas company £300 because you were too scared to leave the house for six months and pay the bills and they took you to court and put in a meter and it all went wrong and you’re so, so tired of it all and would really like it all just to go away.

And this is just me, and just some of my stuff. I was tired for 10 years and I didn’t even sleep for most it because I suffered from insomnia from the age of 13 onwards until a few years ago and after a year of full-time and exhausting therapy.

I am still so tired sometimes. For a few years I was napping in the afternoon. Every afternoon. Even when I slept in until noon, I would have to nap around four. I was really worried about going to America last year because I was still napping at the time. Being in the U.S. for those three weeks actually got me out of that habit or need. I manage my days much better now, manage to stay awake all day, most days now, unless they’ve been particularly tough (today) or a I slept really badly (day before). Yes, all these things are terrible, I’ve been suffering since I was roughly 16 and I’m still tired, still suffering a little and still tired.

Still exhausted. But less so. It’s getting better. But, you should know, if your friend with the depression, or the anxiety, or the OCD is tired a lot although they may be sleeping just fine, it doesn’t matter. It’s exhausting being like this. Trust me.

Check out Bread’s blog — Weird and Important — for more.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.  

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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To the Doctor Caring for My Dad, the Man With the Sad Eyes

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Dear doctor,

You don’t know me. We have never met. Tonight, you are taking care of someone very special, my dad. I know to you he’s probably just another patient, another aging, silver-haired man with sad eyes. But, he’s more than that.

This is the man who used to take me to Baskin Robbins for ice cream every Saturday. The man who pushed me and my little brother on the swings and the merry-go-round at Dry Lake Park. The man who read me a story every day when he got home from work, even though I was interrupting him from his newspaper.

He taught me how to make french toast. He never failed to bring me breakfast in bed on my birthday and sometimes just because. He made me hot tea when I was sick. He would crush up my pills in a spoon and mix it with honey to make it easier for me to swallow.

He always called me his buddy and his rainbow after the storm because I was born after two miscarriages. He cried like a baby when I left for college and again when I got married. He does an Incredible Hulk and Arnold Schwarzenegger impression spot on. He dances like James Brown at parties and is always the most interesting man in the room.

If you had met him under different circumstances, then he might have told you how he was born in a refugee camp in Austria during World War II or how he sailed on a big ship to America when he was just a boy. Maybe he would have told you about the time he was drafted to the NFL and had a run-in with the mafia in New York City. Maybe he would have told you about the time he opened his own gym and actually met Arnold himself. He might have even shown you the picture to prove it.

That is the man you see before you. Legendary. Heroic. Of epic proportions.

Don’t be fooled by the hospital gown. Just knowing he’s having a hard time right now is a difficult pill for this daddy’s girl to swallow. So thank you for taking care of him for me since I can’t be there. Please, make sure he knows he can pull through.

We are all rooting for him. We are all rooting for you.

Take care,
His buddy and rainbow after the storm

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My dad and Arnold Schwarzenegger

This post originally appeared on “Following the Fifields on the road less traveled…

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I Was the Parent Who Would Never Medicate My Child, Until I Did

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Before I was a special needs mom, there was a lot more black and white. I was guilty of a lot of opinions, some judgment and more ignorance than I would like to admit.  Before I was a special needs mom, there were a lot of “I would never” proclamations. And one such proclamation was “I would never medicate my child.”

Of course, when I would talk about this, I wasn’t thinking about abstaining from medication needed to treat a disease or illness. I was talking about the other medicating. The medicating that still has a stigma attached to it. The stigma that perpetuates the idea that parents who medicate their kids are lazy or don’t know how to discipline their children. The stigma that has kept me from writing about this decision until now.

Part of me blames that stigma for my bias. Another part of me recognizes that my preconceived notions were based in my own lack of understanding of mental illness. Even after witnessing our son’s inability to sleep, hyperactivity, compulsiveness, anxiety, mania and aggression, we were hesitant and scared to talk to the doctor about medication.

Were we closing doors for him? Were we giving up on therapy? Was there any other way? Would meds change who he was? Could they hurt him? Were we taking the easy way out? Was it healthy to continue on without medicating?

With him only sleeping three hours in a 24-hour period most days, and with his anxiety so high it was affecting his ability to function, we knew we didn’t really have a choice. As his aggressive behaviors spiraled and therapy was so limited, we knew it was the only way to keep everyone safe. And so we chose to medicate.

There is no magic pill. Even after choosing to medicate, he still works so hard to overcome the challenges autism and its accompanying conditions present him. He still has trouble with anxiety and compulsiveness. He still has and progresses in hours of therapy every week. Even after accessing quality therapy, there were still issues therapy could not address. We didn’t give up on therapy. We didn’t give up on him.

Medication did not change him; it helped him. I do not regret the choice and hope he won’t either. And looking back at his pained gaze in moments that his anxiety and senses were assaulting him; looking back at manic episodes that had his blood pressure through the roof; looking back at his absent stare due to another 28 hours of continuous wakefulness; my only regret is not helping him sooner.

He still is an active little boy. But now he can play with his little sister and I don’t fear for their safety when they play. He still jumps and flaps and has an unmatched excitement for life. But now he can go to a new place without shutting down or melting down from fear of the unknown.

We, as parents, would never let a deadly illness or ravaging disease go untreated in our children’s little bodies. Why should mental illness be any different? We owe it to them to not brush childhood and adolescent mental illness under the rug. We owe it to them to be honest that it is real and it can be scary and overwhelming. What does it say to them when we choose to hide certain diagnoses and certain conditions? Doesn’t it tell them we buy into the stigma, too? We owe it to them to show the world mental illness cannot be taboo, we are not ashamed and they shouldn’t be either.

Our society’s inability to talk about mental illness openly is the reason we lack resources. When we choose not to talk about childhood mental illness, we a pull a wool over society’s eyes while families across our country go through hell and search for answers.

I was a parent who would never talk or write about our son’s mental health issues, but now I am because it needs to be said, and it needs to be heard.

Black and white photo of little boy looking up with a tree in the background

Follow this journey on From The Bowels Of Motherhood.

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'Minus the Mental Illness, He Was a Good Guy'

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I attended a class not long ago, and the instructor talked about someone she used to know who had a mental health condition.

“Minus the mental illness, he was a good guy,” she said.

The class when on without a bat of an eye. No challenge, no question. Had she said “minus the [insert another illness], he was a good guy,”  I imagine the reaction would be different.

No one should be blamed for getting sick.

So often, mental health is confused with character. Even an intelligent, articulate, well-educated teacher made this mistake. She was wrong.

Her friend was not a good guy minus the mental illness.

He was just a good guy.

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10 Things I Want My New Therapist to Know During Our First Session

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I’ve been nervous about this for weeks, and I’ve had plenty of time to build up some anxiety over our first session together. Therapy is nerve-wracking for me, and meeting you is a little intimidating. Before we get started, I’d like you to know these 10 things, and I believe you knowing these things will get our session started off on the right foot.

1. I’m not sure I want to be here.

Half of me wants to be, but the other half needed to be forced through your door this morning. I know why I am here, but am not sure it’s worth all of the worry I’m feeling right now. I’m hoping you’ll prove me wrong.

2. I’m kind of freaked out. 

Meeting new people scares me, especially when I’m expected to carry a conversation. I’m freaked out about telling you about myself, but I will remind myself that is the first step in you being able to help me.

3. I want to trust you.

I have reservations about opening up, letting you in and trusting you. But I want you to know I really do want to trust you, so I’m going to try really hard to put those reservations aside.

4. I’m afraid you’ll secretly judge me. 

I know it’s silly to think this because it’s not your job to judge me. But it still sits in the back of my mind as I sit across from you right now. I might need some reassurance from you.

5. I’m pretty anxious right now.

I apologize for my restlessness and fidgeting. New places and new people make me anxious, and I’m not quite sure how to hope with that. Maybe that is something you can help me with.

6. I hope we’ll be a good fit. 

My last therapist and I didn’t mesh well, so our sessions never went well either. I sit here sincerely hoping we get along and achieve our therapy goals together.

7. I’m here because I care about myself.

My thought processes need some assistance, and my mood swings need some attention. I want help with those things because I care about myself and my mental health, and I want you to know I see no shame or weakness in seeking help.

8. I’m going to try really hard.

I’m here to work toward feeling better, and I know that to do that, I need to let go of my anxiety, put aside my reservations and try my hardest to be open and honest with you. I want you to know that during all of our sessions, I’m really going to try at all of those things, because I really want to try and feel better.

9. I’m looking for relief.

I have a heavy weight of stress and emotion on my shoulders, and have a lot I need to get off my chest. I need you to know that one of my goals for our time together is to be relieved of that weight and feel lighter when our sessions end.

10. I’m sort of excited!

I may be anxious and freaked out, but believe it or not, I’m actually excited to get started. I’m excited for this opportunity to talk to you about my problems, and I’m excited you can help me. I look forward to the rest of our session now that I’m feeling a little more comfortable with you.

Since it’s our first session, it’s a little nerve-wracking for me. But I’m confident that as the minutes pass, my anxiety will fade and I’ll become more comfortable with you and more comfortable sharing with you. I’m looking forward to getting to know each other, and I’m looking forward to how good it will feel to bare my soul and let go of my stress. I’m still a little nervous as we sit here together, but you knowing these 10 things makes that nervousness not so severe.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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To Anyone Else Staying Home Today Because It's What's Best for You

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I’m sick today.

I don’t have the flu or a fever or mono like we’ve suspected so many times in my life; it’s not that easy. Sometimes I call it my “depression sickness.” But not always.

Because to most people, having a chronic mental illness isn’t an excuse to be ill. And I hate that.

Because why should it matter if it’s sadness or a virus causing me to feel exhausted, in pain, dizzy, sick to my stomach? Why is the asthma I haven’t had to use my inhaler for in months more legitimate to some people than the emptiness that’s kept me in bed all week?

My family is going to the zoo today. I had to tell my mom I’m not up to going. Again.

I always get anxious thinking she won’t believe me. And I always get sad, because yes, I know what I’m missing out on. I want to see the koalas and the grins of my little brother just as much as you do. But sometimes I just physically and mentally can’t.

I know my weaknesses; I know heat makes me more sick. I know I’ve been sick all my life and I probably always will be. I know sometimes I need to rest and take care of myself. And that can suck.

It sucks when everyone sees you as the lazy hermit who is always shirking responsibility and hiding from social interaction.

But in the end, you know what’s best for you. You know when you need to get out of bed and fight through it. You also know when it will do more harm than good to force yourself.

I’m taking care of myself today.

For those of you who need to do the same, I challenge you to rest unapologetically. I challenge you (along with myself) to stop comparing yourself to friends who aren’t going through the same hell you are, because that doesn’t help anyone. I challenge you to stop making excuses for something you shouldn’t have to make excuses for.

In the words of Twenty-One Pilots, “Our brains are sick, but that’s OK.”

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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