The Tattoo on My Foot That Helps Me Face Anxiety and Depression
If you ask anyone who knows me to tell you about me, they will tell you I am outgoing with a consistently bubbly demeanor. They might tell you I have a ridiculous amount of energy. I hope they would tell you I was kind, compassionate and friendly. But there is one thing they won’t tell you — because there is something they don’t know.
I have a secret, and one Friday last summer, that secret almost killed me.
It was just like any other day. I woke up. Got ready for work. Spent the morning in the office. Then came home. What made this day, Friday, June 17, different, though, is I had planned for it to be my last.
Instead, it was the day my best friend saved my life and I found myself in the psychiatric unit of my local hospital. It was scary. It was confusing. And it was hard. But it was also eye-opening, incredible and necessary.
For years, I have been wrestling with anxiety and depression. Begging for them to leave me alone, praying they would stop ruining my relationships and wishing desperately I were wired differently. I was 16 when I was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression; it wasn’t until I was 20 that an incredible psychiatrist suggested these anxious and depressive thoughts may be manifestations of ADHD.
ADHD, anxiety and depression are teammates, and I am their opponent. Anxiety makes me insecure and irrational; anxiety makes me so sensitive to the world around me that some days I just can’t bear the weight. Depression whispers you can’t do this, you deserve this pain, and you’re worthless. Having a brain with ADHD is like driving a car with no breaks; my thoughts move so quickly that sometimes I can’t keep up with them. When anxiety and depression sought refuge in me, ADHD stopped me from kicking them out. And I refused to reach out and ask for help.
I waited until my life was in jeopardy to reach out. I was afraid someone would think I was being dramatic. Seeking attention. Weak. So I kept it all a secret.
And that is what we do. We keep mental illness a secret. All because of the shame and stigma we attach to it. It’s tough enough to have any kind of mental illness, but the shame and stigma we feel can be overwhelming. It’s what stops people from reaching out. It stopped me.
But then I found myself in Grand River Hospital’s inpatient mental health program. I met psychiatrists, nurses and social workers, and patients of all different ages each with their own unique struggles. And it was one phrase, uttered briefly by one social worker that inspired a tattoo I wear proudly on my right foot.
“You aren’t here because you couldn’t handle the storm; you are here because you didn’t have an umbrella, so let’s get you an umbrella.”
I dedicated my time in the hospital to getting myself an umbrella, doing anything and everything I could to help me bear the storm that can be mental illness. I started taking medication; I started cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy. And I recognized I have friends and family who love me unconditionally; my friends and family patiently and relentlessly remind me that despite my flaws, I am worth loving. My friends and family will weather the storms with me and be my umbrella when I forget mine.
Living with a mental illness is hard; sometimes it feels like a never-ending thunderstorm. Every time I feel as if the ground beneath my feet is falling out from underneath me, and it happens far more often than I’d like to admit, I look down and I see my umbrella tattoo and I am reminded I can handle the storm.
I am reminded I am on medications. I am reminded I have been taught CBT and DBT, and in times of crisis, there is no shame in taking deep breaths or running cold water over my wrists. And finally I am reminded I can reach out to my loved ones and I will be met with love and support, rather than shame or judgment.
It is liberating to accept that I won’t be able to cope with ADHD, anxiety and depression alone, but it is even more liberating to realize I don’t have to.
Please don’t ever let shame or stigma stop you from reaching out because you can handle any storm with an umbrella.
The girl with the umbrella tattoo
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