How I Discovered I Have a Mental Illness
I didn’t know I was mentally ill. I just thought I was a bad person.
I met my husband when I was 18 years old. He proposed to me on my 19th birthday. We married in June. I gave birth to my first son a few weeks after I turned 20.
Then began hell.
House cleaning issues to the point of (among other things) hoarding. I thought I was a lazy, poor housekeeper.
Personal hygiene issues of which I am still too embarrassed to really tell anyone about in detail. I thought I was a gross, unclean person.
Rage (including blackouts). I thought I was evil.
Internal “hallucinations,” mainly what I call “demons scratching” inside of my body, and talking like an ocean – like the Legion mentioned in the New Testament. I thought I was possessed.
Disassociation including multiple personality creation (although I consider that a functional rather than a dysfunctional aspect.) I thought I was “crazy.”
Catastrophic levels of brutal self-talk. I thought I was supposed to condemn myself for what I’d become.
Manic and depressive episodes. Each lasted for a few days; I “swung” like clockwork. But when I was manic I couldn’t remember the depressive and when I was depressive I couldn’t remember the manic. I thought life had “always” been like the episode I was in. The only way I eventually figured it out was reading my journal and reading the lives of two different people.
Anxiety, which is not “nervousness” (just as depression isn’t sadness) but includes a whole bunch of lies broadcasted to you about choice-making and some compulsion about what actions you can and cannot take or absolutely must take (like counting to a certain number before doing something else, etc). I thought I just needed to improve my confidence. I thought I could just talk myself out of it.
Fatigue and “crashing” (by early in the day). The inability of my body to move, and I mean that in the most literal sense. I remember when I was pregnant with baby number four (six years into the marriage), I sat in my chair all day long and thought about what I wanted and needed to do, but I could not get up. I thought I was a failure and a horrible mother.
“My heart hurts,” I would say a lot. The emotional heart pain was constant and endless and seemed to be through all my bones — “bleeding” and “crying.” In response to the daily pain, I was stoning myself (addiction) in order to get numb (not with drugs or alcohol but every other way possible: food, music, gaming, and more). I was also trying to kill myself in what I call the slow kill. I had made a decision in my life to never attempt suicide because of how it felt when my father did, and I didn’t want to do that to my kids. But that didn’t stop me from unconsciously trying to constantly annihilate myself in less intense and less visible ways.
When I was a child, I had thought I was a good person and was excited to make a life. After a few years as an adult living through these day-in, day-out, minute-by-minute personal horrors, I felt I was evil.
I didn’t know I was sick.
I wasn’t unaware there were massive problems — I lived them every day — but I had a belief that today was the day I was going to get my act together and get things in gear. Things were going to change. I could change. I could fix it. I would do it differently and meet my goals. I believed my issues were laziness, lack of patience, bad mothering, negative thinking, etc. I just had to keep “trying.” I would improve today, this time! I could and should “get a new attitude,” “repent,” “pray more,” “set goals,” “manage my time better,” “choose differently” and “just stop.”
After many years of these deep, daily struggles, at some point, a little light bulb went on in my head that whispered to me, “Something is really wrong.” Even the worst person who wanted to be good (as I so desperately wanted to be) would have figured life out by now, right? If it was simply a matter of choosing and changing? I would have done that by now if I had had the capacity to do so.
“Something is really wrong.”
Up to that point, I had had no framework that would have allowed me to understand I was mentally ill. I was not surrounded by anyone who was prepared to be aware for me, either. I grew up in the 1970s and 80s and started my family in the 90s. The open dialogue we now enjoy regarding mental challenges and mental health hadn’t quite begun (although culturally we still have far to go on that dialogue). No one in my family culture was aware when it came to mental illness. It wasn’t a real thing. If you had a problem, you prayed, cheered up, worked harder, got more sleep. The Lord would help you. Mental health medication was for faithless people.
Oddly enough, my biological father also struggled with mental illness. (He and my mother were divorced, and he didn’t live with us.) Over the years of my childhood, from a naïve distance, I saw him be homeless, jobless, relationshipless, but I didn’t know how to assign that to anything but a “tough life.” It wasn’t until much later that I understood he had diagnosed illnesses he constantly wrestled with.
But I finally realized something was really wrong with my body and mind. Yes, people got angry; but like this? All the time? Yes, people got tired. But like this? Unmovable for hours and days? Yes, people had bad hair days. But like this? Unable to brush my hair for days and weeks?
I finally understood that most of what I was experiencing was out of my control. There was something happening to me I hadn’t chosen and hadn’t created. I didn’t immediately name it “mental illness,” but I now knew I had a serious journey of healing ahead of me, with different sort of questions and different sort of answers than most people might have to deal with.
Today, many years after that first “a ha” — after many more years of struggle, reaching for understanding, receiving support from health professionals, personal research and many avenues of healing and self-care — after a long journey, I have been blessed to have healed a great deal. I am again functional, and even thriving.
However, I am not cured and I don’t expect to be. The challenges I described are still my issues and as far as I know, they always will be. The symptoms do not present as constantly as they used to, nor to as great a degree. But I always have to cultivate awareness and be ready to deal with my mental health experience as it comes. I know that at any given time, I may become triggered; also then whenever I am triggered, I know to care for myself with the coping tools I now have.
And I know now I’m not a bad person. I never was.
I’m a precious human being who got handed a big mountain to move in this lifetime.
Follow this journey on How to Move the Universe
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
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Thinkstock photo via James Peragine