While doing some blog hopping yesterday, I came across a great post from 5 Minutes for Mom on the topic of depression, anxiety and living with mental illness. I was completely taken aback (in a good way) with the amount of uninhibited honesty in which Janice wrote about her own struggles and how she had always resisted writing about her depression and anxiety in fear of her readers judging her and thinking that she is weak and unable to do her job. What very few people who read this site know is that I am very familiar with this subject matter. Janice conquered her self-proclaimed “selfish fears” of being judged and ended on a very positive note–that people with mental illness are strong people who fight every single day and so I wanted to respond to her. I was going to respond in the plain old comment form us bloggers love so much but I thought that this subject matter should be talked about openly on all platforms because people who suffer from mental illness are widespread and people who suffer alone and in silence make up the bulk of that population. And so, I decided to blog here and hopefully she knows that she is definitely not alone and anyone who happens to find it can also take comfort in knowing that.
While most people who suffer from any form of depression, whether major depressive disorder (also referred to as clinical depression and unipolar disorder), manic depression, or it’s more severe twin bipolar disorder and so on, have a chemical imbalance that affects their brains and the way they function and respond to whatever elements are around them and it is said that those symptoms and later, those diagnoses have always been a part of them genetically. This is not the case with me; at least I don’t believe it is and after checking with the whole host of psychologists and psychiatrists I have been with over the years, neither do they. I am a special case, though sadly, not that special nor rare–I have been diagnosed as having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which has also led me to adopt major depressive disorder.
I was diagnosed with PTSD after everything in my life started feeling like it was just too much. I was overwhelmed, stressed over just about everything, my life seemed to cease resembling what it had always looked like to me. I was in high school and as if high school did not impose enough stress and anxiety on my life in itself, the never-ending questions being asked by myself and others were daunting. I was being expected to know exactly what I wanted to do after high school and not just what I wanted to do, but where I was going and what school would be taking me there. These sort of pressures are already overwhelming for average teenagers, start piling these questions onto a teenager who suddenly feels like they’re crawling out of their own skin and have no idea how something like that could sprout up out of nowhere and convince themselves that they must be crazy and well, you’ve got quite the situation on your hands. I ended up dropping out of high school as a senior and moving out of my father’s house and in with my best friend and her mother. It was not the best of decisions, but it did force me to get a grasp on what was going on with me. After getting a job, living with my friend and her mother for six months and then finally getting enough money together to move into my own apartment, I started going to therapy which luckily for me, was located right across the street from my apartment because those are the kind of perks you get when you move into the middle of a high-trafficked city.
I got a hold on my PTSD. I learned to understand it and the triggers that sent me into episodes of mentally and sometimes even physically re-living abusive and traumatic events from my childhood, which is to blame for my mental illness. My mother was (and maybe still is, I don’t know, I haven’t seen her or heard from her very much at all in upwards of ten years) a drug addict and an alcoholic who kept many, many boyfriends, as well as her dealers and sometimes they were one in the same, around constantly and were the abusers who left me as another statistic of childhood sexual assault.
Janice was completely spot-on when she said that people who live with mental illness fight every day and every day, it is a struggle, but with the right knowledge (remember, in whatever situation you are in, knowledge is power), coping mechanisms and of course, support from people you trust and who do not pass judgement or look at you as being less than anything, it is something that we conquer; and then we get up in the morning the next day and do it again. However, Janis did touch upon why she had never written about this particular struggle of hers and that is because of fear of being judged, which is completely understandable and the reason why I had never brought it to light on Woman Tribune; but also of people thinking that she could not do her job well.
I have been a blogger for many years now. I started blogging on Teen Open Diary and LiveJournal when I was 13 and had just gotten a computer in our house, and I began dabbling in web design and development at 14. I have literally grown up online, which is why I can say with absolute certainty that my mental illness has little impact on my ability to blog and to effectively market and promote my blog. Sure, there are days when I absolutely, positively cannot get out of bed in the morning, which makes me pretty lucky to have a laptop that I keep set up right next to my bed for days like that. And sure, there are times when I absolutely, positively cannot blog because the words just will not come out of me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t send out a short and sweet Tweet, which does help keep your repour up with your dedicated and passionate readers who follow you on Twitter. (Shameless plug: You can follow Woman Tribune on Twitter right here.) I think the internet gives people who live with mental illness even more opportunities to excel. We don’t have to leave the house, which is why you’ll probably be hard pressed to ever see me attend a blogger’s conference, given the fact that having PTSD does make me a bit of a hermit, and we can truly “write out” our struggles, triumphs, tribulations and victories and that is the biggest coping mechanism there is.
Edited to add: I forgot a little “update” on my situation, I suppose. I’m currently 23 years old, I did end up getting my GED less than a year after dropping out of high school and as far as where I’m going and how I’m getting there, I still don’t have that figured all out. However, I can say that for the most part, while I do struggle with my PTSD and depression and while some days I do feel like a walking zombie, for the most part, I am happy. I have a loving partner, an adorable cat, two amazing stepdaughters who show me that I can have a maternal instinct of sorts, regardless of my personal vendettas and while I can’t say that I have a thriving career or a big, fancy house, I do have an apartment in a great area and as far as my “career,” well, you’re looking at it.
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I want to thank Janice of 5 Minutes for Mom for opening up the discussion on mental illness and the fears many of us who are also living with it have about “coming out.” Thank you for the inspiration to let it all hang out.