Learning to live with Mental Illness

Photo by Kaitlyn Blake Photography

Mental Illness   noun :any of a broad range of medical conditions (such as major depression, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, or panic disorder) that are marked primarily by sufficient disorganization of personality, mind, or emotions to impair normal psychological functioning and cause marked distress or disability and that are typically associated with a disruption in normal thinking, feeling, mood, behavior, interpersonal interactions, or daily functioning.

Those words, mental illness, to a lot of people don't mean a whole lot. Some people even think mental illness can be cured by "just getting over it". I am here to tell you there is no "just getting over" my depression and anxiety. I have learned over the years to manage both, but I am a firm believer that once you have it, it does not go away. Let me tell you a little of my story.

14 years ago (wow that makes me feel old) I was a freshman in college. I went away for college to another state. Knew one person and she lived in another dorm. My dorm was made up of only girls and man, was it cliquey. So cliquey in fact, I felt like a complete outsider to the point of not talking to anyone. I had my high school sweetheart though, so all was good in my eyes. He knew how depressed I was. He knew how lonely I was. He knew how horrible my roommate was. I did not have a car either. A couple months after winter break ended, a mutual friend had called me to tell me she caught my boyfriend of two and a half years and another girl together. He denied it, but then broke up with me and started dating that girl. My world collapsed. Yes, now it seems silly, but my 19 year old self couldn't take it. I fell farther into depression. I lost 20 pounds in one month due to not eating and walking everywhere to class. I felt worthless, anger, hopelessness, lonely, sad. I became suicidal. I had all those thoughts. I did not want to be alive. This life was not worth the pain. I would be walking to class and thinking about jumping in front of a moving car. One time I even stopped close to the road to do it, but I chickened out. Something inside of me grabbed hold of me and I ended up asking for help.

For me, I lost sight of a lot with my ex-boyfriend. The most important was with my relationship with God. I know that is who put that doubt in my mind. He was calling me back home. The second I asked for help, I prayed and promised myself I would never lose sigh of Him or let anyone else take me away from me. I know not everyone is a christian, but my hope is that they can see if there is even a sliver of doubt in your mind, ask for help! After I asked my parents for help, I got put on medicine. My parents wanted me to talk to someone, but they chose a middle aged man; I didn't feel comfortable next to him at the age of 19. I met my husband that summer and rediscovered who I really was because he brought out the best in me.

It was when we were living in California (thanks Army) when my anxiety started. We lived in a one light town basically and everyone there didn't want anything to do with me. I started to doubt myself as a friend and person. I started to overthink everything. I drove home to Washington every 6 months to get away from all of that small town thinking (not all small towns are like this, I know). The doctors kept telling me I was crazy until a wonderful doctor in Alaska said I was not crazy, I had anxiety. Hold the brakes, I have anxiety was my first thought. How could I when I don't worry constantly about anything? I had no clue that social anxiety was a thing. She said my attacks I was having were panic attacks...makes sense. She prescribed me meds and I started seeing a therapist in the hospital. She was amazing. Really helped me through that first year of handling my anxiety.

In the last 5 years I have learned so much with my anxiety. I still overthink things I say, what others say to me, but I know how to handle it all. I know my triggers enough now to walk away or to stop and breathe. Slow breaths. For me when I am having an attack, I clean my house. Staying busy, keeping my mind OFF of what my brain is focusing on helps me. On the bright side, my house is always clean! I also love going to the gym, taking a fit class. Attacking my anxiety head on like that helps. Stimulants help me (thank the Lord for Coca Cola). Now, that is not for everyone. It's taken me a few years to get here and even still I am learning new things everyday to help cope and manage. Talking to like minded people help me a lot. Finding people who also suffer from social anxiety and talking it out with them help. Talking with people who have been down the block and back have helped. Some of their tips help me. I even color. It's that focusing on a point that helps. Paint by numbers, paint nights (getting out), those fancy coloring books for adults now, even my color by number app on my phone. Having a hobby really helps. I also do photography for a living, so I'll go find someone to be my model and shoot until I feel at ease.

That word mental illness can be scary. Okay, it IS scary. Because it is so scary, people don't want others to see them like that. I get it, I tried to hide my depression and the fact that I was suicidal. I did not want people to look at me a certain way. What I see now because I went through that, is your family and friends will love you no matter what. They will go to the ends of the earth with you to help you through it. The last word(s) I want to throw at you is mental health. Specifically YOUR mental health. What are you doing to make yourself happy? What are you doing to make sure you do not go down that rabbit hole like I did when I was 19? Are you having serious talks with your spouse, children, parents, friends about how you are feeling? The military has some great resources for mental health. Talking to your chaplain (or any pastor for that matter) is one. If that is not for you, your doctor will point you in the right direction to meetings, groups, therapists. Go get a massage, pedicure, manicure. Get out, get on your feet. TREAT YO SELF!!!!!

Photo by Aim True Photography

I have a tattoo on my wrist that says "Always". Technically, my best friend and I got it on our 10 year friend-aversary, but it also means always choose life. I will add the semi-colon under it soon. Here is a good link for military families locally to Fort Bragg.

Steven A Cohen Military Family Clinic :

Also, it never hurts to share the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number on any form of social media if you ever have any suspicions that someone may be down on their luck.  Every life is important.  There is absolutely no shame in asking for help. I still can't believe it sometimes that I was brave enough to ask for help 14 years ago. I was meant for this life. I was made and saved for something bigger.  1-800-273-8255

Guest Blogger: Allison Banks Fort Bragg Volunteer Photographer

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