A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post talking about how I wanted to share the stories of other people as well as my own. I got a couple responses, and I wanted to share one of them this week. A, is our first story teller. She has been struggling with Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) for many years. These two mental illnesses are extremely important to talk about due to the many people affected by it. These two mental illnesses come hand and hand a lot of the time. Many people struggling with depression also struggle with anxiety and vice versa. I have struggled with both myself, and I think it is important to see another person’s perspective.
First, I think it’s important to give a brief explanation of both depression and anxiety. Depression is a common mental illness, that affects how you feel and act. It causes feelings of deep sadness, worthlessness or guilt, and a loss of interest in activities that were enjoyed at some point. Depression must persist for a minimum of two weeks in order to be diagnosed. There are also many physical illnesses that have similar symptoms to depression and must be ruled out in order for a diagnosis (https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression). GAD is a mental illness where people may worry uncontrollably about situations several times per day and for months on end. They worry about situations that could happen in the future, that aren’t necessarily plausible. GAD is different from occasionally feeling anxious, or having a phobia. People who suffer with GAD worry about different things over a long period of time, and they sometimes don’t know the source of their worry. (https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder) Both Depression and GAD, are extremely serious mental illnesses as they can lead to self-harm and suicide. They can lead to addiction as well, which is extremely dangerous are often seen with other mental illnesses, such as Bipolar Disorder, Eating Disorders, and more.
A says that she has always been characterized as a type A person because she is extremely organized, anxious, and likes for things to be done a certain way. For example, she gets stressed out by leaving things to the last minute and just ‘winging it’ for everything. She would overthink things that people say or that she would say. She is hyper-aware of how she acts in social settings. A is also extremely tough on herself.
For many years A has always been made to feel as though her anxieties were wrong. People would judge her for needing to control situations, and they would make her feel as though her anxiety was a character flaw. For many years she was considered “bossy” and “a bitch” because of these anxieties.
“I remember I was about to go on a vacation with my family when I was a little kid and having a mental breakdown about a potential natural disaster that could happen. I remember always needing to have all of my things, whether it was stuffed animals or books or bags always with me and all together. Keeping all of my stuff with me comforted the anxiety of the unknown.”
A was an anxious kid, comforted by what she could control, which has been a reason as to why she thinks that people didn’t like her. On top of her feeling as though people did not like her she also felt that others would put the responsibility on her to change who she was. They wouldn’t ask if there was something they could do to help. It would always be put on her, to compose herself, and push her feelings down. The hardest part is pushing down something you don’t know how to change.
A goes on to say that it’s hard to do anything about our feelings, especially when we are little. She would be bullied when she was younger, all because of her anxieties. Not only was she confused about her emotions, but there were other people around her telling her that how she felt was wrong, and that she was wrong.
The thing is, mental illness is not a character flaw. It’s not a character flaw to want things a certain way. If we take mental illness and use it to describe one’s personality, we define a person by their mental illness. Saying that one’s mental illness is a character flaw is like saying that a person is their mental illness, which is not true. It is like saying that someone with diabetes is described as “diabetes” and nothing else. Mental illness is a completely separate entity. It consumes people who suffer with it, but they are not the same. There is still a person there behind the mental illness.
So, by saying our mental illnesses make us who we are, and then hating us because of our mental illness, it makes us feel like we are a bad person. That we are the actual issue. It starts to make us feel like a burden. “It was like who I am was a bad thing, which is really hard to process.” A says that feeling like a burden comes with more anxiety.
“When I was in junior high I especially felt this way because of this feeling that who I am was wrong. I was extremely depressed and didn’t have the slightest idea as to how to deal with this. I didn’t know how to get help for a very long time. It was especially hard when I got to university.”
She says that it took a personal crisis to ask for professional help and get into the university health care system. It took a while to find a therapist who was kind and wanted to listen to her. The first therapist she saw dismissed her feelings, and experiences and yelled at her to “just stop thinking that way”. Finally, after almost two years she found a therapist who was more understanding and non-judgemental.
“My therapist now always asks me what I need and how she can help me. She tells me that I make decisions based on how I was treated and that doesn’t mean that my decisions make me who I am. She fought for me to fight for myself.”
Since her therapist has been so kind and understanding, A says she has been able to talk with her about low points in her life and about trying medication.
“To get to a point where you admit that you need help is really hard, and then advocating for yourself to get the help you need in the healthcare system is even harder.”
She had an extremely hard time getting medication and a diagnosis. She started her story by saying that at the beginning, her therapist went through some very deep questions. After some time, her therapist concluded that she was having a lot of mood swings, which made her think that A could have Bipolar II, “not just Depression and GAD”. Bipolar II is a mental illness which comes with many mood swings. Rather than going from major depression to mania, which is a high state of emotion, the mood swings go from depression to hypomania, which is a lower version of mania. In the mood swings, there are waves, rather than the waves being extremely high, they are lower, but still extremely difficult to deal with.
A’s therapist concluded that A could have Bipolar II. This was really hard for A to process. She had no idea that this could be a possibility. So, with this in mind, she went through the system, which required a General Practitioner, in order to see the psychiatrist. The referral to the General Practitioner to rule out all physical illness to the psychiatrist took nine weeks. It took twelve weeks in total from the initial appointment for her to see the psychiatrist. When A got to the psychiatrist, she was greeted with a great deal of dismissal.
“She told me that all of my issues were something I should talk about with my therapist. She was just so dismissive of everything I said.”
The question you might be asking yourself is why would the therapist bring up the fact that our story teller could have Bipolar II if it wasn’t true? A says that it may be the fact that she had been seeing her therapist for over 6 months and she only saw the psychiatrist once. How is one hour of one appointment enough to diagnose a person suffering with mental illness? The psychiatrist met with her once and in their short appointment, she allegedly just knew.
The most painful part about dealing with a dismissive mental health professional is that you feel like what you are going through is wrong. You think that if the doctors don’t care, so why should you care? Are you really as sick as you think you are?
This is a huge problem. It affects the many people that try to go through the healthcare system, because it makes people want to give up.
“The hardest part of all of this, is walking around thinking you are a worthless piece of shit, and then having others say you are annoying. It makes it so much harder to care about yourself. I didn’t choose to struggle with a mental illness. It is not a character flaw, it’s something I struggle with, just as much a chronic physical issue. It’s exhausting waking up in the morning and feeling like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders, that I don’t deserve to be loved, that I’m not loved and then continue on with the day having to pretend like I’m fine.”
I asked A if there was something she wanted to say to others struggling with their mental illness.
She told me that no one can get over their mental illness alone.
“People who are struggling need professional help such as therapy. It is the best way to heal. If you know that your friends are struggling, help them get help. Push them to talk to professionals, send them helplines. You can support your loved ones, but you cannot replace a professional therapist.”
I asked her what she would say to the people who say that therapy isn’t for everyone.
“I would say you are wrong, it is for everyone.”
I then asked her what she would say to those who have gone to therapy but have been struggling to find someone who is willing to help them and that they click with.
“It’s so frustrating to not have a therapist that works well with you. But finding someone who clicks with you makes the search so worth it. It’s like looking for love, we keep looking and looking until we find one that works. Every one fights so hard to find love, why shouldn’t we fight to get help and heal ourselves?”
I then asked A what her loud mind says to her. She said that her loud mind says that she is worthless.
“Unlearning thoughts about yourself is so hard and so is fighting for yourself.”
I then asked A if there are ways that she challenges her loud mind. It is one thing to acknowledge your loud mind, another is to act on ways to challenge it.
A tells us that she challenges her loud mind by journaling, being present, and reminding herself that these thoughts are not factual. She works extremely hard to challenge her thought process. She becomes curious about her thoughts and asks herself why she thinks this way.
Struggling with mental illness is hard on its own. To ask for help and challenge ourselves despite so many obstacles is extremely hard as well. This story shows us that healing isn’t linear, and even though asking for help is terrifying and difficult, to continue on with our healing processes is difficult as well. But it is possible. It is possible to heal despite all the hardships. I don’t know about you, but I find that inspiring.
If you have struggled with mental illness and would like for me to share your story please fill out my google forum: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc5ErMGf9zyJO95J-AkkpWMJHp411mpklaoS0qYUIMuISf1Pg/viewform?vc=0&c=0&w=1