A couple of months ago, I reached out to a few friends asking them to tell their stories and/or experiences dealing with mental health issues.
It is a big step for anyone to share and I am grateful they said yes. A few decided to stay anonymous (and that is okay). They are brave, loved, and appreciated.
In honour of Mental Health Week (May 2-8, 2016) - I would like to share Jen's story.
The past three weeks have likely been the most challenging of my 35 years—and to look at me you likely never would have known.
Had you asked me three weeks and one day ago, I never would have guessed what was imminent. I had the warning signs for a few months that something might be on the horizon, but running and yoga were allowing me to keep my sanity through all of life’s stresses. I thought I had it under control and never once did I think I would hit a wall and crumple. Boy, was I wrong (or maybe naïve).
I can’t tell you the exact moment it happened, but it happened on a Monday around lunchtime (April 4 to be exact) and it was fast and furious when I made contact with that wall. I spent the next five days battling my demons—anxiety and panic attacks—pushing through to see my doctor and doing it alone with my husband away for work. By Thursday, it became too much to bear on my own and I couldn’t imagine another night alone with thoughts racing through my head. I confided in two friends at lunch and had instant support and someone to sit with me that evening.
The next few weeks are a blur of trying out two medications. The first ended in disaster a week after I started —rushed to the doctor by my concerned husband in a full blown panic attack due to the side effects of the drugs I was on. The second drug was one familiar to me from my mid-twenties. I knew the side effects of this one well—no appetite, exhaustion and a stomach on the war path. Four days in I knew I couldn’t go another day without eating and I asked to reduce my dosage. This was the winning ticket.
I’m currently on day four of feeling relatively normal. Had you asked me five days ago, I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. Today the future looks bright. Believe me, I know how fortunate I am. I’ve been reminded many times as I’ve shared my story that I’m one of the lucky ones. One of the ones who, although I have my days of complete darkness, I can find my way out. My heart breaks for those who can’t, as three weeks was enough to almost break me.
So, what have I learned from this reminder of how fragile mental health can be?
First, it helped me immensely the more I talked about the struggles I was facing. And let me tell you, I was quickly reminded I’m not alone. So many, whether currently or in their past, have faced similar struggles or have a loved one who has. There was enough talking going on in my head and it was so therapeutic to be able to have these conversations with someone who could respond and support me. I could not have got through this without my family, friends and colleagues by my side rooting me on.
Second, sharing allowed me to help others and that felt really good, even on one of my darkest days. This particular day I posted something on Facebook. A minute later I had a text message from a friend who is currently going through a similar struggle and wanted to talk to someone who understands. It’s important to share so others know they are also not alone.
Third, I’m incredibly self-aware. That said, I should have listened to my body months ago when the early signs began, rather than thinking I could fight it on my own. Now, with my doctor on board and counseling underway, I know I have a team behind me to help me continue to have good days.
Fourth, I am too hard on myself in terms of my expectations. If I don’t make it to the gym every day, that is okay. If I don’t check Facebook to see what is going on in the world, I’m sure I will find out another way if it’s truly important. If I want to go to bed at 9 pm and the house is a mess, the cleaning can wait until tomorrow.
And last, I’m loved immensely, regardless of my flaws. And what a great feeling that is!
Today: Like most, I'm trying to figure things out. Sometimes that's day by day, moment by moment, and even breath by breath.