May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental illness indirectly affects all people either through co workers, friends or family. In Canada 20% of all adults will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. 1% will experience bipolar disorder and 8% of adults in Canada will experience major depression (per Canadian Mental Health). Sadly almost half of those who experience depression and or anxiety will never see a doctor for treatment. This is due to the stigma and discrimination associated to Mental Illness in our society. Many people, as a result, go throughout life untreated. The thing is Mental Illness can often be treated effectively.
My battle with mental illness began in my teens. I started a serious battle with depression at the age of 16 yrs old. Depression and anxiety are due to genetics, biology, personality and environmental factors. Myself my depression set in as I grieved the death of my mother and there was a separate traumatic event where I was raped as a teen. With no counselling and very little home support my depression was overpowering me and by the time I reached 19yrs of age I was heading for a breakdown. It was at that time I was diagnosed with clinical depression, prescribed antidepressants and started a four year journey of psychotherapy.
In time I was able to come off of the antidepressants. I tell you though being on meds helped me immensely. They balanced out my brain chemicals and I was able to function. I am a firm believer that is ok to seek treatment for your mental health. Like any other organ in your body, your brain can also get sick. So why not seek treatment to make it better is my thought. Yes I have experienced the awkward silence when I say I am going to see my Psychiatrist, but hey I figure I am pretty cool to be looking after my overall health. I do not let ignorant attitudes stop me. Also I know how horrible life would be if I did not treat my depression. I would struggle to get out of bed, there would be a lot of tears and I would have no motivation. It would feel like the end of the world and who wants that? Not me.
Almost 20 years after my depression diagnosis I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) Disorder with Deep Depressive Disorder. I have to say this diagnosis has been harder to deal with. If you are not familiar with PTSD it is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. It is a traumatic injury that happens after a traumatic event such as war, combat, car accident, plane crash, rape, domestic violence or childhood sexual abuse. 1 in 5 women who experience Domestic Violence will also be diagnosed with PTSD. I am one of those women. I was diagnosed after 15 years of Domestic Violence and let me tell you it has been a life altering diagnosis. I first noticed something was not right in the first year my ex and I separated. I was not sleeping well, had a lot of nightmares, flashbacks and I struggled greatly to focus on anything. At work I struggled to stay on task and I noticed I had very little for short term memory. A customer would tell me their name and what they needed and at the end of that sentence I would not remember a thing of what they had said. I was terrified. I thought I was losing my mind and my quality of life was seriously going downhill. By the time I was able to see a Psychiatrist, to be diagnosed and receive medication, I no longer knew which end was up.
With medication my quality of life has greatly improved. I am able to sleep with a sedative and an antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication has helped level my moods, but it has not solved everything. That is why I feel like I am walking a tight rope everyday.
Every day when I wake I never know how my day will be. Will I be completely exhausted, before my feet even hit the floor, because the night before was full of terrifying night terrors? Will the PTSD monster rear its ugly head and I will be triggered by everything around me? Or could my day go smoothly with no set backs? I never know. I also have to carefully assess the choices I make. Will accepting one more volunteer job completely overwhelm me? To a point where I will be in bed for days on end?
As I enter each new day I step very carefully, trying my best to not take on too much or do something that may trigger the PTSD beast. It is a great big balancing act.
Some days I slip though. Some days I completely fall. Some days I crawl into my cocoon and cover myself with the heaviest blankets. I lay in silence, whispering to myself that I am safe.
Mental Illness is like any other illness. You need to do what is best for your health and you need to make choices that reflect that. My balancing act I am sure is no different than the diabetic who must watch their sugar intake or the heart patient who must watch their diet and physical activity. It is all about caring for you and walking your own balancing act. Taking one careful step forward each day because none of us want to fall off of our tightrope.