What was it like when you first started struggling with your mental health? What did that look like?
I remember the first time I experienced a panic attack like it was yesterday. But before my mental health got really bad, I would struggle with anxiety and thoughts of depression quite regularly. Maybe from when I was 12 or 13, I felt like I had to grow up really quickly and pressured to be a certain way. It’s hard growing up as a young girl. You’re faced with so many expectations, physically and mentally. And it messes with your mental health if you can’t meet all those expectations. The first time I ever had a panic attack, I remember laying in my bed and feeling like an elephant was sitting on my chest, preventing me from breathing. I was uncontrollably shaking, and I was breathing so quickly that I thought I was going to pass out. I remember grabbing onto my sheets, so tightly, as if I was on a rollercoaster I was afraid of falling off. The room was spinning, and my vision was going blurry. I didn’t know what was happening. It felt like forever went by. All I kept telling myself was that this will end. Just like everything else. But I wasn’t certain that it would. For the entire week, every night, while I was trying to fall asleep, my mind would race, and I wouldn’t be able to catch my breath. Every night that week, I had a panic attack. It got to the point where I was afraid of going to bed. Something that I would look forward to every night, I was petrified of. I was petrified. Of what was going to happen, of what I was going to think, and if maybe this time, this feeling won’t go away and when the morning comes, I’ll feel the same way.
When did you realize you needed to get help and why did you take this step? If you never got help, why didn’t you? Was there a specific fear/reason? How did you get help or support? Did you find it helpful? What were the gaps you noticed, if any?
I realized something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. At the time, I told people I trusted. And I quickly learned that I was experiencing anxiety and panic attacks. But I couldn’t figure out why. Looking back, the people who I thought I could go to for support, comfort and advice, were actually harming me more than helping me. They never experienced these feelings themselves, so they didn’t really understand what I was going through. That was detrimental. They would tell me that my thoughts were all in my head, and what I was feeling wasn’t “real”. To them, it was fake, but to me, it was the realest, rawest moments of my life. So, because I wasn’t taken seriously by the people I trusted most around me, I started to doubt myself and deal with everything on my own. I would internalize everything. I would sit in my bed every night, alone, with my thoughts, and my crippling anxiety became my shadow. It was always there. I couldn’t get rid of it. And I became to accept the fact that it may never go away either. I never got any help. I never got any support either. At the beginning, I thought that I could handle it all. I thought that I would be able to overcome this on my own, just like I would deal with any other problem that arose in my life. Quite quickly I realized that isn’t the case. I suffered in silence for years. And then I found someone I could talk to and someone that would provide me with unconditional support and from that day forward I felt like a huge weight was lifted off my chest and I didn’t have to tackle every monster in my head on my own.
What’s the most valuable lesson you learned from mental illness?
Life goes on. And although in the moment, it may feel like you’re up against the world…things get better. It may not be immediately. But time heals all. And with the right support system, you can overcome anything.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Would there be any major changes you would have made in your life related to your mental health?
If I could go back in time, I would have worked on being happy. Growing up, I found it so difficult to find things around me that genuinely make me happy. And as an adult now, I’m faced with the same issue. Yes, I enjoy things. But not many things make me feel truly and genuinely fulfilled. I would tell myself to keep an open mind and try new things. In regards to my mental health, I probably would have looked for help sooner, because I think that would have made a drastic change, instead of sitting in bed alone, trying to deal with it all on my own.
What’s the best way to improve your mental health or take care of it?
Surround yourself with positive energy. Read positive quotes, listen to positive phrases and try your best to live a positive life, despite all the negativity surrounding you. It is really easy to get into your own head but you want to make sure that you have some positivity to fall back on.
How would you rate your mental illness right now out of 10?
Today, I’d rate my mental health a 6/10. Yesterday was an 8/10 and the day before was a 3/10. Tomorrow it may be better, or it may be worse. My mental health is not linear. It’s constantly fluctuating and changing. And that’s why it is frustrating. Because one day you think you’re on the right path to overcoming these feelings. And then you wake up the next morning and it’s worse than ever.
What’s your advice for someone who wants to support someone with a mental illness but doesn’t know how?
I’d tell them to find someone you trust, someone you feel comfortable around and just express your feelings. Even if that person is not someone who is trained to deal with mental illnesses, just speaking to someone and getting your feelings off your chest is so therapeutic. Or journal if you have no one to talk to. I would also tell them to find something that makes them happy and spend time doing it. Do things and spend time with people who make you genuinely happy and who bring positivity in your life.