World Mental Health Day: My Mental Health Story

I was going to make a post about World Mental Health Day yesterday, but I ironically woke up with a bad mental health day that evolved into a violent, feverish stomach sickness (as in, running out of an important board meeting to go puke my guts out then spend the next 12 hours puking, sweating profusely, and shaking type of sickness). Today I feel better and ready to share...

I went through my high school and college years depressed and anxious without really understanding that what I was feeling wasn’t healthy or normal. I was a high-achieving, active, social person so it was easy to hide –even from myself. I was a different person in public than I was in private. I did some therapy in college with the university’s therapists, but it wasn’t much help. My mental health got considerably worse when I left college, and I think that’s because I no longer had the constant distraction of fitting a four-year college degree and college experience into three years. That was a fabulous distraction from the mental work I needed to do to heal. 

Man, I had so many really bad days. I stopped functioning on some days and would be incapable of leaving my bed. So I eventually put myself into therapy again. I built a strong relationship with my therapist who then referred me to a psychiatrist. I had hesitancies about taking medication. I knew about the side effects and I’d heard stories about how difficult it was to get off of the medication. But, damn, when you’re desperate for something to change and therapy hasn’t been enough, you’ll try pretty much anything for some mental relief. He prescribed me two medications– one for depression (Sertraline) and one for general anxiety (Buspirone).

I’ll be candid– it took a few years of medicating and therapy to work through it. And it was really hard work... Like many folks, I’ve got past traumas I hadn’t processed and digging into that stuff is thoroughly exhausting– particularly because there are multiple layers to it. The people I confided in during that time can attest to how miserable I was. Yet most people in my life had no idea about this hidden struggle I was going through. 

Around the same time that I started my own business, helped open Olympia Gymnastics Rock Hill, and got out of an emotionally abusive relationship, I started feeling so much better. The number of bad days I had dropped dramatically and I weened off my depression medication completely. I’m still on my anxiety medication, as I still struggle with anxiety from time to time. But at this point, I take a low dose and my anxious days are few and far between. In other words, it’s manageable at this point.

I’m sharing this experience because I think it’s important to keep in mind that mental health issues don’t look the same in everyone. Folks can end up with a mental illness and not address it because they’re able to function so well despite it. You can get so good at hiding it, you bury it from even yourself... until it all builds up and causes you to finally break down. High-functioning people with mental illness are often overlooked because their symptoms aren’t as obvious. It took me years to even be diagnosed. And by the time that happened, I was deep in depression and panic attacks. It can be really hard to open up about this stuff when you’re ashamed to reveal you’re not doing as well as you’ve been pretending you are.

I’m also sharing this experience because it’s a story of resilience. So many people struggle for years without much improvement to their mental health. I was able to come out of that struggle healthier, stronger, and more confident about my identity. Since the great improvement of my mental health, I started two businesses at once, I’ve ghostwritten a book that’s anticipated to be a best-seller, I’ve joined local, national, and international boards and committees where my input has a direct outcome, I’ve traveled (more of) the world, I’ve expanded my network hugely, and I just came out as polyamorous. I’m the happiest and most fulfilled I’ve ever been.

And while I still have bad days from time to time– like on World Mental Health Day itself –I am confident I can handle these bad days because of how much I’ve learned about myself through therapy and because I’ve developed a strong support system. I’m really grateful for the people who support me, particularly my partners, my close friends, and my parents. 

Humans are social animals and we need each other to survive. The more we talk about these issues, the better we can work through them together.