It was on this day last year that I was officially diagnosed with a general anxiety disorder. It was on this day that I had hit rock bottom and could no longer function as an employee, a mother, spouse or friend.
I remember telling the doctor everything, and while saying it, hearing myself from far away and thinking “How did you get here?” Everything was just spilling out of my mouth and my mind was just absent. For a few years, I had been dealing with anxiety, but not knowing what it was, how to describe it and who to talk to. Literally year – with no acknowledgement, let alone treatment.
But it was on that day, that I was reassured from my doctor, that while it would get worse before it gets better, that I can get better.
He was right about everything, when I left there and for about 6 weeks after, it was terrible – the lowest point of my life. I had to take some time off work to recover, my mind and body had to adjust to the medication, I had to let go of control in some parts of my life, and I had to learn to put myself first.
These things are not necessarily easy to do when you have a career and a family.
But you know what, at my 6 week check up – I was able to tell my doctor I was getting better. I finished my intensive therapy at 8 weeks and was back to work at 10 weeks.
My treatment of anti-depressants and therapy and time off work, helped me gain control back of my thoughts and allowed me to keep my anxiety in check. And while there were, and will always be, some bad days, I can identify the triggers and manage the symptoms to not let them overcome me.
And now today, a year later, I’m happy to say I’ve been able to successfully stop my medication, I’ve been able to get my fitness levels back up and on my way to where I was, my mind is clear and productivity high, and I’m happy again. I don’t want to say I’m back to my old self – because that old self didn’t know how to manage my anxiety. I’d like to say I’m an improved version of myself – much wiser and more in tune with my mental and emotional well-being, not just physical health.
So what I have learned from this experience…
- Don’t be afraid to put yourself first. You can’t put others first from time to time if you are not taking care of yourself.
- Mental Illness are still medical conditionals that need to be treated. Don’t try to be a hero. While medication can be a scary thing, if you need it, you need it. I took anti-depressants for almost a year and now I’m off, so it doesn’t have to be a forever thing. Talk to your doctor about all your options for treating it and make sure you find the one that works for you.
- The stigma around mental illness is lessening, but it is still very real, but mostly because of a lack of understanding. There are a couple reasons for this, in my mind:
- Anxiety and depression can be easily hidden, even from yourself. My anxiety was easily hidden – which made it less obvious, not only to others, but to me. This is common for people who suffer from anxiety or depression, and while they don’t need to shout it from the rooftops to others, they do need to be able to recognize what it is, and manage it. Which is part of the problem – since it can be so easy to hide, its easy to not deal with the symptoms until its too late and you have a burnout or a breakdown.
- This “Invisible Illness” often restricts others abilities to understand the illness, creating the stigma. If people who suffer from it, don’t talk about it, its impossible for others to understand. When I was still struggling, I would let people know. Surprisingly, it was usually met with a level of understanding and sometimes trying to find out more to help understand better – and sometimes even talking about their own struggles. But its not as easy as I describe it above as its hard to tell who will actually be receptive and try to understand.
- The stigma drives people to keep it hidden – continuing the cycle. In combining the two, when we have not easily recognizable symptoms, and then others who struggle to understand the root causes – hiding this illness can lead to burnouts or breakdowns, which is then perceived to be a “show of weakness” – simply because of a misunderstanding – which continues the stigma and to people hiding or denying the illness.
Some people live with it their entire lives in a more severe form, and some like me, that have milder cases with some really rough patches where they can learn how to manage it. Either way, it’s still there, just a matter of where you fall on the spectrum in order to determine what you need to cope.
Politicians, doctors, researchers, businesses and advocates can’t change this stigma – it starts with each and every one of us having an individual understanding about the factor the facts: types, symptoms, diagnosing, and treatment and outcomes.
If you think you may be struggling with anxiety or depression, talk to a professional. It never hurts, even if you are not suffering, to talk to a therapist and take care of your mental health. Just like you stay in shape or eat healthy, you also have to take care of your mind!
Finally – a big thank you to all my friends and family that supported me during this time. To all those who also shared their struggles and those who tried really hard to understand mine. All of you are the reason I am better and can help make the different and start to end the stigma associated to mental illness.