I have had this post on my heart for a while. Even before I started writing, this topic was something I’ve thought about often. I have struggled with anxiety and depression since high school. It can be debilitating and my senior year of high school things started to get harder to manage. I was plagued by panic attacks that would knock me completely on my ass. They made me feel out of control, and like the world was an unmanageable place. The simplest things could throw me into an attack and I found myself living in fear of triggers. The weight of an emotional ailment that no one else can see is a hard one to carry-and more times than not you end up carrying that burden on your shoulders alone.
I felt the overwhelming desire to explain what I was feeling, yet couldn’t put it into words. As I went off to college things continued to progress and at times it felt like the depression and anxiety dictated my life. I would sleep till 2pm, skip classes, I started drinking to numb the weight I was feeling, and things only got worse. In 2011 I hit a breaking point when my life was spiraling out of control. I was turning to all the wrong places for help and even then, felt like I had to hide the battle I was fighting inside myself. I finally made the choice to drop out mid-semester and move home to focus on my mental health. Something I had been hiding from for years.
I returned home and started anti-depressants as well as therapy. I was reluctant to try either of these treatments as I was still ashamed of the battle I was fighting. It took months of therapy before something shifted in me and I saw my struggles for what they were-a medical condition that needed treatment. The treatments I had started changed everything for me. When I met, and married my husband I was in the best mental health of my life. I felt in control, I was enjoying life. All because I was effectively treating the depression and anxiety I’d struggled with for years.
It wasn’t until we decided to start our family that the stigma of mental illness began to put pressure on me again. In our society it’s more common to just brush mental illness under the rug rather than face it. We are taught to be ashamed, that if we are struggling we are weak-not fit to be a mother. The pressure is unbearable at times and makes you question yourself on every level. I knew I wanted to be the best mother I could be and society was telling me that I couldn’t be that if I was fighting my mental illness. When I got pregnant I immediately felt pressure to go off my antidepressants. I struggled my entire pregnancy to fight the depression and anxiety that were constantly closing in on me.
Near the end of my pregnancy I felt that same familiar feeling of spiraling out of control. I was just barely keeping it all together, and I hadn’t been warned at all that those feelings were about to be magnified by new motherhood. We are taught that it is better to hide your feelings than express them. I knew these feelings, and I knew they could be treated. Yet I was so afraid to be seen as weak, or an unfit mother, I kept them to myself. I brought my son home and things only continued to deteriorate. I remember crying on a daily basis for no reason at all. I’d just start balling and when my husband asked what was wrong I genuinely had no answer. I had no idea what was wrong, because it wasn’t something that had happened, it was the depression and anxiety living inside me.
It wasn’t until my son was six months old that I finally decided that if I didn’t do something to care for myself I’d surely implode. I began my treatments again and it took no time at all for me to start feeling like myself. I could enjoy motherhood for the first time! This was what pushed me to be an advocate for treatment of mental illness. There is nothing to be ashamed of, seeking treatment for an illness that is preventing you from enjoying life should be encouraged. Yet we live in a society that tells us mental illness is not a legit struggle. We are told to ‘tough it out’ or ‘think positive’ when in reality mental illness is so much more than your mindset. It’s not a bad attitude, it’s a medical illness.
I refuse to be ashamed of treating my illness anymore than someone who takes insulin or high blood pressure medication to treat theirs. Mental illness is not a joke and it is a very real illness that is likely effecting someone you love at this very moment-and they are being told that their struggle is not real and that they are weak for seeking treatment. We need to change this stigma! Especially in motherhood. If you are struggling, you know the difference between a bad day and depression. It’s more than being tired, it’s more than being sad; and it isn’t anything you can control or treat with an attitude adjustment.
If you are fighting the silent battle of mental illness don’t be afraid to speak up! The stigma can only be broken by sharing the reality of these illnesses rather than hiding them. Seek treatment, because you deserve to enjoy your children, your friends, your family. You deserve to WANT to wake up in the morning and face the day. There is nothing to be ashamed of, and anyone who knows the struggle, knows you are brave for recognizing what is happening and finding treatment.
If this spoke to you please share-you never know who on your friends list needs to hear this. The struggle of mental illness is often silent and invisible-yet it is able to effect every aspect of someone’s life. Don’t brush it under the rug, support those seeking treatment. It is real, it’s unbelievably hard, and IT IS TREATABLE! Don’t let someone you know struggle because they feel ashamed. It starts with YOU! Pull back the curtain on mental illness and be brave enough to share your struggle, or support someone through there’s.