I’m a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, manager...and I have a mental illness. It’s amazing how two words can carry so much weight and so much stigma, isn’t it? But, you know what? Mental illness is not going away. Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (46.6 million) experiences mental illness in a given year.
Think about that. 46.6 million people a year are impacted by a mental illness. That’s someone in your family, a neighbor, a friend, a colleague, or maybe it’s you and that’s OK. I think the best way to help others suffering is to let them know that they are not alone, because that’s exactly how I felt. So, even though it’s scary, I’m going to keep talking and sharing.
I have struggled with a mental illness for the majority of my life - and I never really realized it. I’m almost 35 years old, but it wasn’t until four years ago that my, what I thought was a “worrisome” personality led me down a road of complete and utter debahilting anxiety. It wasn’t until I welcomed another human being into the world that I realized that my constant thoughts of doom or what I thought was problem solving wasn’t “normal.”
The weather turned cold and the days were shorter and the Minnesota winter slowly settled in. One day I was home and preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ with my young son, Owen, who had just turned one. I remember that I couldn’t get my thoughts straight. I was in a constant state of worry - a constant state of “what ifs.”
Earlier that month I began to notice small red bumps all over my hands that were quite painful. I didn’t know what they were, so naturally I went to the doctor to have them diagnosed. Unfortunately, the doctor didn’t know what they were either. Insert great uncertainty and an even heightened sense of doom. The novice doctor sent me to a specialist and I began the waiting game.
The waiting game took place in my cold, stale rambler home, which always felt in a state of darkness. Now, in hindsight, I wonder if it was just the state of mind I was in. That small rash triggered me into a complete downward spiral that I was never expecting and could have never prepared for.
My mind began to spiral out of control. I thought about getting a terrible disease and that I was going to be taken away from my family too early (much like my Aunt Linda, who had passed away only months earlier). I thought that if I don’t get sick, “what if” I do something and someone is going to take my baby away. These were not rational thoughts, but I didn’t know that at the time. I just knew that I was miserable and scared all of the time. After the holidays came and went and things started to quiet down, but my mind didn’t I knew that I had to finally do something about my anxiety.
Friends, the road to recovery was not easy. It was not fast. And treatment for a mental illness is not one size fits all. It takes work. A lot of work. It took me being incredibly tenacious. But, I want to share that treatment IS possible for mental illness.
My road to recovery
During this season of my life I felt closer to God than I ever have before. It was truly the darkest time I have ever experienced, yet it was the time that I could hear the Lord the loudest. Daily, I heard the word “trust” in my spirit and I knew that it wasn’t by accident. The following scripture helped save my life:
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Moving my body was a cornerstone to my healing. I took up running at one of my lowest points. Running was a time that got me literally out of my head and got me into my body. For those 30 to 60 minutes a day I could focus on something else, even if it was physical pain. Not only did the time spent moving my body help reset my mind, the time afterwards felt amazing. Endorphins are real my friends. Move.your.body.
I had to start looking at what I was eating. For a time, I had no appetite and the only thing that I would eat was Starbucks cookies. Honestly, Starbucks cookies. This is not an OK diet. I had to stop and nourish my body with REAL food. I had to make an effort to choose whole foods and I had to ask Matt to help me. Real food does help heal.
First, I have to say that finding the right therapist was one of the hardest things for me during my road to recovery, but I believe it’s truly what saved me. My therapist, Crystal, ultimately helped me find all of the right tools and gave me a safe place to talk. She let me release everything that was in my head in a no-judgment zone. For months I had to go in twice a week, then slowly I was able to go down to once a week, and now I’m down to once a month.
I chose to put this last for so many reasons. People have such a strong opinion when they think about medication and mental illness. I take a prescription everyday that helps me cope with my anxiety. It’s not a band-aid, it’s not a magic pill. It’s ONE tool in my toolkit to help me cope with my mental illness everyday.
It took me many different prescriptions to find the RIGHT one. It was a scary and unnecessary process of trial and error. If someone finds themselves in a place where they may need medication, I highly encourage everyone to take this DNA test that will educate your physician on how your body will metabolize the medication.
Let’s keep the conversation
It’s still scary for me to talk about my journey with mental illness. And It’s something that I’m going to have to deal with every day for the rest of my life. But, I believe that God allows negative experiences such as these to not only grow us up as people, but to help others who may be going through the same thing.
If you find yourself in a season where you’re losing hope, or you just don’t know what to do next, know that you’re not alone. There is help out there.
I’m still running a few times a week and I absolutely love it. This weekend, Matt and I are running the Emotions In Motion: 5K Run/Walk for Mental Health in support of save.org. SAVE’s mission is to: “To prevent suicide through public awareness and education, reduce stigma and serve as a resource to those touched by suicide.” If you’re interested in supporting SAVE’s efforts, please consider giving to my race page.
Three things I'm grateful for:
- My home - thinking back to those dark days in my former house makes me so grateful for the one I have.
- My wonderful faith-filled neighborhood
- This beautiful weather