It's tough for me to share this story with you, but if it helps just one person who is suffering from the shame of mental illness like me, I want you to know you are not alone.
When I was six years sober, I had been struggling for months to get out of bed most days.
I was exhausted and felt like I was walking around in cement army boots while sinking in quicksand. Even simple tasks seemed impossible. I felt alone and disconnected with the world.
The days grew darker and darker, and it became difficult to pretend I was okay. I only got out of bed because I was a single mom and needed to go to work to support my three small children.
I had no idea what was wrong with me.
I had many supportive people who loved me, but I didn't discuss this with anyone. My life on the outside was wonderful, and I felt like I had no reason to complain.
I went to doctors, therapists, and psychiatrist looking for help. Some looked at me and offered suggestions like, “eat more carrots and take a nap." One doctor spent 15 minutes with me and handed me a prescription for an antidepressant with no directions or education about the drug. I trusted all these people because I assumed they knew better. I took the anti-depressant as prescribed and it made me feel worse. I felt like a zombie, so I stopped taking it.
Three days later I could barely breathe and went into a full-blown panic attack while driving.
I had no idea what was going on, and I pulled over to the side of the road and gasped for air. I called a friend to ask for help. She said to call my doctor a.s.a.p. I called, and they put me thru to a nurse who explained to me stopping the medication so quickly is what caused the panic attack. I was so angry with the doctor who never told this to me, so I never went back to him. I asked for help from others in recovery, and their solutions were to go to more meetings, volunteer to help others, read more spiritual books, etc.
I had no idea about mental health issues.
I had a lot of judgment about someone with a mental health issue. Usually, exercise or the beach would give me joy, so I dragged myself out of bed and slugged my way through a hike. I cried the entire time. Still no change, so I took a drive to the beach. As I drove, I felt so alone and hopeless. I thought my only choices were to drink or die.
My thoughts started to scare me.
"Maybe if I step on the gas and crash into a massive boulder in front of me, I wouldn't feel the pain anymore."
Suddenly, a thought entered my mind to call a local treatment center, which was five miles away. Without any notice to my former husband, work, and kids I checked myself into treatment.
I knew if I didn’t get the help I wouldn’t be able to take care of my children.
At the treatment center, I was sent to meet with a psychiatrist who specialized in mental health disease and addiction. Over the course of two days, I spent over eight hours with the doctor.
Diagnosed with Bipolar Cyclothymic Disorder!
He educated me about Bipolar Cyclothymic Disorder and explained I had a brain disorder that causes daily multiple shifts in my mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
OMG, someone finally got me! Thank you, dear God!!!
In addition, he taught me about co-occurring disorders (co-existing mental illness and a substance-use disorder) and the importance of treating both of my diseases each day. He explained the medication he prescribed for me with explicit instructions.
I can still remember the day the medication started working. It seemed like the dark clouds dissipated, and the sun appeared. I could get out of bed, and my usual spunky self returned. I could finally laugh again, and life seemed brighter.
My life before I received help for my mental illness.
I was very impulsive, and my emotions cycled up and down all day long, I'd burst into tears for no apparent reason. It wreaked havoc on my children and my marriage. My ex-husband told me years after our divorce; he was never sure how I was going to act when he came home from work; would he find a sweet and kind wife or a screaming and yelling wife. With my children, I was often a loving mom, but like a flip of a switch, I would blow-up in rage.
Looking back in my life, I realize I'd suffered from mental health issues since I was sixteen years old.
I remember feeling so depressed one day, and I made a conscious decision to get on a bike, and I went to the top of a huge hill and flew down knowing the bike didn't have working brakes. I ended up crashing into a gate, flew over the handlebars, and hit my head on the curb. (I still have the dent in my head today.) I was rushed to the hospital and came home later that day. I pretended everything was okay.
Ironically (or not) I was starting to drink alcohol around the same time. The alcohol eased the emotional pain and gave me temporary comfort. The alcohol worked for many years, later it gave me some relief but came with many consequences. As my alcoholism progressed it left me with only consequences. It destroyed my self-esteem, ruined my marriage, and I almost lost my children.
What the Experts Say.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) tells us that, in the United States, approximately 8.9 million people have both a mental health and a substance abuse issue. Of these people, the majority—55.8%— don’t receive any treatment for either disease. A mere 7.4% get treatment for both issues.
The Tragedy :(
These statistics are a tragedy, and frequently I see people in recovery suffering from untreated mental health. It can often lead to relapse, suicide, or a miserable life in recovery. I'm not sure why people don't seek more help for mental health disorders, but I think it has to do with our society's lack of awareness, education, and the shame associated with the disease.
The Sad but Honest Truth :0
While I have the awareness and education about mental health disorders, I still suffer from my own shame. I can talk about my alcoholism and addictions out loud today to anyone and not feel any shame. But even after eighteen years in recovery, it is still difficult to admit I suffer from mental illness. I'm afraid people won't understand and judge me. Sometimes I feel embarrassed and defective. My shame has shown up with a voice that tells me, "I will be looked down upon if people find out I'm on medication. Maybe my employer will find out, and I may lose out on a promotion. No man will ever want me if he finds out about my mental health illness."
When I'm feeling shame about my mental illness, there are a few things I do to give me comfort.
I remember I didn't cause it and be kind and loving to myself. I find compassion for myself and remember how far I've come. I'm thankful I found excellent treatment and I no longer have to suffer. I'm vulnerable and share my story with the hope it will help someone who is still suffering.
I must remember my mental illness is like a small child and needs constant care.
I pay particular attention to my stress level, make sure I eat properly, get enough rest, and exercise regularly. Most importantly I treat my Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD) daily and take my mental health medication as prescribed by my medical doctor who specializes in treating co-occurring disorders.
Question: Do you suffer from mental health issues? You are not alone. If so reply "Me Too."
I'd love to hear your story and experiences in the comment section below or go to www.sobermomsguide.com
If you know someone who may benefit from this article, please share it!
With over eighteen years of personal and professional experience, Rosemary O’Connor has helped thousands of people recover from addictions via her speaking engagements, workshops, private coaching sessions, and media interviews.
In response to the unaddressed needs mothers have in recovery, Rosemary wrote A Sober Mom's Guide to Recovery - Taking Care of Yourself to Take Care of Your Kids (Hazelden 2015).
She founded http://www.sobermomsguide.com, which offers resources and support for mothers in recovery and those interested in recovering from addiction.
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