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The darkness of mental illness

I’ve mentioned before that I come from a past of mental illness.  I grew up with a mom who struggled with depression, among some other issues for which she never sought treatment.  Several years ago, I severed ties with her because I finally realized that the “relationship” I had with her was toxic.  I don’t talk about it because when I tell people that I haven’t spoken to my mom in several years, they don’t understand.  How does someone not talk to her mother?  She’s my mom after all.  Without going into details, let me just say to anyone out there who is judging me right now or can’t fathom not talking to your parent:  if you had been in my shoes, you would have done the same thing.  Or you wouldn’t have, and you’d be miserable right now.

But that’s a post for another day.  Maybe.  I went through therapy and these last several years have been so much happier for me and so perhaps I won’t talk about it.  I don’t really need to. However, I mention it because I, too, have struggled with depression throughout times in my life.  At times, I’ve had to take medication or as I always loved to call them, my “happy pills”.  Over the last several years, however, I’m at a place of peace.  I contribute it to my healthy lifestyle.  Eating plant-based, running, and learning to live in the moment through meditation have helped me build a strong, thriving mental health without the use of medication or therapy.  It took years to get to this place, but I’ve reached it.

My oldest daughter, on the other hand, is currently in that dark place.  She has always been an anxious kid.  We always thought she was a good kid who just didn’t want to disappoint anyone, and so she always worked hard to do her best.  Looking back now, though, I realize that she was probably already showing signs of anxiety:  stomach aches, nervous energy, always worrying about things.  Never feeling like she was good enough, despite our words of encouragement.  When she started college, things deteriorated for her.  She started having anxiety attacks; she was sick all of the time and couldn’t sleep or eat.  She moved back home, started seeing a therapist and psychiatrist, started medication and things seemed to get better for her.  Because she finally started feeling “normal”, she stopped seeing her therapist, took herself off her medication and for months, things were going well.  However, over the last couple of months, the anxiety and depression started to come back.  She has started coming home to stay with us for a day or two at a time because she doesn’t want to be alone.  She came home to stay with us a couple of days ago and as we were all sitting around just chatting and laughing, tears started streaming down her face and when I asked her what was wrong, she said she didn’t know.  She said that this is what happens to her now.  She cries and feels sad and alone, even when she is with her family and friends.

As a parent, I can’t tell you how heartwrenching and absolutely frightening it is to watch your child go through something like this.  As someone who knows what depression feels like, I know that no magic words will take it away.  You don’t just “get over it.”  It’s a physiological, biological disease that only therapy and medication can help.  The coping mechanisms like exercise, healthy diet, meditation, etc., come later, but when you’re in the dark chasms of depression, only medication can dig you out of that hole.  My husband and I don’t blame ourselves for this, although there have been times when we’ve looked back at how we parented and wondered if we could have done something differently.  But I know that this is a genetic, biological disease that unfortunately my daughter has inherited.

Today she is going back to the psychiatrist and I’m going with her.  We will get her through this phase of darkness and she will see light again.  I keep telling her – no, PROMISING her, that things will get better.  And they will.

I’m posting this blog because if you know anyone who is going through this, please, encourage them to seek medical help if they haven’t already.  Depression and anxiety isn’t something that people just “get over”.  Words like “Stop worrying so much” or “You have so much to be happy to be about!  Why are you sad?” don’t help.  People with anxiety and depression can’t stop the way they feel.  They know it’s not normal to feel this way, but they can’t stop the feelings or help themselves.  Professional help will give them back a normal life.

I also feel like it’s important for people to be able to talk openly about depression and anxiety without judging and stereotyping.  People with depression and anxiety aren’t crazy; they aren’t being drama queens or kings; they aren’t just attention seekers.  These are legitimate illnesses, just like diabetes or heart disease.  It amazes me how open and honest my daughter is able to be about her anxiety and depression.  When I had it, I kept it to myself.  I was embarrassed and ashamed.  I was worried that people would think I was crazy.  But I wasn’t.  I was just ill and I got better.  My daughter is ill and she will get better, too.  You, your family member, or friend will get better, too, with the right help.

Out of the darkness, there is light.

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5 thoughts on “The darkness of mental illness

  1. I admire your openness and honesty; it’s often hard, I think, to talk about personal issues on a blog that anyone could read. I hope your daughter gets well soon. I’m sending all of my prayers and best wishes to all of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chris, thank you for the kind words. I’ve been overwhelmed with all of the positive response I’ve received. Publishing this post was definitely very scary, but in doing so, I hope that I can help others. I want others to know who are struggling that there is hope and not to give up. And I want to shed light for others who don’t understand.

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  2. Thank you Tammy for having the courage to talk about this. My family, me etc have been touched by mental issues as well. And it is not something I talk about freely either because unfortunately, there is still such a stigma in our society. No one says they are embarrassed to take insulin for diabetes or high blood medication. Yet if you say you take ant depressants or anti anxiety medication or a multiple of other issues. People assume and look at you like you are CRAZY, and all the connotations that go with that. Illnesses of the mind should not be judged any differently than any other illness of the body. After all, it is the most complex organ we have. People dont CHOOSE to have issues. They are not weak, crazy etc. They have something not working in their body just like the diseases I mentioned above. I recently read and article about a young woman at Harvard that started suffering from Schizophrenia. The big ONE, the mental illness that people associate with mass murders etc. She said the hardest thing she did was coming out about it. She heard voices. They were not mean voices, it was like someone narrating her life. For instance “she is walking to her dorm”; “she has to study”. It was almost like having a friend. She made the step to tell people and all of a sudden she was treated like a freak. I know mental health issues touch a way bigger part of society than we even know. People are just afraid to ask for help. Help is out there and the stigma should be lifted in today’s society so that those that need it , get it. Just like every other physical issue. There is help.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Sarah, for reaching out. My hope in posting this blog was to give hope to those who are struggling. I also want people to understand that ANYONE can be going through something like this. The person standing next to you at the grocery store, a co-worker, or a family member or friend. I want people to know that it’s okay to talk about and by talking about it, we can help people get better! Hugs to you and your family!

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  3. That was a very open and honest post. My heart goes out to you and your daughter. I have known someone who had everything to live for but tried to end his young life due to depression. I never understood it and was one of those people who would have told them to pull themselves up! He was a friend of my son. He asked me to go to group with him and I saw for myself that this is truly an illness. He is now on medication and has a beautiful family. Thank you for posting about this.

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