This past weekend, my family came to visit. Well-let me rephrase that-being from a divorced family, half my family came to visit. Nearing the end of their trip, my dad noticed my newest tattoo & asked what it was. I told him & then retorted with, “Yeah, but what does it mean?”
It’s a semicolon. If you aren’t yet aware of The Semicolon Project, it represents, “When something could have ended but it didn’t.”
My stepmom, perched beside me on the couch, turns her head toward me saying, “It must mean something to you then?”
“But you aren’t going to share that with us?”
I was stunned. My eyes widened like a kid caught with one hand in the cookie jar & the other shoving two chocolate chips in their mouth.
Very awkwardly, I responded with, “Uhm….you know….some shitty things have happened to me…& they didn’t end me.”
She half smiled back at me, squinting her eyes knowingly.
“Well…I want you to know I’m very proud of you.”
I was, & still am, stunned by this. You see, being from a rural area, I haven’t exactly been surrounded by people who understand mental illness. Not at all. It’s something that is laughed at. Something that is seen as a weakness & a choice. Shockingly, drug addiction (which is also a symptom of a mental illness *cough, cough) is not looked at near as negatively as any sort of mental health condition is.
It’s something that is not talked about. People look away from you & change the subject if it is brought up. Or talk about whatever the M.I. is very negatively, with no hesitation to share how they feel about the issue. Most of the time when talking with my family I pray to God it is the first.
A few weeks ago, I’d just gotten home when my iPHONE screen lit up to show a picture of my grandmother. We talked for a while & then she asked what I’d been up to that day. I answered that I’d went to the grocery…& that I’d seen my therapist.
“Therapist? Shew, are you still doing that? You don’t need a therapist! How are you going to be a therapist when you’re still seeing one? That’ll be on your record. I don’t see the point in wasting money to talk to somebody.”
Note: I love my mamaw. She means well & we have a phenomenal relationship. This attitude just speaks to how the area views mental health issues.
This attitude was also seen on a recent episode of Teen Mom 2. One of the girls, Leah Messner, desired to check into a treatment facility for her depression & anxiety. Instead of being supportive, her ex, Corey Simms, was hateful towards & belittled her for needing help. They called her a bad mom & accused her of being a drug addict. They stated she chose to leave her children behind when all she was doing was trying to get help for issues nobody in rural Appalachian areas cares to talk about.
While there are a plethora of difference mental health issues (I.E. an entire book known as the DSM), each one effects each individual person differently. I’m going to share with you how mine have, & on some level always will, effect me.
What Depression, PTSD, Eating Disorders, & Anxiety Look Like
It’s four am. I still haven’t been to sleep. I’m finishing up my senior year of college this week. My PTSD does not care. I see him every time I close my eyes. So I don’t. Instead, I get out of my tangled blankets & jog.
I don’t like walking down the street alone. Actually, let me rephrase that, I can’t walk down the street alone anymore. Last semester, a few men yelled vulgar things at me so now I’m afraid to walk the streets alone.
Looking in the mirror, I move my hand over the bulge in my abdomen. It wasn’t there yesterday, how is it there now? I went down 3 jean sizes just this week.
I’m meeting a friend. Riddled with anxiety I tap two of my fingers against my steering wheel while listening to a meditation soundtrack. I’ve seen her a thousand times. We’ve been out together before. We’re meeting at a safe place. It doesn’t matter.
It was a great day. Calm. Present. Filled with the things I love. Two hours later, the fog rolls into my mind. Everything is darker now. I want to cry & sink into a bath for the rest of the day. I don’t know why.
My chest is pounding. Not in the way it rises & heavily falls after a good run. More like the rapid pulsation you’d encounter if an elephant were resting on your chest. I can’t breathe. The air is getting thinner & thinner. Soon it will be gone.
I think to myself that I can’t have any peanut butter today. I’ll need to eat a box of chocolate laxatives later if things get bad again & those will be my sweet of the day.
Now Showing: A series of events I would give anything to forget. Who am I kidding, Now Showing? They’re always showing. They make me want to die.
The nights aren’t as restless now as I lay next to my husband flooded with dreams (calling them nightmares seems too kind) & flashbacks. I still feel the touching that happened not many years ago. I smell the bourbon & Jager that isn’t in the air around us. I feel like I can’t get enough air because I can’t stop feeling as if I’m being raped. Right now. Time & memory don’t seem to have an off switch for me. I wake up feeling dirty. Perpetually dirty in the worst of ways. Forever damaged. I can’t get the water hot enough to wash it off.
Something is going to go wrong. I just know it. What if someone dies? What if I fail out of grad school because I forgot about the ONE discussion board? What if my dogs get lost? & other random thoughts on an anxiety ridden day.
If I could say one thing about my walk with depression, it is that it makes you want to die.
If I could do the same for PTSD, it would be that you feel like the dirtiest human on the planet. Even if it couldn’t be further from the truth. You know it is because you remember. & you know, you know, other people would think it too if they knew…
Anxiety is a computer on overload. A million tabs are open & pop up after pop up keeps clouding your screen. It’s hard to focus in on one thing.
An eating disorder clouds your eyes, along with your version of reality. You can no longer see yourself as you actually are. To you, you’re five sizes enlarged. Wouldn’t everything be better if you just lost X amount of pounds? Even if it has never been the case before….
I’ve had too many days to count in which all the lies I’m hearing become my greatest truths (even when they’re not). Even after years of being out of certain circumstances & not being hurt anymore….they’re all still here. I can’t control them. I can cope with them. But I can’t make them go away.
Hell, wouldn’t everyone make them go away given the chance?
The next time you suggest someone struggling with a mental health issue takes control, or-one of my favorites-“just stops,” ask yourself this: would you say the same to someone with a physical health problem?
Would you tell someone with diabetes to stop taking their insulin because they were weak? Say they didn’t need to see their doctor anymore because they should be able to handle it on their own by now? Tell them they better not see a doctor because it will go on their record & stop them from getting jobs?
Days that I have to convince myself that life is worthwhile, that I am worthwhile, are decreasing as time goes on. But they’re still lingering in the back of my mind & pop in to say hey! ever so often. Days in which thoughts of my eating disorder, along with their visual distortions, cloud my judgment & ruin my days don’t win anymore. I know they’re lying. Days when my anxiety has me by the metaphorical balls aren’t nearly as often as they were before. They are not an every day occurrence. An every moment occurrence.
However, that does not mean they are gone. & on some days, they still win.
“Of course, there are days when darkness wins – days when all the lies I’m hearing become my greatest truths.”
“Sometimes I’m certain
those who are happy
know one thing more than us…
or one thing less.”
— Anne Michaels, “The Weight of Oranges”
“I’m laying in my bed, in my house and all I want to do is go home.”
“I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind…
— J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire