The day my life took a turn was January 17th 2013. What were you doing that day? Can you remember?
January 17, 2013:
6:30 a.m: wake up, breathe, try not to throw up, shower, try to have the energy to put make up on, force myself to eat a granola bar, take a (prescribed) Xanax, blow dry hair, try not to throw up.
7:30 a.m: deep breaths, hug G, try not to throw up, tell G I love him, get in my car, try to drive without crashing, try to drive without throwing up, deep breaths.
8:00 a.m: park car, force myself to get out of car, breathe in fresh air, try not to throw up, tell myself everything will be okay, walk into Pine Rest, ask for help,and try not to throw up.
After 33 days of suffering from panic attacks, secluding myself from my friends, barely eating, barely sleeping, barely functioning, I signed myself in for intensive out-patient treatment. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it truly deserves its own post.
Before January 17th:
I was mad. I was really mad at myself for being broken. I felt ashamed and embarrassed that I was weak. How could I be so weak? There was a lot of self blame that I let myself get this low. I wanted to hide my feelings, my thoughts, my in-actions because they’d give it away– I’m broken.
I have a degree in psychology. I work in the social work field. It’s my job to support others; to help them with their struggles, to give advice, direct them towards mental health resources, and be the voice of reason during their time of crisis. I can’t be in crisis. I can’t be struggling. I can’t be the one in need.
It’s funny, because with all of the families, single mothers, or single fathers that I’ve worked with who struggle with any mental health issue, I’ve never seen them as broken. I learned through my education that mental health issues are an illness, not a choice. I truly believe that. I believe mental illnesses are just like other diseases; we do not CHOOSE to suffer from them. I truly believe mental health issues are a combination of chemical imbalances and environmental triggers.
But me? I must be broken. I’m must weak. Why am I letting myself be this way? Why can’t I snap out of it?
On January 17th:
I was in a room, sitting in a circle with about 10-15 other people. Strangers. All ages of men and women. One after another, they began to talk, to share their experiences… They too have felt the fear. The fear of another panic attack, the fear of being discovered that they are weak and broken, just like me, and the fear of fear. They too feared they’d live in fear the rest of their life.
The counselor asked one of the women who’d been there a few days already to pick someone they wanted to hear from. She picked me. (Okay remember the ‘try not to throw up’ mantra I was rocking?) Want to know a secret? I was pleading with her on the inside, praying to God, that she WOULD pick me. I needed to share. The thoughts and feelings I had been hiding for so long were exploding inside my head and I needed to get them out.
I didn’t even know where to start and was so scared that I asked them what I should say. They told me to simply start by telling them why I was sitting in that room with them. I tried to tell them, but the emotions that came with the feeling of being heard were too much and I started crying. There was something magical about that room of people, because I wasn’t ashamed to cry. I knew they were all watching me but I knew they were struggling with me, and I knew that as I cried they too felt my pain.
Eventually I shared my story and immediately I felt understood. My story resonated with others who reached out to support me in that moment. It clicked with me that I wasn’t alone in this brokenness and that none of us chose to be here suffering like this. It clicked that I wasn’t broken but that I was sick and needed help understanding how to get better. Just like any other illness, I never choose to have it. I’ve never chosen to have ear infections, strep throat, the flu, and I’ve also never been ashamed to ask for help or go to the doctor when I suffer from those. It clicked that this is no different. It clicked that because I wasn’t alone in my suffering, this fear and anxiety isn’t happening to me because I’m a weak or broken person. It’s not because of who I am, it is simply happening to me.
When I left after my first day of treatment, I literally felt the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders. I know it’s cliche, but there is no better way to describe the sense of comfort and relief I felt. I was getting help, and I wasn’t alone in my struggles. I wasn’t alone with worry, my shame, or my fear. I no longer had to dread getting up in the morning, having to try to fake a smile, to try to hide my fear, or to try to hide my shame. I literally wanted to scream from the rooftops that I have anxiety!!!
After January 17th:
I’m not trying to make light of this situation at all because I know that people struggle for years after years with feelings of shame due to their mental illness. I’m not sure why I am so lucky, but after my first day at treatment my shame had disappeared. This is why my life took a turn for the better on January 17th. I no longer had to hide my struggles. I no longer had to feel ashamed of who I am or who I’m not. I no longer feel broken.
I feel empowered. I feel courageous. I feel strong. And most importantly, I feel like I know myself better than ever before.
Many people have since told me that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness but rather a sign of immense strength and courage. I now understand and believe that to be true.
– I believe that those who ask for help have the strength to reach out, to admit their struggle, and ask for the help they need to be a better version of themselves. A weak person could not do that.
– I believe that those who ask for help show they value themselves, their life, and their happiness. Those are not things one should be ashamed of.