May is Mental Health Awareness Month: My Story

I am feeling called to share my story during Mental Health Awareness Month. I will try to keep it brief, even though I could go into great detail about a lot of things here!

Looking back, I think my mental health issues were set in motion around age 5 when I was separated from my grandmother, who I looked to as my primary caregiver up until that point. After that separation from my grandmother, I found myself being raised in an explosive household with an abusive alcoholic / drug addict stepfather and a very young mother who barely knew how to take care of herself, much less another tiny human. All of this early trauma set me up for a lot of issues surrounding safety, trust, anger turned inward, etc.

As I got older, I believe I developed a lot of food sensitivities that went undetected. This didn’t really seem like a big deal to anyone back in the 80s & 90s, but I saw a huge difference in my mood once I cleaned up my diet back in 2003 or so. Today, thankfully, there is a whole lot of talk about the link between gut health and mental health. And I can tell you from experience that it’s REAL! I am still researching this for myself, especially the links between genetics, food, and mood. It’s all very fascinating to me!

Anyway… by age 15, I was taken to a psychologist for ‘my problems’ and put on my first antidepressant. Nevermind that, during the previous 10 years, I was constantly being told that I was ‘too sensitive’, that everything I felt and sometimes saw ‘was wrong and wasn’t the way it really was’, and was verbally put down for how I looked, dressed and acted. And I was taken to church at least three times a week, where I was told I was a sinner that was going to burn in hell, probably against my best efforts. It seems unfathomable to me that parents could do this to their offspring, but I think it happens way more than most people want to admit.

By 16, I had a baby. By age 19, after experimenting with multiple drugs, I was hooked on heroin. I think you know the tune of this all-too-familiar song.

By my mid-20s, I had accidentally overdosed and attempted suicide on multiple occasions. I hated myself for not being there for my daughter, for never being ‘good enough’ for my mother’s ever-changing expectations, for being an addict (even though I was clean by then), and just for being alive.

This self hatred was like a vicious cycle cuz it led me to act out, mostly with men, always trying to self-medicate and get the love I so desperately wanted.  These attempts usually ended with another downward spiral of emotions, feeling unloved and used again for sex, re-traumatized, not trusting, and hating myself more. It was a really tough time, to say the least.

At this point, now in my late 20s, I had tried multiple antidepressants and eventually ended up on lithium with a diagnosis of ‘resistant depression with generalized anxiety disorder and possible bipolar’. It seems like a lifetime ago honestly.

By 2003, I tried to kill myself (again) and ended up having a near-death experience that changed my life. I came to see that all of these things happened to shape me into the person I am today. Without all of this pain and trauma, I doubt that I would be trying to help others in the ways that I am now! So I can’t blame anyone for anything that’s happened over the years. In fact, I thank everyone that ever hurt me for the lessons that I learned.

By 2004, I was doing yoga and meditating. I got off the meds, started studying diet and nutrition, and was using more holistic healing modalities. I also finally got a PTSD diagnosis and appropriate treatment for that (just last year!). All of these things have greatly improved my quality of life and have helped me forgive and love myself more than I ever have. I’m not saying everything is perfect — and some days are still a struggle — but I feel that things are getting better all the time. And that this will be a lifetime journey for me.

I think some of the most important things I can say, if you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or even just liking yourself, are:

  1. Self love is the most important love you can ever have. Quit beating yourself up and remember you did the best you could with what you had to work with at the time.
  2. Take time to re-parent yourself. Treat and talk to yourself in the ways you always wished you would’ve been talked to as a child. Do things you used to like to do as a kid or do the things you always wanted to do and weren’t allowed to do!
  3. Surround yourself with people that love and accept you for who you are. Let go of those that don’t – even if they are family members.
  4. Remember that ‘this too shall pass’. Emotions are like clouds in the sky and waves in the ocean. You can choose to let them blow over and dissipate. You don’t need to become them.
  5. Everything you think or feel is ok – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – it’s what you do with it that matters. If a thought triggers an uncomfortable emotion, validate it, but can you choose to think about it in a different way so that it doesn’t affect you negatively? This was an important tool in my toolbox!