My name is Cheryl and I’m engaged in a potentially life-long battle with mental illness. There it is, laid bare for all to read.
It’s taken many years, but today I’m able to say those words, share my story and talk about an illness that has been kept “hush hush” for far too long. I’m guessing there are still folks out there who will cringe when they read that first sentence. “Wow, she just said she was mentally ill.” “Why would she do such a thing?” “Doesn’t she care what people think?” “What will people say?” Talking about mental illness has always been taboo. There is a shameful stigma that surrounds this sickness, keeping people from seeking help. I lived behind that stigma for years, but now I talk.There it is, laid bare for all to read #BellLetsTalk Click To Tweet I lived behind that stigma for years, but now I talk #BellLetsTalk Click To Tweet
I was diagnosed with depression 11 years ago. I was a young stay-at-home mom, caring for my two-year-old son and five-year-old daughter. I use the term “diagnosed” loosely, because for the first two years of my illness, doctors couldn’t really pinpoint what was wrong. I was exhausted, all the time. I could spend hours sleeping and still be bone tired. I was angry, irritable and had no patience; a fine combination for spending hours on end, alone with a toddler and a preschooler. I was also very sad, inexplicably sad.I was also very sad, inexplicably sad. #BellLetsTalk Click To Tweet
Normally, I was an upbeat, outgoing and fun-loving person. I had a wonderful husband, two beautiful children and friends and family who loved me. There was no reason for me to feel so lost, alone and afraid. I remember very clearly the day I completely unravelled. It was Christmastime, a time of year I usually loved. This particular year, however, I was miserable. Everything about Christmas completely stressed me out, and I couldn’t find joy, no matter how hard I tried. I remember sitting on my kitchen floor, late for yet another carolling gig with the band, a pair of ruined pantyhose in one hand, and a half dressed toddler next to me. The tears started and refused to stop. I cried for hours. When I tried to understand why I was so sad, I would cry even harder because there was no concrete reason and that really scared me. That night, I realized something was seriously wrong, and I needed to find help.I needed to find help. #BellLetsTalk Click To Tweet
Early in my illness, I was treated for depression and prescribed anti-depressants. I hoped with the medication, life would return to normal and I would start to feel like myself again. I didn’t realize it at the time but the normal I had once known, was now gone forever. Anxiety, in addition to depression, crept into my life and simple everyday tasks such as answering the telephone, going to the grocery store and taking the kids to the park, would terrify me. None of this made sense to me because normally, I was an outgoing person who loved meeting new people and interacting with the outside world. The more anxious I got, the more depressed I became. Keeping up with my young children, maintaining a household and even keeping a job, became too much for me. I felt like a complete failure as a mother, a wife and a human being. Once again, I found myself in tears at my Dr’s office, looking for answers and for help.I found myself in tears at my Dr’s office, looking for answers and for help. #BellLetsTalk Click To Tweet
I’d like to say a diagnosis came quickly and with it the correct medication. Unfortunately, diagnosing and treating mental illness is never a quick and easy task. In the course of my 11- year struggle, I have been told I suffer from depression, anxiety and seasonal affective disorder. One doctor said I was bipolar while yet another Doctor said I was just severely depressed. I have been prescribed more medication than I can even count and have seen too many doctors, psychiatrists, counsellors, social workers and crisis workers. With each visit to the doctor and each new prescription came the hope that I would get better; the hope that I would be able to shake off the cloud of sadness and fear and eventually find myself again.
My darkest moment came about five years ago, when a reaction to yet another new medication sent my mind to a very dark place. I was on the verge of leaving yet another job because my anxious and depressed mind had convinced me I was no good and a failure. My husband was feeling the stress of having to be the sole provider, yet again, and I was sure he had reached the end of his rope with me. I had dropped my kids off with the sitter, and was driving alone, on a road with a canal nearby. For a brief moment, I turned the steering wheel toward the water.For a brief moment, I turned the steering wheel toward the water #BellLetsTalk Click To Tweet
The only explanation I have for not ending up in that canal, is God’s hand, course correcting my van and turning me back toward the road. I spent five days in the hospital afterwards, two of them in psychiatric intensive care, where I was watched 24-hours a day to ensure my safety. During one of those nights, I remember lying in a hospital bed, looking up at my reflection in a safety mirror, with tears streaming down my face. In the midst of my fear and in my darkest moment, a song that I had sung with the church worship team on so many Sundays came to my mind.
“When the oceans rise and thunders roar, I will soar with you above the storm. Father you are king over the flood, I will be still and know you are God.”
It’s not easy to share my story. It’s not easy to tell you that mental illness robbed me of my joy, my hope and nearly took my life. You may wonder why I talk about it, why I share my darkest moments with the world. Well, I talk about it for many reasons. Firstly, I talk about it to help shatter the stigma surrounding this horrible illness. It breaks my heart to think that so many people suffer through this darkness, hopelessness and fear all alone, because the world still views mental illness as something shameful and taboo. Families hide mental illness because they’re afraid of what people will think, afraid they will be judged, afraid they will be labelled. Precious people who deal with this pain all alone, are literally dying because the stigma surrounding mental illness keeps them from reaching out to others to find help and hope. I talk about my illness because no one should have to live in the darkness alone. If my talking about it gives one person the courage to step out and find help, then sharing my story has been more than worthwhile.Sharing my story has been more than worthwhile #BellLetsTalk Click To Tweet
I also share my story so those who struggle with this illness can know they are not alone. One thing I have learned in my journey is that depression is a fantastic liar. My sick brain has convinced me on more than one occasion that I am utterly alone and that no one wants to hear about my issues. It has told me that everyone is fed up with me, that my friends don’t care and that I’d be better off locked away in a dark room. Mental illness has tried to convince me that I will never again be the fun-loving, out-going, Cheryl who loves life and that I will forever be lost in the darkness. Depression lies, and when I talk about it with family, friends and even strangers and hear the words, “Oh my goodness, I thought I was the only one who felt this way,” it reaffirms my belief that talking about mental illness, destroys the lies it tells. No one is alone in this battle. There are so many of us who struggle but we’ll never connect with each other if we don’t talk about it. So I talk.No one is alone in this battle #BellLetsTalk Click To Tweet
The final reason I talk about my journey, is because I believe with all my heart that God will use my darkest moments for his glory. In the midst of my sadness, I have felt God’s hand and heard him whisper my name. When the tears flow, and I can’t understand why I feel so lost and alone, God sends people to rescue me.God sends people to rescue me #BellLetsTalk Click To Tweet
- My precious husband, who in the midst of his own confusion and frustration at my suffering, has never left my side and when all else has failed, he has held me through the darkness.
- My children, who put their arms around me and tell me what a good mom I am and how much they love me.
- God has blessed me with parents who understand this illness, and who pray for me and love me through the storm.
- When depression convinces me that no one wants me around, God sends friends into my life; friends who pray for me and laugh with me. Friends who bring actual light, in the form of mood enhancing “Happy Lights” into my home and who literally come to my room and drag me out of my darkness.
Depression has tried to take so much away from me, but God keeps giving so much more. He has placed the right people in my path, just when I’ve needed them most. In doing so He constantly reminds me that He’s walking right beside me through my darkest times. I talk about it because I am so blessed and thankful. God has carried me, and will continue to carry me through this illness. I don’t know what the future holds or how many bad days lurk around the corner but I’ll continue to trust in God. I trust him to bring me through the cloud, and when I come out the other side, I’ll talk about it, and tell people they can trust my God to bring them through the darkness too.I’ll talk about it, and tell people they can trust my God to bring them through the darkness too #BellLetsTalk Click To Tweet
If you’re reading this post and are struggling with depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, social anxiety, or any other form of mental illness, please know that you are not alone. Please don’t be afraid to reach out, don’t be afraid to talk about it. There are so many of us who live with this broken brain. Don’t suffer alone. When you step out and talk about it, you’ll find us, waiting and willing to talk about it with you.