My Struggle with Mental Illness
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so I want to do something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I want to share about my struggle with mental illness. It’s my hope that this post might spread more awareness of mental illness and might help to eliminate the stigma surrounding it. Let’s start from the beginning.
Since I was two years old, I have been absolutely terrified of vomit. I’m afraid of other people throwing up, I’m afraid of myself throwing up – absolutely terrified. Just thinking about this is making my chest tighten and my breathing shallow as anxiety starts to flood in. Most of my life people have laughed at my fear of vomit, which has truthfully made it so much worse. When I desperately needed help managing what I didn’t know was extreme, crippling anxiety, nearly everyone blew this off as a joke. I remember in kindergarten there was a girl in my class who got sick a few different times throughout the school year. I was so afraid of her that I couldn’t be near her at all. All through elementary school if someone ever got sick at school, I would be afraid of them for weeks after they recovered. My brother suffered from migraines as a child and got sick often. I was terrified to be around him any time he said his head hurt. But I wasn’t just afraid, if I couldn’t escape the situation I downright could not function. As I got older I developed some habits that accompanied this fear. I learned that peppermints helped with nausea and soon I wasn’t able to leave the house, get in a moving vehicle, or travel without a decent supply of peppermints. I developed a knack for easily getting prescribed Zofran, and I hoarded and guarded it like a treasured jewel. It was this fear and my compulsions accompanying it that eventually led me to getting a diagnosis of OCD when I was 24.
My 24th year was the year of diagnosis’s for me, but we’ll get more into that as we go. The very first diagnosis I received was in July of 2018 and it was something I probably should have been diagnosed with as a child. I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. When most people hear of OCD they think of people who have to have all their pens arranged perfectly straight or someone who has to check locks three times before they go to bed. While that’s certainly a part of OCD, that’s not what it looks like for me. My OCD presents itself mostly in obsessive and impulsive thoughts along with impulsive behaviors. Obsessive thoughts can be any thought that repeatedly plays itself through my head to the point where I begin to obsess over it and it’s all I can focus on. Sometimes they are positive, like wanting a dog. (I obsessed over this for about 2 months this past winter). But sometimes the thoughts can be negative like that all my roommates must be talking about me and they must hate me, even when I have nothing to base that on. (I’ve had this one before as well). Impulsive thoughts are weird and embarrassing. I get one impulsive thought in particular that I especially hate. It’s giving me anxiety right now to even admit it! But it’s something that I can’t control. I will get this impulsive thought to kiss someone I’m talking to sometimes. I’ll have no attraction to them whatsoever and I would never act on the impulse, but sometimes the impulsive thought is so strong it’s all my brain can focus on to make it go away! For YEARS I thought I was a complete freak and never dared admit this to anyone. Then nearly a year ago I finally admitted this to a counselor who told me that these types of impulsive thoughts were actually really common in people with OCD! You wouldn’t believe how relieved I was to hear that these thoughts were normal for someone with my condition.
Alongside OCD, I have two other diagnosis’s, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Bipolar Disorder. My 24th year was the hardest and worst year of my life. My bipolar disorder began to manifest for the first time right before my 24th birthday. I had my first manic episode about a month before I turned 24. At the time I didn’t know I was manic. I remember feeling really good, but really weird. I felt reckless and rebellious. I wanted to go make out with someone which is very unlike me. I went and got a tattoo on a whim instead. I blew most of my paycheck in a week. I didn’t know it at the time, but my behaviors were really dangerous. It wasn’t until after the manic episode was over that I realized that I had been manic. Although it would be ten months before I was diagnosed, it was then that deep down I realized that I must be bipolar.
After my first manic episode I fell into a deep, deep depression. This was by far the hardest I fell, I didn’t know how I was going to pick myself back up. I felt like I had fallen in a hole and then the dirt had caved in on top on me. I would come home from work, get in bed and just stare at the wall for hours until I fell asleep. I lost all interest in activities that used to bring me joy. I became a shell of myself. This lasted for nearly three months. On top of being severely depressed, my anxiety was out of control. I felt trapped, buried, crushed, and scared. My chest always felt tight, breathing was always a conscious effort, and my muscles were constantly rigid with tension. I could physically feel the weight of my anxiety bearing down on my chest, making it hard to breathe. I was barely able to function.
Over the next several months I had two more manic episodes intermittent with long episodes of severe depression. At the beginning of November 2018 I found myself in another especially awful bout of depression and anxiety. It was so bad that I had to take a sick day from work and stay home. On that day something new happened to me that scared the wits out of me. I heard a voice in my head that told me to kill myself. I knew the voice wasn’t real, but it sounded oh so real. I knew I didn’t actually want to kill myself, but a big part of me thought it would be easier if I was dead. I would finally be able to escape the deep, caved in hole of depression and anxiety that I was living in. I knew I needed help. I was at my boyfriend Neil’s house and I opened up to him about everything. I told him I needed help and that I needed to go to the hospital. He ended up taking me to the ER. I was transferred from the ER to an inpatient psychiatric hospital where I stayed for seven days. During my time in the hospital I went to group therapy six times a day, received individual therapy, and met with a psychiatrist daily.
When I got out of the hospital, I enrolled in an intensive outpatient program for 4 1/2 weeks. I went to group therapy for six hours a day and met with a psychiatrist multiple times throughout the week. It was here that I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. After I was diagnosed I felt so relived, because it confirmed what I already knew about myself for over 10 months. I knew that now I could get the right help, medicine, and counseling to help cope with my illness, and I knew I was finally on the road to recovery.
A few months later I learned that I have Bipolar I (there are different types of bipolar disorder) which changed the type of medication I was supposed to be on. I’ve had to switch doctors because I don’t currently have health insurance, so I’m still working on finding the right medications.
I’m classified as Bipolar I because I hear voices. I don’t experience any other psychotic symptoms, but the voices automatically classify me as Bipolar I. The voices I hear sometimes scare me because it’s no fun to hear voices when no one else is around. But for the most part they are pretty tame. Most of the time I hear useless chatter in the background, or I hear them saying my name.
I’m doing SO much better than I was a year and a half ago when my real mental breakdown started. But I still have my ups and downs. I’ve learned that recovery is not linear and that there will be sinking moments before tremendous moves upward. I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned in counseling thus far and all the new coping skills I have gained over the past year. I can’t wait to see what’s to come in my journey to recovery! I know that while recovery isn’t linear, I will continue to climb upward, and win my battle against mental illness.
My hope in writing this blog is to spread awareness for mental health and help eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness. So feel free to share this blog as you see fit! I hope that it can bring someone else hope in their journey to recovery as well.
My name is Carrie. I am originally from Knoxville, Tennessee but now live in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I am an avid fan of the Tennessee Vols, all things Harry Potter, and the month of October. My biggest passion is working with people who have intellectual disabilities and promoting inclusion.
To see more of my writing, visit my blog https://choosingjoy.me.