In case you weren’t aware, today is World Mental Health Day. I’m glad I found out about it in time to write this blog post because I have a lot to say about mental health.
In fact, that’s the biggest problem I had while writing this post: where to begin? What exactly to say?
My mental health (or lack thereof) has been a constant factor in my adult life, whether it was good, making life feel normal – or it was bad, making depression and anxiety feel normal. Usually, it was the latter.
Obviously this has affected my career path – and therefore my business – which I’ll get into later in this post.
If you’re intrigued, or if this topic hits home for you, keep reading.
I took this selfie two and a half years ago on my 36th birthday.
I had just gotten out of an inpatient psychiatric hospital the day before, and would return a week and a half later.
My point of posting this pic is: it’s not always easy to tell if someone is depressed. People who know me would probably describe me as upbeat, funny, and always smiling – yet I’ve struggled through just about my entire adult life with mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
I’m convinced these issues were present in my childhood, too, but I wasn’t formally diagnosed with any mental health conditions until I was 21, when my family doctor told me I had depression. I was almost 23 when I was identified as having ADD, and I found out about my anxiety disorder even later than that.
BUT By far, my depression has been the most difficult to deal with.
At the time I was diagnosed with depression, I had mixed feelings: I was relieved to know there was an explanation for why I was feeling the way I did, and I also felt deep shame for having a mental illness. I told very few people. I reluctantly took Prozac for several months, but then decided I was better and quit taking it on my own (dumb move).
After a rough few years, I came to the realization that I will probably always need to be on medication for my mental illnesses, even in times of remission.
And that’s another thing: I had to come to terms with the fact that these conditions will always be with me. For many people, there’s really no “cure” for mental illnesses. There’s just management. (But these conditions CAN be managed…so there’s still a big reason to have hope if you’re coping with them.)
I realize now that for almost all of my adult life, I was always depressed.
Sometimes I was less depressed than other times, but the depression was pretty much always there on some level.
I can only realize this now because I’ve been in a state of remission from this omnipresent depression for the past 14+ months.
Last August/September, I finally experienced what life was like without depression (in a word: AMAZING). I had finally discovered the perfect blend of medications, supplements, treatments, and self-care that allowed my depression to go away for a while.
It took quite an effort to find what worked for me, including:
two back-to-back stints in an inpatient psychiatric hospital in 2016, and
3 rounds of ECT over the course of eight months in 2017.
I still have some irrational shame over needing these treatments to make me better, but I have to be honest with you about it, just in case there’s someone out there who could benefit from stigmatized treatments like inpatient hospitalization and ECT.
The hospitalizations came at a particularly low point in my life that I wasn’t even fully conscious of at the time. The suicidal ideations should have tipped me off, but they seemed so perfectly rational that I didn’t think they were unusual. That’s how far gone I was.
After the hospitalizations, I completed a lengthy “intensive outpatient” program for my depression, which involved going to group classes every workday from 9–2 for about six weeks. This went a long way toward making me more stable and less depressed.
I decided to try ECT because I wanted to aggressively pursue a life without depression, even low-level depression. (Clearly, medications alone were not doing the trick.) In my case, ECT worked – very quickly and very well. I had a couple precipitous dips into depression in between the rounds of ECT, but in both cases, another short course of ECT helped me bounce back nearly as quickly as the depression appeared.
For months after my last round of ECT, even though I was feeling GREAT, my anxiety spiked because I was constantly on guard. I kept expecting depression to return at any time.
But once spring hit and I was still well, I stopped being so anxious about it. It started to look like this period of wellness might actually last.
Who knows…this remission might last another month. It might last five years. It might last the rest of my life (doubtful, but possible). No matter what, I must remain diligent in my preventative efforts to ward it off, but for now, I can enjoy my life the way most people do.
And life is truly wonderful.
Sure, I have mood dips here and there – like non-depressed people do – but in general, I haven’t experienced a lasting depressive episode in over a year, which for me might as well be a decade. It’s amazing. :-)
What this has to do with my business
I’ve never had a true full-time job. After college, I worked a couple of part-time jobs to pay the bills until my husband started his active-duty Army career. Once that chapter of our life began, I went back to school to get my teaching license (which, because of the requirements of the university we lived near, required me going back for a second undergraduate degree).
I then started grad school, but I didn’t finish for a few reasons (a severe depressive episode when we had no luck getting pregnant…and then when I did get pregnant and had to go on bed rest, going to school became impossible).
Then I became a stay-at-home mom. Even though my son attended preschool from 16 months onward, I didn’t get a job. I didn’t technically need one, since my husband’s income covered our needs.
The truth is, my depression kept me from even wanting to work.
This changed when my son started kindergarten right around the time my depression finally lifted. Starting my own business was an idea I had been contemplating for a long time but had been afraid to act on because of my depression. But since I was finally feeling energized and happy and motivated, I decided to jump into it.
That was right about a year ago, and this past year has been the most fulfilling year of my life. It feels incredible to be motivated enough to start a business doing what makes me happy, and to stay with it long-term as it grows.
Life lesson: I wasn’t able to pursue my dream until I had made my mental health and wellbeing my top priority.
My New Normal: Feeling Good
Like I said earlier, I’ve been in an extended period of remission from my depression. Even though I feel good now, I still have to make sure I’m doing the right things to keep my mental health in good shape.
(Plus, since I’ve got my business now, I have extra incentive to stay well – I’ve got clients to think about!)
So every day, I take all my meds (including 5 psychiatric medications), and I take 4 supplements that have been clinically shown to help with depression – plus a multivitamin.
I also try to exercise regularly, which TBH I never feel like doing but always makes me feel better once I’ve done it.
And at this time of year, I use my light box every morning. I sit in front of it for fifteen minutes or so before I do anything. (I’m VERY sensitive to changes in sunlight levels, so fall and winter can be especially difficult for me. My light box goes a long way toward making the colder seasons bearable.)
If you struggle with mental health conditions, you must find what works for YOU to achieve wellness and keep you well.
Fact: It’ll probably take a lot of trial and error. But you MUST stick with it, because no one deserves to feel like shit all the time. Life is not meant to be lived that way. THERE IS HOPE.
If I can get better, chances are excellent that YOU can, too.
The moral of my story is…
If you have mental health conditions, your life is not over. On the contrary, you can take control. You must be persistent and proactive, but you can win.
Remission is possible.
I’m living proof.
I know you’re probably tired of seeing this at the end of anything to do with mental health, but I really do feel a responsibility to end my post with this:
If you are struggling, please reach out to someone you trust and ask for help.
You don’t have to live this way. You can find a list of resources to get help HERE.
There absolutely is hope, even if things seems utterly hopeless. I know, I’ve been there. There are SO many effective treatments for mental health conditions – if one doesn’t work, keep trying until you find something that DOES work. You’re worth it.
And if you see someone in your life who may be dealing with a mental health condition, please intervene and ask them if they need help.
It can be incredibly difficult to ask for help, or even to be aware that something is amiss. (When my depression resurfaces, sometimes the first person to notice is my husband.)
Please, reach out to those who may be struggling just to make it through the day. Let them know they are loved and valued and that you care. It might make all the difference.