Living With Mental Illness: The Road To Recovery
A former coworker once asked me, “Do you hide a lot of pain behind that beautiful, huge smile?” This was ten months ago. I had recently experienced a public mental breakdown that become well known in both my personal and professional circles. The answer to her question is a resounding yes.
My mental breakdown ten months ago resulted after a long period of ignoring and failing to work through my issues. It was making me incredibly resentful and disappointed with myself. And so, after all that hiding and masking of my depression, it blew up in a huge atomic explosion, in my face and in the faces of those around me.
This internalization of my emotions isn’t new. It has occurred for my entire life. I believed that no one else should have to deal with my problems, except me. Mostly because “no one understands me.” Little did I know that the cloaking of my emotions was not only affecting me but also those around me. By holding on to pain, it is like slowly adding to a combustive. It was an inevitable explosion.
I have been a cutter/self-harmer since I was about eight years old, nearly 16 years. It was my way to cope with my problems. It was a way to gain back control that I felt I had lost. I used to hide my cuts with bracelets, band-aids or long sleeves, but in the end, people would always see them. I would find an excuse, or make up some outlandish story to cover up the physical wounds that in reality represented a very deep pain inside me. I had many bubbling points throughout my childhood and teens, but none had ever become so well known to those around me as it did ten months ago.
This outburst of emotions was fuelled by my addictions, poorly treated mental illness issues and a complete lack of self care. I stopped taking my medication, had a hurtful moment of public self harm including broken bottles and a horrible emergency room experience where my struggles were disregarded as simple depression.
I finally had the courage to say the most frightening thing I could have ever imagined; “I need help.” I finally understood that I could not do it on my own and despite all of my secrecy, those around me were as ready as I was for the challenge. Unfortunately it wasn’t the care I needed. I wasn’t treating myself the way I required and four months after my breakdown I took fifty pills of quetiapine. It was not my first attempt to commit suicide but it was one that had a resounding impact. I was admitted. I was thankful for my life and I was truly ready for change.
Three nights after being admitted to the hospital I was tossing and turning, sweating, tapping my foot incessantly and slowly realizing I was an alcoholic. I made the decision to start going to AA as soon as I got out of the hospital.
Upon my release, I knew that had let go of the fear of having to start over. I had to let go of the anxiety of having to tell another doctor everything that had happened to me in my life. I had to, above everything, be honest. Because without honesty, I am never going to get better. Change is the only constant in life, be it positive or negative, everything happens for a reason. William Butler Yeats says: “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth, We are happy when we are growing.” My smile still has a little pain behind it, but now it’s genuinely happy and shining. This is why I offer this advice for recovery.
Be a Survivor
My past does not make me a victim, my past makes me a fighter, a warrior and most of all, a survivor. You are no different. On May 24, I celebrated my first thirty days of being clean and sober. I never imagined I would live an alcohol, drugs, pills and self harm-free life, but I have to admit, I feel more alive than ever before. I am working and I am inspired and I truly believe that everyone has the opportunity to find inspiration and growth through recovery. Recovery, is not easy. Provide yourself with the resources, literature, the tools and the self love to guide your happiness and take it one day at a time.
Find support online, in the form of blogs or forums, Facebook Pages, in person, over the phone, with a family member or a friend, new friends you find from these anonymous groups. Although from personal experience, it's easier to find new people who deal with the exact same problems you do, than to talk with people you already know. Sometimes the people around us do not really understand or know how to cope or what to say, although they may be supportive and there for us, surrounding ourselves with the positive and healthy influences of people who suffer from the similar issues helps so much.
I can not stress how important exercise is in dealing with mental illness. It is the most under-utilized antidepressant that exists. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that will leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. It delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. This way your heart and lungs work more efficiently, so you will have more energy to go about your daily activities. You must find something you like to do; walking, running, biking, swimming, a form of martial arts, weights, or any other activity as long as you are getting yourself moving. Start out small and work your way up. A brisk thirty minute walk is an excellent place to start.
Make a plan and outline of things you would like to accomplish. Take baby steps. Make short-term goals for long term benefits. For example: Give yourself thirty days to start a new exercise program. The body takes twenty-one days to adapt to an environment, a new experience or to overcome withdrawal. If you start by replacing thirty minutes to an hour of watching television, within a month you will feel stronger and more confident and your body will be asking you to exercise.