In junior high and high school, one would never have thought I had a mental illness. On the surface, I lived life as any other teen would. I attended church camps in junior high, and I cheered in high school, but under the surface, I was like a hurricane. Destructive and completely unpredictable.
Junior high was when my destructive behavior started. I was grounded for some reason or another, and a dance was coming up that my parents told me I couldn’t attend because, well, I was grounded. I screamed at them telling them how unfair it was that I wouldn’t go, and stormed off to my room. I sat on my bed crying as if not going to this dance was the end of the world. As I cried and cried, this wave of anger came over me. This was the point in time where I discovered self harm.
I dug my fingernails in to my cheeks and forehead and scratched my self over and over again. It was the only thing that made sense to me at that time to release the anger that had taken over.
When I went to school the next day, kids were asking me what had happened to my face. I lied and told them my cat attacked me…we didn’t even have a cat at home. I still have scars on my face from that day.
Carving became “popular” around this time as well. So not only was I self harming myself to release anger, I was doing it because it was “cool.” My friend and I carved hearts on the insides of our ankles and the initials of boys with a cork screw.
When I wasn’t carving my skin with my friend, it was something I did when I was mad at my parents or when I had a bad day at school, which seemed like was majority of the time. To this day, I have to see those scars that remind me of my dark past. The cuts I attempted to get covered up with tattoos still stand out to me on my arm, and seeing “FUCK U” below my hip bone makes me re-live a past that I wish could be gone forever.
After high school, I spiraled down in to a world of alcohol and drugs. At 19/20 years old, a normal night for me was staying up until 4am…not because I couldn’t sleep or wanted to stay up all night, but because I was addicted to ecstasy. The pressed pills we (the “friends” I had at the time) were taking, were pressed pills that were cut with heroine.
I was lost in the world…hurting, confused, and becoming extremely unhealthy…but at that time, the ecstasy was the only thing that made me feel “real happiness.” I was lying to myself. The feelings I was experiencing weren’t real at all. They were drug induced feelings, and I had no idea the damage they were doing to my brain and body.
We became friends with our drug dealer, giving us an endless supply of these pills. A couple months in, and I had no idea who I was anymore.
I remember one time specifically when my boyfriend at the time had to force feed me. My favorite sandwiches used to be Arby’s BLTs…I used to eat an unhealthy amount of them before this. Two months in to this crazy new addiction, and I realized I hadn’t hardly eaten at all. He held me down on the ground, shoved a bite of BLT in to my mouth, and held my mouth closed until I swallowed it. It makes me sick to think about it, and re-living it in my head isn’t fun, but it was what I needed done at that time.
I was down to 96 pounds. My normal weight ranged between 115lbs & 125lbs, so when I dropped down under 100lbs, I recognized that something wasn’t right. While the picture below looks normal to someone who doesn’t know my story, this was taken around the time when I hit my lowest weight. Looking at this photo now, I see a girl who was completely lost, sad, confused, and unhealthy.
There came a point that I should have gone to rehab. I was underweight, out of control, and everyone I was surrounding myself with encouraged this addiction. One night, we were all hanging out watching movies…someone handed me a pill to take, and my dog Brodey came up and sat next to me. He looked at me with sadness and hurt in his eyes as I raised the pill to my mouth. At that very moment, I lowered my hand, my eyes filled with tears, I handed back the pill to my friend, and said, “I’m done.” My dog saved my life.
Not long after, my mom came to me with a stack of paper in her hands. She sat me down and told me we needed to talk. My mom was completely unaware of my addiction, and I didn’t tell her for a long time after.
She said to me, “I’m going to read you something, and I want you to tell me if this sounds like you at all.” Confused and a bit worried, I said, “ok,” as my mom took a deep breath, and started to list off symptoms and descriptions. She didn’t tell me what it was that she was reading about…she wanted an honest answer out of me before she told me what it was.
As she was reading, she was fighting tears. I continued to listen in silence, getting slightly uncomfortable and worried. Here’s some of the things she listed off…
- “Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
- Decreased need for sleep (for example, you feel rested after only three hours of sleep)
- Unusual talkativeness
- Racing thoughts
- Increased goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) or agitation
- Doing things that are unusual and that have a high potential for painful consequences — for example, unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions or foolish business investments
- This [bipolar disorder] causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). When you become depressed, you may feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in most activities. When your mood shifts in the other direction, you may feel euphoric and full of energy. Mood shifts may occur only a few times a year or as often as several times a week.” [source]
As she read off the list, I began thinking of the times when I had experienced these things. Racing thoughts was something I thought was normal, as it happened daily. I barely graduated high school with a 2.0 GPA because focusing seemed impossible during class. My mom brought up the times when I was unusually talkative, and opened my eyes to my spending habits. My bank account was overdrawn by $250, and I was always buying things I didn’t need, with money I didn’t have. I recalled all the times I was so angry or sad that I resorted to self harm, and the times when I felt like I could conquer the world.
For a long time, I was full of hate and anger. I was mean to everyone, and at one point in my life, joined a “gang” where we’d start fist fights with random people, just to look more tough. These people didn’t do anything wrong, but they’d give me one wrong look up and down, and that was enough for me to say something way out of line, and give me an excuse to fight them.
She looked up from the papers and the tears she had been fighting finally came out. She blamed herself for not noticing it sooner. I asked over and over again what it was that she was reading to me about, and she could hardly tell me. She said, “If I would have recognized this sooner, I would have gotten you help…you would have done better in school…I’m so sorry I didn’t see this sooner.”
She finally told me that it was Bipolar disorder. The second it came out of her mouth, I was in denial.
I didn’t want to be the girl that was labeled “crazy.” Every time I had heard the term Bipolar, people were talking badly about someone. But I knew I needed help, so I went to the doctor appointment that my mom set up for us (me, my mom, and my dad.)
Over the course of a year or so, I saw two separate doctors. The first doc that originally diagnosed me, I trusted because this was all so new to me. She was a professional and to my knowledge, she knew what was going to be best for me. Looking back to the days of seeing this doctor, I question how she’s still in the medical field.
Each medication I tried either didn’t work, or had side effects that I couldn’t live with. She continued to try medication after medication assuring me that we’d find one that worked best for me. Some caused me to gain weight (which at one point I stopped eating to try and lose weight because I was told that one particular medication wouldn’t cause me to gain weight, so I thought I was just getting heavy, but she lied to me), some gave me tremors so bad I couldn’t write and when I spoke, my jaw would twitch causing me to stutter and people would poke fun at me. One medication made me feel like I was drunk, and when I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I fell down steep wood stairs leaving bruises all over my body. Later I found out that some of these medications were brand new and didn’t have much studies done on them yet. This doctor that I trusted had been lying to me about what I was putting in my body.
For too long, I was a Guinea pig to the pharmaceutical world. Being bounced around through different medications like a ping pong ball in an intense ping pong tournament. So not only had my brain taken a beating from my mental illness and the ecstasy binge, but now all of these different meds.
I wasn’t living with my parents during this time, so they weren’t able to keep tabs on me and make sure I was taking my medicine. The side effects and frustration had gotten so bad, that I decided to stop taking it all together. It wasn’t long before I landed at a new doctor (which was probably the best way to go anyways.)
This new doc was much more understanding and helpful. I didn’t feel like she wanted to use me as her lab rat and test out new medications on me. Instead, she had me list out all the side effects I had experienced on previous medications, what helped me to feel better and what didn’t, etc. There were a few meds that she put me on that helped a little bit, but nothing made me feel normal. If it wasn’t my bipolar/ADHD effecting my daily life, it was a side effect, or vise versa. It became really frustrating…I just wanted to feel normal.
My code was faulted somewhere and no one could figure out how to fix it. I lived in a world of confusion, misunderstanding…battling with myself daily, while also dealing with the side effects of dozens of different medications.
I had friends, but I still felt all alone in a world full of people. But I didn’t feel alone in the sense that I didn’t have anyone in my life that loved and supported me, I felt all alone because this is something that is impossible to explain to someone who has never battled a mental illness before.
I couldn’t express how I felt to my friends without making them think I was a crazy person. And the chances were slim to none that any of them would take the time to listen and learn about my mental illness. The stereo types and judgments? Those were all present too. I couldn’t have my own voice or opinion without someone blaming it all on my mental illness. I was misunderstood.
It’s an awful feeling wanting to open up to someone you trust about your mental illness. The fear of judgement is crippling, and it seems as if once you do tell someone, you’re not treated the same.
Time and time again I’ve opened up to people HOPING that maybe a small piece of them would want to educate themselves and try to understand. But instead, if an argument comes up in the future, you’re automatically blamed because of your mental illness, and now all you feel is that they’re looking at you like you’re their broken friend. I wanted people to see me as a person and not as my mental illness.
People throw around the term “bipolar” so loosely. “The weather is bipolar,” “that girl is bipolar I swear,” without even knowing what it means. See, bi-polar disorder isn’t just mood swings. It’s so much more than that. It’s brain fog, severe depression, anxiety, panic attacks-any or all could come at any moment without warning.
Some days you feel on top of the world…nothing can stand in your way and you can be anyone and accomplish anything! But then it could easily turn in to sadness and confusion…asking yourself “why me?” and wishing all the shit away. Feeling like a prisoner in your own body.
The anxiety and panic attacks that make you feel like you’re literally about to die. Sometimes even, your whole life flashes in your head wishing you could say goodbye to so many people before everything goes black.
I had a panic attack so bad just a few months ago, that I almost called Talon (my fiance) to come home from work to take me to the ER. I couldn’t breath, I felt like my throat was closing up, I felt like I was in a fun house at a carnival in our own home. The walls started closing in and the floors were tilting back and forth. I couldn’t stand up. I was dizzy and terrified.
So, to everyone who uses “bipolar” as a term to describe something or someone, please know that you might be hurting someone who is battling with it daily.
All we want is people who are willing to TRY and understand what we’re dealing with without judgement. Without saying, “well, I’ve felt stress and anxiety before and I just dealt with it and moved on with my day. I didn’t go kill myself and I’m not on medications.”
Stop comparing your story to ours unless you’ve experienced it on a terrifying level. I’m more than happy to educate people about mental illness if they TRULY want to listen and learn. But don’t come at me with questions about it with the intention of judging me now, or in the future. #madaboutit
To this day, I still wonder what it’s like to feel like a “normal,” healthy person. Most months, I’m in a dream like state or what is called “brain fog.” For once in my life I want to experience what it’s like to feel 100%. I want to have conversations with people that I can remember when I walk away, I want to be able to read a book or article online without fighting against my brain to stay focused on what’s in front of me, I don’t want to be made fun of or irritating people with my OCD, I want to be present in all situations and not feel like a ghost. I want to be LIVING life, not just another soul wandering through it. And I don’t want side effects of medications standing in my way.
It’s been about five years since I’ve taken prescription meds for my bipolar and ADHD. From 2013-2015, I was taking an all natural supplement to help manage my symptoms. While they helped tremendously, and didn’t give me any side effects at all, I dove in to the toxic free world and learned about certain things we put in our body that are doing more damage than good [read about our toxic free journey here]. These supplements were better than any prescription drug, and I’d highly recommend them to anyone (after consulting with your doctor of course), but last year, I decided they weren’t the route I wanted to take anymore.
I recently met with a holistic doc, and since then I’ve been taking vitamins and supplements that are good for my body and my brain. Talon even says he can tell a HUGE difference in me since we made the switch! *Can I get a, “hell yeah!”* Seeing a holistic doc was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time (besides saying, “yes,” to Talon ;P)
I’m so thankful to have found someone who loves, supports, and accepts me for who I am and then some. Talon took the time to read as much information as he could about bipolar disorder within the first two months we started dating three years ago. I’m beyond grateful for that, and for him.
He doesn’t know how I feel, he’s never experienced it. And he never will unless he lives in my body for a week. Learning about it was the best way he found, to really try and understand who I am as a person. And he still loves me…every piece of me. On my good days, my bad days, the days where I feel like my whole world is caving in.
He gets me off the couch to go outside and get some fresh air when I’m having a bad mental health day because he knows the fresh air will help. He always knows how to help, and if he doesn’t, then he finds a way. Never have I had anyone accept me like he has. Without getting too sappy about it, I’ll just say…he’s my best friend and soul mate, and I don’t know how I made it this far in life for the 25 years I was without him.
Mental illnesses are all challenging. They each have their own diagnoses’ and symptoms, and the people that have them each experience these things differently. Invisible illnesses especially are hard to understand and very often, completely misunderstood. It’s hard to explain to someone what’s wrong when they can’t see that you’re physically hurting or ill.
I decided to interview someone who has experienced mental illness as well. I wanted to get someone else’s perspective and opinions on the topic, because it’s nice to know what other people live with daily…it was refreshing to hear what she had to say.
I introduce to you…Jorji! She’s my beautiful cousin in-law, and I’m so happy I have her to talk to when I need some advice, or just someone that I can relate to when I need it! I got to pick her brain a bit…these are the questions I asked her, and her responses:
Q: If you had the opportunity to sit down, face to face, with someone who was completely healthy, and didn’t understand mental health at all, what would you want them to know and understand? Something important for them to walk away with.
A: The main thing I would want someone to know, is that Mental Illness doesn’t define a person. I read a quote a while back that said, “Mental Illness is a flaw in our body chemistry, not a flaw in our character,” and that statement couldn’t be more true. Having a mental illness isn’t an all defining factor of who someone is. It doesn’t mean that we are crazy, unstable, or that we are going to go out and shoot up our local movie theater. It just means that we have an illness that we are struggling with, something just like everyone else in the world is.
I wish people would drop the stigma attached to mental illness and get to know the person behind it. I’m not defined by my illness or my struggles. I’m defined by who I am as a human being. I’m defined by my kindness, my compassion, and what I can contribute to the world around me.
Q: What do you think is the hardest part about living with a mental illness, and being surrounded by people who don’t know anything about it?
A: This is hard to answer because there are SO many hard parts that come along with having a mental illness. One of the hardest parts has to be the symptoms themselves. The seemingly never ending sadness, emptiness, hopelessness and all over emotional pain that comes along with having a mental illness is extremely hard to deal with, and it hurts on such a deep level. But so many people do not understand that.
On the outside I may seem fine, strangers on the street most likely wouldn’t see the struggles that I go through on a day to day basis. But it’s there and it is excruciatingly real at times. It’s definitely an internal battle that I have to fight within myself everyday.
I have to be self aware at all times to make sure that I don’t slip back into that dark hole that I have been in so many times before, and I have to listen to my body and my mind to make sure I take care of myself and give myself rest when I need it. I need to be aware of how I react to certain situations and know when my mental illness might be the reason for feeling the way that I do.
I don’t think most people realize how hard I have to work within myself every second of every day to stay strong and to fight. Some days it is easier than others, while other days it takes everything I have to get up in the morning and to face the day ahead of me. But I do it. I do it for my son, for my husband, for my family and friends…and most importantly for myself.
I have come too far and have fought too many battles to give up now. And I think that makes me a very strong person, whether others realize it or not. It is hard living in a world with so many people who don’t understand mental illness or better yet don’t care to understand.
Clinical studies show that one in five American adults are suffering from some kind of mental illness. One in five! That’s a huge number! It’s not as uncommon as people think. So why don’t more people talk about it? Why isn’t there more knowledge on the topic among the general population?
If we had more open conversations about mental illness, and we dropped the stigma, shaming and judgement that is attached to it, I think it would drastically change things. We would see a rise in people getting the help that we need, with a community around them who support and understand them. I think it would also save a lot of lives in the process.
I also wanted to add that I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder age 19. And recently at age 24, I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2.
You can find Jorji on Instagram [here]! Thank you again for sharing your thoughts!
So, how does a person with a mental illness survive in a world of people who have no idea? In a world where it feels like things should be simple, black and white, but you’re stuck in the grey areas day in and day out.
Well, at the end of the day, I have to remember that this is who I am. There is no other me in the world. Instead of sitting around and being bitter about the people who don’t understand, being mad about the life I’ve been given, and feeling sorry for myself…I have to remember how many things I have to give to the world and everyone in it.
As a creative, I’ve found a passion for writing. It makes me happy when people say they enjoy what I write, because to me, most of it is just random thoughts that I put out there to hopefully reach the souls that need something they can relate to. Or the souls that are lost and confused and not sure where they want to go next in life. I hope my words will inspire people.
I’ve never been good at keeping a journal to get my thoughts out on. I felt so alone with my thoughts that way. It’s nice to put these things out there to feel more of a connection with people who might be going through the same things as me.
We’re all connected somehow, some way…and this is my way of connecting with you all on a deeper level. Because sometimes the world seems scary and big, and other times we get so wrapped up in politics, hate, rebellion, judgement, or boycotting target…that we forget who we are, where we came from, and how absolutely incredible it is that we woke up to another day of life. We forget that loving one another is important. We forget how it feels when someone judges or says something that hurts us, so we go and judge and hurt other people without the slightest recollection of the times when someone did the same to you and it hit deep.
“According to WHO (World Health Organization), approximately one million people commit suicide each year worldwide, that is about one death every 40 seconds or 3,000 per day. For each individual who takes his/her own life, at least 20 attempt to do so. Suicide has a global mortality rate of 16 per 100,000 people.” [source]
I refuse to be another statistic. I’ve got a lot of people to prove wrong.
To anyone who is battling an invisible illness (Anxiety, Bi-polar, Depression, Diabetes, Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Crohn’s, MS, Arthritis, Cancer, Heart Disease, etc.) and/or a mental illness that I didn’t list, please know that you are not alone. It’s very hard to openly discuss my invisible illnesses’, as I’ve been judged, laughed at, and made fun of my whole life. It’s not easy, but it’s nice to know that there are other people out there that are struggling with the same things every day…I know I’m not alone.
You are not your mental health. You are so much more than that. Don’t be defined by your mental illness. Find what you have to offer to the world and get out and do it. Find more time to do the things you love and enjoy, even when it seems impossible.
It’s hard to convince myself that I won’t allow my mental illness to make me a victim, but I’m here today, and I don’t plan on quitting any time soon. So please…if you have an invisible illness/mental illness and ever want to talk, please don’t hesitate to message me [Instagram, Facebook, Email]. I want to know your story. Vent to me, cry to me, laugh with me-whatever you feel like you need to do, do it. #YouAreNotAlone
*Disclaimer! I am not a doctor or a medical professional. What works for me may not work for you. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, please seek medical advice. DO NOT stop taking your medication without your doctors consent. If you are having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to your nearest hospital. If someone you know has expressed thoughts of suicide to you, DO NOT hesitate to get them help IMMEDIATELY by contacting local authorities, or taking them to the hospital. If you are struggling with addiction, please seek help at a treatment or recovery center!*
(The disclaimer above was added by Heather herself. Also, note the Q&A within this post Heather has provided from separate conversations she had with someone else. We did not participate in this interview. Heather's story and blog can also be found on http://www.freeastheflowers.com)