Today is World Mental Health Day. Not to be confused with a Hallmark holiday, today marks an important time in our world – a time to continually work at breaking the stigma of mental health issues.
And that’s why I’m sharing my story. To help break the stigma. When we share our stories, when we make ourselves vulnerable, it gives other people a moment to say ‘Oh wow, me too.”
I realized I was a bit ‘different’ when I was 12 years old. I remember ‘having’ to arrange my Thom McAn shoes in perfect order. Making sure they were just right – next to each other, touching, perfectly aligned – for fear something ‘bad’ would happen. When climbing the stairs after school to our small, two bedroom apartment, I would count a series of numbers in rapid succession because it ‘felt right.’
Neither action got in the way of my family life, my social life or my school work. And while acting on those obsessive behaviors felt necessary, they were also….annoying and limiting. And yet, I told no one.
Some how, some way, those behaviors slowed down, weren’t as prominent in my life, but were replaced with detailed, obsessive thoughts. Most of them based on someone in my family dying. Sometimes, they were recurring – I would imagine answering the phone, hearing my mother screaming on the other end that my dad had a heart attack. I would imagine every detail, what I would say, what I was wearing, planning the funeral, who would attend, where we would have the luncheon, what I would say to family and friends while there. I would cry through the thoughts. All while my Dad was happily drinking a scotch in the next room, watching the evening news. I was only 15.
I told no one. The anxiety and obsessive thoughts continued over the years, but somehow I managed living well. At least on the outside. I attended college, graduated, was gainfully employed, living on my own, had a fantastic social life and just thought I was a ‘worrier.’ I joked about having anxiety.
It wasn’t until after my first child was born that I realized my thoughts and actions were more than just me being a worrier. My thoughts started affecting my life and I knew I needed to make a change. After the 2am feeding for my sweet, newborn girl, I would put her down and walk out of her room, anxious to get a few more hours of sleep. It would take me 20 minutes to get back to my bed. 20. Minutes.
I started imagining her dying in her sleep. Finding her the next morning. Crying, a funeral, unfathomable loss (only in my mind) gripped me in the tiny hallway between her room and mine. I would get in a thought spiral and try to get back to bed, try to talk myself out of it, try to tell myself I was just worrying and I had to get sleep… It would take me 20 minutes to get back to my room. And then I barely slept. And had to get up for the 5am feeding.
My anxiety was affecting my life outwardly. I had to get help. And I did. I went to therapy, began a spiritual practice that included meditation and began medications. All helped. I started opening up about my issues, told people I never told before. Most understood, some judged. I don’t speak with the judgers anymore.
It’s been 20 years since I started my healing. And in those 20 years, the path hasn’t always been easy. I sometimes revert into isolation and get depressed. Anxiety is my learned response. Depression, the result. However, I have a plethora of tools to get myself out of scary thoughts – and I do. I lift myself up. Because I’ve gotten help. Because I’ve learned. Because I talk about it with people that love me. Because I am not ashamed. Because I am not afraid of stigma.
That’s why I’m sharing this with you all today lovelies. We’ve got this.