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How I got a handle on my mental health

****TRIGGER WARNING- Mental health/ suicide***

I’ve struggled with anxiety since I was a young child. I was what people would call a “nervous child.” Since kindergarten, I struggled with extreme shyness, panic attacks and nervous habits like biting my nails, chewing my hair and chewing on my shirt sleeves.

Photo by Finn on Unsplash.

When I started high school, I began to struggle with depression, and it got worse as I went through high school and college. Toward my senior year, it was hard for me to convince myself to do anything besides go to school and work. I would spend entire summer breaks where all I did was work and lay in bed by myself until it was time to go to work. I would spend hours crying or doing nothing at all, convinced I was worthless.

This was made even harder by the fact that I was a pretty good student and performed well at work. I was able to put on a mask so that everyone else believed I was fine. To everyone around me, I was happy and cheerful. It was something I couldn’t turn off, even when I desperately wanted to.

I started to think that maybe it was all in my head. Maybe I was just lazy, maybe I just needed to stop being sad, maybe it was all in my head, maybe I was doing it for attention. Gosh, Kasey, why can’t you just be normal? Why can’t you just be a good person? Is something I thought regularly.

Appearing fine on the outside while suffering from depression is often referred to as “high-functioning depression,” although I tend to avoid this term because I believe it’s misleading. Because even though I did well in school and at work, I wasn’t “high-functioning” in any other area of my life. In fact, I was barely functioning.

Because of this, it was hard to get help for my illnesses. When I went to counselors and doctors in my senior year of high school and freshman and sophomore years of college, they were hesitant to diagnose or do anything with me because of how well I seemed to be doing in my academic and professional life.

“You seem a little down, but I don’t know you well enough to diagnose you with depression or anxiety,” was something the last counselor I saw told me before I decided to stop seeking help. I started to think that maybe it was all in my head. Maybe I was just lazy, maybe I just needed to stop being sad, maybe it was all in my head, maybe I was doing it for attention. Gosh, Kasey, why can’t you just be normal? Why can’t you just be a good person? Is something I thought regularly.

In the fall of 2018, I started having suicidal thoughts. I never made a plan or thought of actively killing myself, but struggled more with what I’ve heard called “passive suicidal ideation,” which is more along the lines of thinking thoughts like: maybe I’d be better off dead.

Meanwhile, my depression and anxiety got to a point where they were becoming harder and harder to hide. It started getting harder and harder for me to get out of bed, I cried at the drop of a hat, was having at least one panic attack a day and would become angry and irritable about small things that normally wouldn’t have bothered me. I felt like I had no control over my emotions or my life and started self-harming.

Writing this is difficult, to say the least. But I decided to because I know I’m not alone. Generally‚ about 1 out of every 6 adults will have depression at some time in their life, and about 16 million American adults every year suffer from depression annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC has also reported that anxiety disorders often go hand in hand with depression. Children also struggle with mental health disorders like depression as anxiety;

So when I finally hit my breaking point, here are some things I did to help with my mental health. Obviously, everyone’s different, so these tips aren’t one size fit all, but I’m hoping that by sharing both my problem and my solution, it might help others with their own journeys.

1. I got a cat

Photo of Mr. Meow. Photo by Kasey Faur.

This one might seem kind of silly, but I swear it helped. In February of 2018, my partner and I adopted a cat from one of the local shelters named Mister Meow because my partner worked nights and it was hard for me to be alone. Obviously, adopting him didn’t cure my depression or anxiety, but it was nice for me to have someone to take care of who depended on me, and something other than my depression and anxiety to focus on. We got a cat because we were living in a small apartment at the time, so we thought a cat made the most sense for us. But honestly, I’m a firm believer that any kind of pet can help, depending on what is right for you.

2. I found a doctor that listened to me

At the encouragement of family and a close friend, I tried going to a doctor again. I really didn’t want to because of my past experiences, but I ended up going because I realized that my mental health wasn’t just affecting me, but the people I loved. I was expecting nothing to come from it, but to my surprise, the doctor did agree that I had moderate to severe depression and anxiety and gave me options about how I wanted to proceed. I started going to counseling (I got lucky on the first try and got a counselor I got along well with, but I know that isn’t always everyone’s experience) and I started taking antidepressants that he thought would be right for me.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.

I’ve read a lot of articles where people say that they can’t cry on anti-depressants, but that’s not the case for me. Again, everyone’s different and I’m not a doctor, but I think it’s because of the fact that I felt emotions in such extremes before. I didn’t get sad and angry, I got devastated and furious.

3. I started talking about it

When I first got in counseling and on medication, I was ashamed and embarrassed to talk to anyone about it, even close friends and family members who knew (most didn’t). But the thing is, I genuinely did start feeling better. For the first time in years, I felt like I was fully feeling life. I could really enjoy the happy moments without a cloud of shame or self-doubt hanging above me, and I could feel other emotions, like anger and sadness on a much more regulated level than I was before. And because of counseling, I learned coping skills and techniques to manage my depression and anxiety.

Photo by Dustin Belt on Unsplash.

Anyway, all is to say that I got to a point where I wanted people to know how happy I was, and more importantly, why I felt as happy as I did. I stopped thinking of it as this shameful, guilty thing and more as just another thing that made me me. Especially now, looking back at where I am compared to where I was, I am super proud of how far I’ve come. It wasn’t easy to get here and I still have a lot of work to do. But it feels good. And talking to people and learning about their experiences and being vulnerable with them always ended up being a positive experience. And the more people I talked to about, the more I realized that almost every person I know has been touched by mental illness in some way, whether they’ve experienced it themselves or been close to someone who has.

4. I began following a routine

Last but not least, I developed a morning, afternoon and night routine I could stick to. For me, it was crucial to have a routine because it took the guesswork out of my mornings and nights. Rather than worrying about what I should do first and then ruining my productivity because of all the time I spent worrying, I had a clean-cut plan I could follow that was put my worrying mind on auto-pilot. It also helped a LOT with my productivity, which in turn helped a lot with my confidence.

Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash.

My morning routine:

-Drink at least eight ounces of water

-Read

-Exercise

-Meditate

-Eat a healthy breakfast

-Make a to-do list

-Prioritize my to-do list

-Celebrate completing my to-do list

I know it seems like a lot, but you can adjust how much time you spend on each task, depending on your morning and customize your to-do list to fit your needs.

In the afternoon, my routine is basically just looking at my to-do list and focusing at least 20 minutes of my time of deep, unfocused attention on one of my non-day job-related projects, like my novel. And my night routine is basically just changing into my pajamas, washing my face, journaling and reflecting on my day and taking my medication.

I want anyone and everyone who’s ever struggled with mental illness that it does get better, and you aren’t alone. Even when it seems hopeless, there is hope. And if you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm: here are some numbers to organizations that want to help:

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1–800–273–8255

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

The Trevor Project: 1–866–488–7386

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Listicles, Personal Narrative

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