Opening Up About My Mental Health Struggles
It's easy to feel as if you are alone when facing your inner demons. Here is my letter to you...
If you’re reading this, then that means I have finally decided to share my light with the world. I am absolutely terrified to begin this process of sharing my life and all of the crazy, yet, wonderful ideas I have with everyone, but I am also thrilled to finally put my money where my mouth is and follow my wildest dreams. There are a million items on my “to-do-list” and a hundred more ideas scattered throughout my brain, but, like all things, I am working on taking things one step at a time; this is what I would like to call the first crawl of a climb that I hope to soar one day… and I hope you’ll learn to fly with me.
Now, onto the topic that this piece is titled…
This is not your usual introduction piece, but I concluded that sharing my light with the world meant sharing the parts of me that do not always shine. The topic of mental health, or my occasional, lack thereof, has always been a very difficult topic for me to address, and one that I have always kept confidential; opening up about my own battles makes me extremely uncomfortable and vulnerable, but I realize that I am not the only one. If voicing my experiences and coping mechanisms can help just one soul, then this will not be for nothing.
For years now, I have struggled with learning how to control panic attacks, anxiety attacks and mild cases of depression. There is not a particular moment that I can point to and say, “That’s where my anxiety began.”, nor is there a specific event that I can blame for these problems. I had anxiety attacks before I knew that they were anxiety attacks, and it took me years before I realized what these episodes of terror and restlessness that used to strike me every night before bed were. I would feel a sense of intense fear, and not know what I was even scared of. I was not sure why I was having difficulty breathing and calming myself down every night, or why it took me crying myself to sleep in order for me to even fall asleep. Later, these anxiety attacks became less frequent and panic attacks would become the more dominant issue in my life, and it was not until then, that I realized that all those nights I spent trying to calm my heartbeat were anxiety attacks…
I have never disclosed my nightly attacks with anyone. This is the closest I have come to being able to say it “out loud”— in my writing. It was not until I started to experience a feeling of dying and an intense fear of dying that I decided that I could not handle this on my own.
One day I began to feel my chest tighten, some of my limbs go numb and my breath shorten more and more each second. I thought I was having a heart attack, and the more I tried to breathe, the more it seemed to hurt and the harder it became for me to remember how to even take deep breaths. The symptoms would last for half an hour and then I would feel completely fine after. This occurrence would begin to happen to me every single day for a week or two at a time, leave me alone for a month and then come back to repeat the same cycle. Naturally, I googled these symptoms and learned that I was dealing with panic attacks.
I never wanted to tell anyone about my attacks. It’s strange, actually. I felt embarrassed or scared to tell anyone that I needed help. It took me years before I could even face my parents and tell them that I have been struggling with mental battles—mostly because I did not want to worry them and then have to try to explain what this thing in my head was. So, even for them, reading this is the first that they will be learning about a few things I have dealt with. I felt like my mental health problems were something I had to learn how to take care of on my own.
I felt like they seemed like such minor issues. I felt like people would look at me funny or would think I was seeking attention. I felt like people would not understand, and, honestly, they don’t. Unless you have personally gone through these sensations, then you will never understand what someone struggling with this is going through.
I have learned that the hardest part about telling people about your mental health struggles is answering the questions, “Why?” and “What?”
“Why do you get these attacks?”
“Why is it hard for you to breathe?”
“What is triggering them?”
“What are you scared of?”
There is no answer to these questions. I cannot tell you why I’m hurting because I, myself, am trying to figure out why my mind is working against me, too. I have the same questions you are asking me. The hardest and most frustrating part about explaining to someone that you are suffering these attacks is the inability to provide an acceptable explanation.
Unfortunately, sometimes it feels like you need an army to fight your own mind. The truth is, that army is just you, but you cannot be that source of strength for yourself without the support of others around you to help uplift you. I am still learning this, but I’m finding it to be more and more true every day.
Though your loved ones may not fully understand, they can be there for you. I found that having people I love and trust to confide the darkest parts of my life with has been therapeutic. It takes many trial and error runs to figure out what comforts your soul the most, but I found it to be much more efficient to find ways to strengthen your mind and body with people who care about your mind and body just as much as you do, rather than doing it on your own.
I have not “beaten” these attacks yet. I have not found the ultimate way to cease them.
I HAVE learned that my mental health, no matter how severe, is not a minor problem, it is THE problem. I have learned to dedicate time to myself to figure out what makes my soul shine. I have [slowly] learned remedies that work to ease my mind and soul. I have learned to let my loved ones help me. But, most importantly, I have learned that it is ok not to be ok right away. Things take time…But, like I said, one thing at a time. If you are struggling with similar issues, I pray you can find the strength and space to let yourself understand your mind, body and soul someday soon.