Trigger Warning: Talk of suicide and intrusive thoughts. If you are struggling, please reach out to 800-273-TALK (8255) or online chat at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
It’s been 4 years since I first posted publicly that I live with mental illness, 2 days after my dear friend died by suicide at Christmas. A force within me had to speak. In that moment, I didn’t stop to wonder what others would think of me. I just knew that suicide shouldn’t be hushed up any longer.
But to this day I do wonder. After the blind passion turned to clarity, I began to question what others thought of me. What do they think of me? Because inside I’m deeply insecure and afraid of what I’m perceived to be.
That crazy chick. The one who embarrasses her family by being open about her mental illness!
I wish the world could love me for me, depression, anxiety, mania and all.
But I have to be realistic. I know there are people unwilling to listen, who just don’t get it and don’t want to. And honestly I don’t know if it’s possible to change those people’s minds. Not unless they are confronted with their own personal crisis, or when someone they deeply cherish struggles or even dies by mental illness. It’s sad to say but in those awful moments, those people may begin to understand.
Perhaps then they’ll begin to open their eyes and hearts to the truth. Just look what happens when a beloved celebrity dies by suicide, and the stigma needle begins to move.
At those times, the world starts to see the truth, that mental illness is a real medical condition that needs treatment, not shame and guilt. That people will start to understand that there is hope for people like me. For people like us.
But as I say the words “mental illness is real,” I’m not talking to those who don’t get it. I’m not talking to the people who do not live with mental illness. I’m talking to you, the important audience in the fight against stigma. I’m talking to those of you who live with mental illness too.
I keep talking about my own struggles because I want to touch your hearts. I want to reach those of you sitting there silently suffering. The ones afraid to reach out. The ones who think they’re “crazy” and don’t want the world or even a doctor to know.
I want you to know you are not alone.
When I was 19 (22 years ago) I had my first “breakdown” in college. I didn’t understand what was happening when all I could physically do was cry. It was precipitated by a date rape I had repressed for a year. I briefly saw a therapist but didn’t do the work of recovery. A few years later after another depressive episode, I took my first antidepressant, but stopped cold turkey when I realized I couldn’t find the highs, while losing the lows.
My doctor didn’t even notice.
Years after my date rape in college I still lived with it’s effects, as a young professional. I had intrusive thoughts of (1) hurting and (2) killing myself (yes they are two different things.) And actually did hurt myself, both physically and emotionally because of those thoughts. Thankfully a few friends reached out to me at just the right time and I never acted on my suicidal thoughts. Instead, I took a break from the work world and tried an alternative hypnotherapy to move beyond the pain that was killing me.
That was a huge turning point in my young life. At 29 I finally believed the rape was not my fault, that I could be treated, and find happiness again. I met my husband just a few months after returning from my mental health hiatus. I wasn’t perfect. I was definitely a work in progress, but I once again believed that I had value, that I deserved to be loved.
Over the years I’ve continued to have my ups and downs. My diagnosis changed drastically from general depression and anxiety to bipolar 2, so yeah, lots of ups and downs literally. I’ve taken many meds to find the right combination for me: SSRI’s, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics. But I’ve also found help with therapy, supplements, and even dietary changes. Most importantly I value sleep for my mental health.
After having my second child almost 5 years ago, I had yet another crisis. I barely remember what it was like, what I must have been like. I had breezed through with good solid medication management and therapy with my first child, my son. But when my daughter arrived the stress, lack of sleep, and hormonal changes became way too much. My husband almost hospitalized me, he told me later. But with his support and that of my doctors, I kept moving forward.
I’ve seen way too much suicide in my life to lose that fight. I can’t let it happen to me. And now, with a husband and two young children, I can’t let it happen to them.
The year after my daughter was born, my dear friend died by suicide. Something inside of me simultaneously broke and became impassioned. I broke because I identified way too much with her. I was triggered by her death and my bipolar symptoms raged out of control. The intrusive thoughts came back again.
But I also became impassioned by mental health advocacy. I started raising funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and have since become vice chair of our local chapter. Doing something productive became a part of my healing process. And while I have continued to have many ups and downs, I also feel like doing the work that I do helps me heal. And I know I have helped others who have lost loved ones to suicide. I’ve also helped others who struggle with mental illness.
Being a stigma fighter for me is not an easy job. It’s often very triggering. I have to take breaks. I have to focus on other more “fun” things a lot of the time. I have to monitor my own mental health. But if I continue to do it and reach just one life, help one more person, I know that it’s worth it.
Cristi Comes is warrior mom, wife, and writer at Motherhood Unadorned. She is passionate about motherhood, mental health, and self care, and is Vice Chair for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Washington State, and a member of the Postpartum Progress editorial team. Follow her Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.