I had a nightmare. It’s 3:44 am. My dreams are haunted. I close my eyes and the scenes from yesterday are come closing in. As if it’s happening right now. As if I’m still stuck. I’m not.
I managed to escape, but the memories are never really gone. Like me, maybe you’ve had a few traumatic experiences that make your mental illness feel that much worse. Most days, it’s like I’m drowning in a sea of my own self-destructive thoughts.
I’m trying to swim but I can’t even float. It feels like I’m sinking to the bottom with nothing to stop me but me. I was never the competitive type. So, I pretend everything is okay. In reality, I’m falling apart at the seams.
You see, I’ve always been rather emotional and sensitive. It’s something I’ve taken pride in over the years. I like feeling and being aware of the emotions of others, and of my surroundings. At the beginning of my journey, however, I started getting so nervous to the point where I spent most of my days in bed, crying for no particular reason.
Some days I felt nothing. Others, everything. It was all too much to handle. I made excuses. I told myself that this was just who I was. I was anxious and depressed due to my fear of being left out. I needed to be around people all the time, right? Wrong.
I don’t remember when, but at some point, I realized what I was feeling and going through was not normal nor healthy. It was hard to admit that I was drowning. It was even harder to acknowledge that something I’d taken pride in had become something dangerous to my health.
But, if I was going to get help, if I was going to feel happy again and be able to stay afloat, I needed to admit that something was wrong. I was not okay.
What is a Mental Illness?
A mental illness is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and behavior, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines. When someone has a mental health disorder, certain parts of their brain are damaged —like there is literally a chemical and biological imbalance.
The brain, as an organ in our body, is closely related to other organs. Normal brain function requires a normal function of those other organs. For example, if the heart fails and the brain doesn’t get sufficient oxygen, our brains can’t function, producing mental symptoms such as clouding of consciousness.
Likewise, our brain can affect our moods, how we feel, and even how we choose to behave. For example, thinking about a disturbing past event, like I find myself doing almost daily, immediately leads to rapid heart rate and raised blood pressure. So, we can see that mental and physical health are inter-dependent. It really is a full body disease even though it starts in the mind.
Each story is different, and yet each seems to contain the same thematic elements that ultimately binds us all together —a pervasive feeling of hopelessness and self-loathing that accompanies the inability to do the things and be the person we used to be. Society, looking on from a comfortable distance, doesn’t understand why we can’t handle the demands of daily life.
Well, welcome to the party: neither do I. So even if you feel like that girl above, remember, you don’t have to drown alone. And in theory, that’s comforting. But when you’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to see the shoreline. Is your illness telling you to isolate? Are you saying no to social invitations? Are you dodging phone calls merely because you don’t know what to say?
I get it. Trust me —been there, done that. The thing is, there are specific signs of mental illness whether you realize it or not. It’s funny because after doing some research, I learned that certain personality traits and characteristics that I never understood are actually tied to my diagnosis.
What Should I Look Out For?
If you can recognize what these signs are, you can try to do the opposite. Because it’s especially important to pay attention to sudden changes in thoughts and behaviors in order to keep swimming.
Here are some behavioral examples:
Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
Feelings of extreme highs and lows
Excessive fears, worries, and anxieties
Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
Strong feelings of anger
Strange thoughts (delusions)
Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
Numerous unexplained physical ailments
I know that my mental illness feeds me lies, constantly. It tells me that I’m a fraud, that I’m worthless, and what’s the point of trying, anyway? As a result, I may act differently. At one time or another, I think I’ve checked all of those boxes. Damn. Why are our brains so powerful? The thing is if all of this starts in the mind, can’t it end there too?
Absolutely. And it may not happen overnight. In fact, it definitely won’t. But I think that’s the point. Because anything worth having takes time. And you’re worth more than a mere 24 hours. Ultimately, you don’t have to have it all figured out either in order to keep swimming —just take the next stroke.
So if you need a little guidance on how to do just that, stay tuned for my next blog post, Just Keep Swimming: How to Stay Afloat When You’re Sinking From Self-Doubt.
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