I would like to welcome Emily of Surviving Limbo as the Mental Health Blogger Of The Week. I asked Emily a series of questions, so rather than me tell you about her, I am going to let Emily’s own words do that. I know we are going to learn a great deal from Emily and her story.
I was a victim of child abuse. As a result, I have anxiety disorders–PTSD, GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), Panic Disorder. I also have mild agoraphobia. I say mild because I can go out under certain conditions such as when not many people are around. I have major depression. To compound matters, the past years of not getting out of the house, not having the energy or will to do anything have led to obesity. It’s one of those vicious cycles. My movement and energy levels are impaired even further.
I was first diagnosed with mental illness during my first year of college. I had withdrawn into near isolation in spite of living in a dormitory with a roommate. I had confided suicidal thoughts to my best friend. Then I had my first giant panic attack, the first one that I recognized anyway. I had gone down into the deserted and dark basement where we held monthly meetings, an odd habit of mine. I like hiding holes. They make me feel safer. Along with all the sensations that go with a panic attack (heart racing, chest pains, hyperventilation, etc.), I was also screaming and crying and throwing metal chairs around. Several roommates heard the noise and several tried to calm me down while one went for the room mother, a young woman who was in charge of taking care of us. They coaxed me into a car and took me to the hospital. By that time, I had withdrawn into one of those creepy dissociative states. I was also diagnosed with that at one time, but it is less a problem now. It’s sort of like catatonia except you move around and follow directions, reacting minimally to your environment, and I spent the rest of the time staring numbly into space. In the ER, a psychiatric nurse was called down, and after about 10 minutes of trying to get me to respond, they admitted me into the psych ward.
I was able to “hold it together” for some years. I got through college, got married, became a teacher. I took anti-depressants but did not see a therapist. Episodes (I don’t know what else to call them?) occurred periodically, but mostly I was okay until about 4-5 years ago when I broke down completely. There’s an account of this on my blog. I lost my job. We had not been very good with our money, living paycheck to paycheck, so when we lost my income, we were reduced to near poverty. We almost lost our home, and we eventually had to declare bankruptcy. It took 3 years for my disability to be approved. I have to fight to do “normal” things. Getting out of bed is an achievement. Cooking dinner and watching TV is an achievement. Family outings, including going to relatives houses for Christmas and Easter and my daughter’s birthday parties and events, are not possible for me now. My daughter and I usually have a private little celebration to the extent I am able, and her Daddy handles the rest. My husband also has become disabled because of a movement disorder the doctors can’t pinpoint, further complicating our lives. My social life is limited to online communication, even for friends who are right here in Rome, Georgia.
As they say, there is always a silver lining. Even though , our little family is closer than ever. I think my experiences have made me empathetic, or extremely sensitive to other people’s pain. I have a sincere desire to help. In an effort to facilitate the healing process, I’ve clearly mapped out my values and priorities according to the principles of my belief system. It’s made me appreciate the little things. Maybe I can’t go to my daughter’s birthday, for example, but she and I can work together to make a birthday cake for us to eat here at home. I treasure that time with her. I’ve learned a great deal about mental illness, and blogging has put me in touch with others who struggle. This has helped a great deal, knowing that I’m not alone, a freak of nature.
My daughter understands my illness better than you think she would, considering her age. She helps take care of me, inverting the mother/daughter roles sometimes. She’s 8! She doesn’t understand completely (not sure I do either), but I’ve told her the basics about my mother and my abuse at her hands. She knows I’m sick. She knows the reason I am sick is because of my genetics (why some people have brown eyes and some people have blue), my childhood environment, and how that environment shaped the way I respond to things. She knows I can’t do things other mommies can do, but she tells me if she could pick her mommy, she would always choose me. That’s my wise little Padawan. When she gets older, her understanding will grow I am sure.
I would have a lot to say to someone diagnosed with the same illness. Along with the love of writing, that is the primary purpose of my blog. I began writing to teach people about mental illness and how it affects everything and to connect and share experiences with people like me. There is most definitely a stigma, and I believe the only way to battle it is by open communication and education. Even though it’s terrifying and there are repercussions, some of us are going to have to speak up. The most important advice is to not give up. Keep taking baby steps.
I miraculously have found a support system online. They are similar in temperament, have common interests, exhibit tolerance toward others, and they are extremely kind and encouraging.