“If I Told You My Story…”

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month!!! If you know me, you know how excited I am! By now you guys are probably familiar with my page and what it’s purpose is, but one thing I have not shared with you guys is why I created this page. Yes- I created it to spread awareness about mental health, but have you ever wondered why? I mean, of all the topics I could be raving about, why choose this one? Most of the time, people advocate and go on and on and on about things that are near and dear to their heart, so have you ever wondered why this was so near and dear to mine? In honor of this very, very, important month, I want to talk about why I cared so much that I made a blog to talk about the importance of mental health. So, here’s why it is so important to me, why I felt such a pull towards this niche, why I have devoted so much of my time into creating blog posts in the hope to help educate people, why I talk about it so much:

Because people want to raise awareness about the things they personally deal with.

That’s right.

I have a mental illness.

I suffer from OCD and anxiety (mainly OCD, but my OCD triggers the anxiety), which explains why I know so much about those two subjects and why I choose to write on them more than other illnesses. Today I just want to share with you a small amount of my experience to help explain why I have felt such a calling into this area. However, I want to post a quick disclosure that though this is my experience, this is not everyone with my sickness’ experience. Each person has their own story and experiences different combinations of symptoms. I also want to say that I know a lot of people will make posts like these as attention-seeking devices and want people to feel sorry for them. This is not my intention. I know everyone says that, but I mean it. Ever since I created my blog I felt my followers should know the truth and that way people may feel more comfortable reaching out to me if they want to talk. I felt sharing these details would help to establish myself as a credible writer and would allow people to be able to relate to me more. What I share is not my entire story, but more my story from a birds-eye view. So if any of you have questions or would like more details, please feel free to contact me. Okay. Story time.

I was actually not diagnosed until this past school year, in fall of 2018. However, obviously just because it wasn’t diagnosed until recently, that obviously does not mean I just now “got” OCD/anxiety. In fact, most of my symptoms have been there for my whole life (as is typical for a large portion of the mentally ill), masked as weird habits, frustrated behavior, and extremely high organizational skills. It was not until I got to college, when my anxiety peaked like never before, that I realized something was wrong. When I say it was high, I mean it was sky high, so much that I could hardly perform basic functions each day. When I finally reached out for help (after and with continued large amounts of apprehension, anger, and sadness towards the idea of counseling), I started going to counseling and a while later was placed on medication.

Counseling is a weird topic in the mental health community- some people think it’s great, and some people hate it. There are some bad stories out there, but most counselors are great and want to help you. Honestly, everyone could benefit from going to a counselor, mentally ill or mentally well. At first I was very unenthused about counseling, but then I got this new, fantastic counselor who I bonded with very well, and as a result I ended up loving counseling, my counselor, and the process of dissecting your emotions! It was during this time, while going to counseling and taking medication simultaneously, that I began to feel pulled towards this area of work. I began to really, deeply notice how little people are educated on mental health, which is very disturbing considering 1/4 of the population suffers from mental illness. This weighed so heavily on my heart, and then the blog idea came to me. I wanted so badly to help people learn about this topic, so that they could spot signs earlier in their loved ones, so they could know how to help someone who is suffering, and so the world could understand what we deal with every day. Mental illness is not at all the joke it is made out to be. People say you’re OCD if you’re organized, depressed if you feel sad, have anxiety if you are nervous about a test, etc. But if anyone really looked up what it means to have any of those illnesses, they would understand why we feel so offended to hear our diseases trivialized. I know for most people, it’s not their fault, because it’s not like they know better. But that is why I made this blog. I decided that this was something I could change, that I didn’t just have to sit back and accept. So I did. I started all of this to help defend my people and to help people stop stigmatizing mental illness. Feeling like I am making a difference for other people who suffer is so empowering that I have decided to work in this field. Though I am a business major and am not changing that, I am looking for new ways to be more involved in this community. I have recently added a minor in Cognitive Science and my business major will have a focus on Human Resources Management, which just shows how much my illness has positively influenced my life! It has given me a true purpose in life, goals to chase, and people to help. So, that is why I am writing to you today. Not because I want your sympathy, but because I want the world to be a better place for the next person who suffers from a mental illness, and the best way to do that is to inform people on a topic they know so little about.

Back to the story. So as I continue on medication and counseling, things really start looking up. I still experienced the classic OCD symptoms of intrusive thoughts, having to check things multiple times, etc., and I still dealt with anxiety, but I stopped having as many intrusive thoughts, stopped having to check my car door (and my locks..and to be sure my keys were on me..and to be sure I brought my computer to class…and more) so many times, stopped having the kind of anxiety that put my entire day to a halt, stopped feeling so worn down all the time, and I started to feel happy, genuinely happy, for the first time in a long time. I spent a lot of this time reflecting on myself, bettering my relationships with others and learning various coping techniques that help me battle my disease. I changed a lot over the 8 months of all of this, and finally for the first time in my life felt like I was truly myself. It’s hard to explain, but when you have a mental illness, your mind is always racing and foggy. But, with the help of medication, this can go away. It makes things clear, makes you more rational, allows you to not panic over every small thought. It makes you think like the average brain would, and therefore, less chaotically. This is why medication is so beneficial for most mentally ill patients. My medication, an SSRI called Prozac (See “What’s an SSRI?” for more info), changed my life. It was like my head went from cloudy to sunny. I was able to think and I wasn’t anxious about things so badly that I could not stop intensely panicking. I felt so much better than I had in years, because this is what medication does. It clears up your mind and frees your soul to be its true self. It is such a freeing feeling. It was during this time that I did a lot of self evaluating. In this period, when I was doing really well and was steady on medication, I really started to think about my past, and that’s when I realized that I had been very hard on myself for how I used to be. See, I have always been a quick-tempered, anxious, and realistic person. When I was younger (not in college), people would misunderstand my symptoms of mental illness as a flaws in my character and personality. For instance, one of the things I hated most was people calling me “Eeyore.” They did it to be funny, because I was “always looking at the bad,” and “always so negative,” and since it was a joke, I was supposed to laugh it it off and let them say those things. Usually this commentary was coupled with hollow advice of, “just be happier!” and demanding answers to questions as to why I was so flawed, like, “why do you always have to suck the fun out of everything?” Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a realist, I am easy to upset, and I don’t often focus on the positives. However, if you know how OCD can affect people, then you know that people with OCD tend to have issues with their emotions and with constant worrying over things (and my anxiety does not help that), which can include refusing to be hopeful in case something goes wrong, among other symptoms that are not at all their fault. I don’t fully blame the people who used to say these things to me even though it really hurt me because deep inside me I knew I was genuinely unable to help how I was acting, even if at the time I could not figure out exactly why. I don’t blame them because I know they didn’t know that I had something wrong with me, because I didn’t even know at the time. I just wanted to use this as an example of how people with mental illnesses often get judged and get told to “just get over it,” when reality is much more complicated than that and the illness much more severe. Since I have received treatment, I have learned how to cope with such feelings of intense anger, frustration, and feeling the need to plan for the worst in case it happens (obviously I am making this all sound a lot more simple than it actually is..my emotional issues are not at all that simple and neither are anyone’s). As a result I feel generally more cheery and am more satisfied with my life. So to all the people who said those remarks to me, I just hope you know that it genuinely was not my fault and I hope that in the future we will all be more mindful of what we say to each other, because you have genuinely no idea who is hurting or why someone behaves how they do, and no one has a right to put someone else down for something they cannot control.

I use this side note Eeyore story because it is an important part of my growth, but also as a way to show how over the course of my medication and therapy, how I have come to realize a lot about myself and how I function. I see myself in a new light now, and though I still hold myself to high standards, I am much less hard on myself because I have come to realize that most of the things that felt like my worst qualities, that people made the most comments about me needing to change, that I felt I could never get past, were not my fault. I could not have simply “tried harder” and fixed it like everyone was telling me. Through this process I learned not to excuse bad behavior but to understand that those parts of me were not evil and they are not my fault or consequences of my failing to be a “better” person like so many people wanted me to be. It is in realizing these things that those who suffer from mental illness can truly begin to forgive themselves and begin to see who they are outside of their illness, because for the first time in their life they can distinguish the difference between who they are and what parts of them are their illness. This does not make all the problems fixed, but you would be amazed at how much relief this brings to those of us who are suffering.

Today I still go to counseling, take medication, and practice a lot of self care on myself. I am not perfect, and I am not 100% “fixed” (FYI- no mental illness patient is ever going to be “100% fixed” so don’t expect them to be). Today I am still learning new things about myself and learning what parts of me are truly me and what parts are my illness. I don’t think that process ever stops. I have learned how to better understand my body and it’s needs, how to give myself real self care, how to be kinder to myself and others, and as a result I feel much more like how I always wanted to. I have come so far in my journey that I cannot even express how different I feel now than I did this time a year ago, and for that I am eternally grateful. I say all of this to give hope to all of those who are suffering. I write all of this in hopes that it will bring you hope and will allow you to know that someone sees you where you are and understands what you are going through. This is why I wanted to make this blog, because when I was in my rock bottom of times, I know for a fact that hearing someone else say they were going through it too would have made me feel less alone. That being said, I hope each of you reading this knows I am here for you and want to help you. If you ever need to talk about anything or want someone to listen, please reach out to me in any way you can. I am open to any rants or questions you might have, including ones involving my story, my medication process and experience, my faith through this time, or anything else.

It is so important to share your story, guys. You just don’t know who it could help. So go out there. Share your story. Start a blog. Write a document. Publish a book. Send a tweet. It doesn’t have to be about mental health! No matter how you choose to do it, just do it. The world needs you and needs your story.

With love,

Maddie

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