Several months ago, someone approached my husband and asked: “You’re not embarrassed that your wife goes around talking about her mental health issues… in public?”. My response to that could’ve been lashed out in anger, but instead, it made me think… “maybe people really don’t understand how or why I choose to talk about it.”
There are several reasons why I choose to talk so openly about my mental health.
1.) It’s healing for me.
2.) It’s healing for others.
3.) Suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34 and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 44.
I share my story because I want others in my shoes to know that they are not alone.
Why the stigma when it comes to mental health? Is it necessary? Why is speaking openly about mental illness so frowned upon?
I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. I live my life just like your average 36 year old woman- I love to shop, get crafty, caretake, clean house, cook dinner and, occasionally, I like to go out and listen to a good band play. Keeping up with my appearance is important to me, so I often take the time to curl my hair, put on makeup, and dress fashionably. I have a caretaker’s heart, but the sarcastic humor I can dish out is straight from my soul and I absolutely love to have a great time. I’ve been told I’m strong, beautiful, and charismatic. I work extremely hard and give each task I’m given my best effort. God, my husband, and my kids are my pride and joy. I give them my all… when I can. You see, all of the ‘good’ that I’ve just described about myself is only surface level, and if you’ve only seen me at surface level, or you only know me at surface level, it’s easy to look at the circumstances that I’ve made it through and assume that I’m this ultimate “badass”. On the surface, I appear to be be strong and conquer my struggles with grace. On the surface, I’m just a “normal” mom, living a “normal” life. It’s no coincidence that you’ve been convinced that I always have my shit together. Let me tell you something- I’m a normal human being just like you, but like so many other people in this world, I struggle greatly with mental illness. My life has been far from easy, and oftentimes, I don’t have my shit together. More often than not, I feel broken. My mind stays at war with itself. I constantly hear two voices in my head- one that tells me “you’ve got this” and one that tells me “you are worthless”.
For years, I’ve been eager to feel normal. It’s been so long since my mind was solely at peace. Living like a prisoner of war within your own mind is damn near debilitating. It sucks the life right out of you and it totally robs you of any joy in the present and in the foreseeable future. You begin to feel hopeless, wondering if the malfunctions within your brain will ever get better. After too much time passes by, when you’re in that state, you begin to question your purpose. You start believing that you don’t have one. You see yourself as a complete failure, worthy of nothing. Without timely relief of your mental health symptoms, you begin to doubt your trust in your team of professionals. The medication that you so faithfully take to keep you stable either fails you or numbs you, there’s not much of an in between. Your life just seems to become invaluable. You begin to feel like a burden. You start believing the lies of that second voice in your head, telling you that you’d be better off dead. The pain of mental illness can be felt down deep in your soul, and you just want it to go away. Your cries for help become louder as you become close to doing just about anything to make it stop. As those dark thoughts creep into your mind, though, you begin recalling all of the reasons why you should stay, and thank God, you just keep breathing through it.
In March of this year, I spent nearly one month in a mental health treatment facility across the country. Desperate for mental peace, I was willing to try anything. I was so tired of being thrown through the medication wringer. I felt like my mental wellbeing was on a lethal rollercoaster and I had no way of getting off. Even the light at the end of the tunnel was dim. Everything was dark. I was losing hope. Within three days of deciding that a treatment center was my best option, I was on a plane, heading to one of the country’s most well-known mental health facilities. My expectations were high and I just knew that I was going to come home “healed”. Wrong. Thirty days in a mental institution was just the beginning. Because of all of the changes that occurred with my medication while I was there, I came home with more anxiety than I had ever had. Severe anxiety led to a full blown panic attack, landing me in our local emergency room. I never felt so out of control in my life. I never experienced so much fear. I never wanted to die as much as I wanted to die that day. It was the worst feeling that I’ve ever had. Every part of my body was shaking, including my heart. To top it all off, I was treated like a withdrawing drug addict by the emergency room staff. My focus on my health turned into being humiliated by medical professionals who had zero compassion for those suffering with mental illness. The humiliation hurt, but the saddest part of my ER visit was when I was discharged to go home a few hours later with a resting heart rate of over 160 bpm, with no medication to control the panic. As the days drug on, prayer became my only hope.
Questioning God’s promises was so far behind me. The days of minimal trust in Him were over. Of course, I wrestled with God from time to time, especially as I watched my late husband fade away from me for nearly five years as he battled a lethal form of cancer, but I trusted His plan. Even in Kyle’s death, I was not bitter, nor resentful towards God. I never one time allowed myself to believe that “God gave us this hurt”. I’ve always stood firm in proclaiming God’s goodness. In knowing all of that, though, why was I still suffering? What was I doing wrong in my faith life that was preventing me from experiencing mental peace? I had to really dig deep to uncover what was holding me back. I soon realized that I was the only one in the way of experiencing that peace. I didn’t have a lack of faith in God, I had a lack of faith in myself. I had convinced myself that I needed to be perfect for God to meet me where I was. I was struggling to adapt to religion instead of focusing on a relationship. I was so worried about busting my ass to please people around me that were judging my faith by my mental illness. “Let go and let God.” “Give it to God.” “No God, No peace. Know God, Know peace.” Just because I wasn’t walking around with my bible in my hand, attending weekly bible studies, and preaching scripture didn’t mean that I didn’t know God, or that I didn’t trust God. There are so many things that we question about mental illness. Is it genetic? Is it a chemical imbalance? Does it stem from a life consumed by trauma and loss after loss? Does it need medication like cancer and heart disease? All of those questions remain in the air. In the meantime, I’ll do what I can. There are some days that I physically cannot get out of bed. That doesn’t mean that I have no faith. The days that I’m damn near bedridden just so happen to be the days that I remain in constant prayer. With each day that I wake up and realize the dark cloud still lingering, I immediately turn to prayer. Some days, I just can’t leave the comfort of my home. It’s the only place I feel safe. Sadly, mental illness can cause a person to appear sketchy or unreliable. Let’s be clear- that’s a lie. On my ‘normal’ days, I can be one of the most reliable, hardest working people you’d ever meet, but on my bad days, I just can’t leave home- not even to go to bible study- not even to go on an all expense paid shopping spree. On my bad days, I’m thanking God for answering my prayers for just keeping me breathing. I know that as long as I’m breathing, I’m still living and as long as I’m still living, I still have an opportunity to discover God’s purpose for my life. Once you realize that you have a purpose on this Earth, struggles begin to get a little bit easier. Once you realize that God does not need you to be “fixed” before He can love you, you find a little bit of peace. Once you realize that it’s only about YOUR relationship with Him, things start changing. I promise, if it weren’t for my faith in God, I would’ve left this world a long time ago.
Life is hard. Life with mental illness is harder. This is why I talk about it. Suicide is permanent and it destroys more lives than yours. Allow God to meet you where you are. You may not be perfect enough for anything else, but you are beyond perfect enough for God.
So much love for all of you! -Erin