I recently read a wonderful post written by the Musings of Fred. It discussed how the signs of mental illness in minors are often ignored. This post hit home with me. It was extremely true for my particular case growing up. Not only were my signs of mental health issues ignored, but even when they came to light, they were just not addressed.
Why does this happen? Why does it take so long for parents to step in and get help for their children? Honestly, I don’t have the answer. I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. I have done no research whatsoever. So I am not here to give some scientific answer.
I just I just wanted to give my thoughts. And I wanted to see what everyone else thought.
For me, I honestly hid my emotions and feelings of depression quite well. I am not sure my parents actually knew up front. My mom did find a suicide note when I was in 6th grade though, and she asked me about it, and then it was never talked about again. Some teachers asked me about my depression, but again, did nothing. One teacher seemed to care, but he abused his power and molested me. This is when it all came to light – my 8th grade school counselor found out about the molestation, she told my parents, I was cutting and I was suicidal. My school counselor urged them to put me in therapy. I did not want to deal with anything and did not want to go. My parents never discussed anything with me and I was never put into therapy.
My mental health deteriorated over time, Deteriorated a lot, suicidal thoughts were awful, life was awful, my parents never stepped in, teachers never stepped in. No one seemed to care even though everyone seemed to be aware.
I think a lot of people were in denial. How could I be having problems? My grades were still perfect 0 straight A’s in fact. I was in all AP classes. How could someone doing so well in school really want to die, how could they be destroying their lives – they had a bright future. I don’t think my parents wanted to believe that I had been molested. I don’t think they wanted to believe that their child had a mental illness. I don’t think my teachers wanted to get involved and as some told me, I always seemed to be better at the end of each semester when my grades mattered.
I told people I didn’t want help when I was younger, and yeah, I was scared of getting help because of what my teacher did to me. I had told him about being depressed, and he took advantage of me. But I also longed to not feel the way I was feeling. I wanted someone to save me from my mind and how much it was torturing me.
I hope that people quit ignoring the kids and adolescents that need help. I hope that those that are reaching our for help, and those that are silently suffering because they don’t know how to reach out for help or feel they cant, can receive the help they need. Too often people do see the signs – teachers, pastors, friends, and family, they do see the signs – but the blind themselves to them. They don’t want to believe it could happen in their kid. They are too preoccupied with their own problems or work. They think it is just a phase.
We can’t look the other way anymore. I truly believe if someone had helped me when I was younger, I wouldn’t have had such a hard time in college, I would be suffering as much as I am now. Yes, I said I didn’t need help then, I said I didn’t want therapy then. I was 13 or 14 though. I didn’t know what I wanted. I was scared. I didn’t want my friends to judge me. I shouldn’t have been able to make that decision, I was a kid.
If you want to know more about warning signs in kids from preschool to the teen age years click here.
This is a wonderful poem that I was given when I was inpatient. Then I was given it again while in therapy. There is so much power in this poem and I feel like it represent my struggle with mental illness so much. I feel like I have gone back and forth between the chapters of it multiple times in my life and I am sure I will continue to throughout my life.
A POETIC INTERLUDE: AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN FIVE SHORT CHAPTERSby Portia NelsonI
I walk, down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in
I am lost…. I am helpless
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again
I can’t believe I am in the same place but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.’
I still fall in…. it’s a habit, my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.
I had no idea what was going on with me. I was 10 and sad. But I wasn’t just sad. I was really sad.
I was 11 and I wanted to die. I planned on how to die. Our school was taking a trip to Six Flags and I wrote out my suicide note, and I put it in my backpack and I was going to kill myself at the park. My mom found it though, she asked me if she needed to keep me home. I said I was fine and went to catch my bus. It was never talked about again.
I was 13 and still really sad. Suicide still ran rampant in my head. My art teacher found out. He found out about my home life. I trusted him. I thought he would help me. He said he was going to. But he took advantage of me. He made me do things to him. He did things to me. He verbally abused me. He sexually abused me. He hurt me. I believed all his lies. He molested me and hurt me and fucked me up so bad. I wanted to die more than ever before.
I was 14 and moved to a new city. Life was worse than ever before. A new school and no friends. My school counselor found out about what my teacher did. Chaos broke out. I didn’t want to deal with it. I began cutting. I did not tell the police everything. He was never charged. My depression became more severe. I became sick from stress. I missed more than half the school year and stayed home because I was “sick.”
I was 15 and 16 and 17 and high school happened. My depression trapped me. I faked my smiles and I wore my mask. I immersed myself in school work. I tried to pretend like I was happy and make myself believe I was. Deep down I was choking, I could barely breathe. Every day I planned my death. I didn’t even believe I would make it to graduation. Surely I would do something before then.
Graduation came and went. I was 18. College was a new start. Surely life could start over now. I was raped. My mental health went down hill. For the first time in my life I was put into counseling. I couldn’t talk though. I didn’t know how to express myself. I isolated more than ever. I cried more than ever.
Therapy continued and I made no progress, but I just kept going. I kept my emotions in for so long that I just avoided everything. I turned 21 and my life went upside down. My arm was paralyzed. I lost control. Again. The molestation. The rape. My arm. I had lost control again. I needed to die now. My depression consumed me. The year was 2009.
Trigger Warning – the next paragraph mentions a suicide attempt
I had many suicide attempts. My worst was in May 2012 though. I had strategically overdosed on Tylenol. After being given the antidote (Mucomyst) and Reglan, both of which I had reactions to, I was transported to the ICU where I spent 4 days before being sent to the psychiatric hospital. This was not my first time in the ICU but it was the worst attempt I had. And it was also somewhat of a wake up call. It was my last attempt, but not my last visit to the psych hospital.
Between January 2011, my first psychiatric hospitalization, and October 2012 – I had 15 psychiatric hospitalizations and ended up with three diagnosis (bipolar, PTSD, and borderline personality disorder). On that last hospitalization I was committed for 6 months to the state hospital. I was terrified, but at the same time, I was so frustrated and sick of life, I really didn’t care what happened to me. I was so sure that I would kill myself no matter what anyone did and that I had no future, that it didn’t matter to me. The state hospital was the best thing that happened to me though.
On Halloween of October 2012 I went to the state hospital via the backseat of a Sherriff’s car. It was a two hour drive and it took me to a life changing experience. I had the best psychiatrist, psychologist, nurses, rec therapist, music therapist, group therapists, psych techs, dietician, and other support staff possible. They were all determined to get me and others back on the right track. I left the hospital in April 2013 more stable than I had been in a long time. On the correct combo of meds and with coping skills that I actually felt comfortable using.
Today, in 2014, I still struggle. I have been hospitalized since being out of the state hospital. But in no way am I in and out like I was two years ago. I take my medication and I acknowledge that I need it. I accept that I have a mental illness and I try to educate myself about them. I attend therapy and participate in it actively. I am working through my PTSD which has been a huge factor in my hatred of myself and life. I am always working on improving and finding new coping skills. I continue to attend my support groups.
I know I can continue to fight. I know I don’t have to let it consume me anymore. I don’t have to let it win. It still knocks me down sometimes. I just have to make sure I keep getting back up.
Throughout high school and college people often have come to me for advice.
I had friends come to me for relationship advice. I had them come to me about family issues. Schools problems. Friendships gone awry. I had a few that were suffering with anorexia and suicidal thoughts themselves. I was always willing to stay up with them, all night if need be, to talk to them and listen to them about what was going on. I never wanted anyone to suffer through the pain of being alone like I had all too often felt.
I cant say that I gave great advice all the time. I am not a therapist or a doctor so I in no way had any evidence based advice to give. But I gave out some pretty sound, logical advice. Advice that I should probably listen to myself every once in a while!
So why is it that when someone comes to us asking for advice, it is so easy for us to tell them what the right thing to do is, but when we are in that situation, we cannot seem to listen to our own advice that we once gave?
When someone else wants to die, to kill themselves – the obvious answer is — No way! You shouldn’t die You have so much to live for. That would hurt your friends and family so much.
But when you want to kill yourself — the obvious answer in your head is — What is wrong with killing myself? No one will care. I don’t have anything to live for. I am just a burden to everyone around me.
Sometimes, when we are struggling with something. We need to step back and think about what would we say about it if our best friend, our brother, or our sister was saying that. What would we tell them. And not just make excuses about it then, not say well that doesn’t apply to me though because … But listen to what we would tell them and listen to that advice! We need to listen to our own advice!
When it comes down to it, “You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?” Can you listen to your own advice?
I know a lot of us are sick of hearing “Let it Go” from Disney’s movie Frozen. But when you listen to it, it really has some interesting lyrics. I read this article a few weeks ago, and after reading it I decided to actually listen to the lyrics of the song instead of being irritated by the constant playing of it on the radio and kids singing it at the movie theatre and stores. I thought, “Wow! This actually kind of relates to me and my feelings.”
I haven’t seen the movie itself, and hearing the song repeatedly is still a little annoying to me after hearing it so often in the beginning, but I still do enjoy thinking about the song when I feel a little down.
Here is a link to the article. It was written by Nadia Ali, Ph.D. She is a health psychologist on faculty at Emory University’s School of Medicine, in the Department of Human Genetics. She has over 15 years experience providing psychological care with medically ill populations
Last night at my NAMI support group meeting we started talking about how many of us were in denial when we were first diagnosed. It made me think about when I was first diagnosed.
In one way, I was very relieved. My whole life I had been suffering with immense emotional pain. I had been severely depressed and had suicidal thoughts since I was about 10 years old. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what and I didn’t want to be different, especially as a kid and teenager. So when I finally got my diagnosis, it was a huge relief – it was a medical issue, there was a name for it, I could take medicine!
But then – it hit me. There WAS something wrong with me, I had to take medicine for it, people thought that “people like me” were not normal and that we could just snap out of it – not that it was a medical problem. I didn’t want people to judge me. I was already judging me. What would others think of me? I didn’t want to take medications for the rest of me life.
Denial caused me a lot of harm. I would start the medication and I would stop the medication. I would start it and then just not want to take it. I hate taking meds, so that would be one reason. Then I would just end up back in the hospital. Or, I would start the medication and it would actually make me feel better!!! And so I would quit taking it, because of course, I thought I didn’t need it anymore – I was fine, why was I on meds in the first place? Then, the downhill spiral would occur once I was off and I was back in the hospital. For me, meds are needed. As I have mentioned in some posts before, not everyone needs them and some can function fine without them. But for me, I need them, so when I was in denial, and felt I didn’t need the meds, it just caused my mental illness to get completely out of control.
It wasn’t until I hit completely rock bottom. It wasn’t after my first suicide attempt, my second suicide attempt, or even my 7th or 8th suicide attempt. It was after I was finally admitted to the state hospital, and 3 months into that admission when they decided to get the court order to extend the commitment another 3 months because I was not progressing, that I realized I did have a problem. I realized I NEEDED to accept that I had mental illness. I needed to learn about my bipolar, my PTSD, my borderline personality disorder. I am still learning about all of them. I needed to learn to cope with them. I needed to learn to take my medications as prescribed and not be more own doctor.
When we are first diagnosed, it can be a relief but it can also be scary. Education and a good support system is the best thing we can do and have. It is hard to accept our illnesses at first, especially when there is a stigma attached to it. I have learned to open up to those around me, even if they are not willing to accept the diagnosis. I will continue to educate those around me as much or as little as they are open and willing to learn. Just as I slowly had to open up my own mind to learning, those around us will do the same. Attending the NAMI support groups and the MHA support groups really helped me to gain the acceptance, support, understanding, and education about my illness. With the help of others with mental illness as well as my long term hospitalization, I have really come to terms with what I will, most likely, be dealing with the rest of my life. But, I know I will be able to face it head on, and I am ready for it now!
A lot of people tell me I don’t need medicine. This especially happened when I was first diagnosed with depression. “Oh I have been depressed, it will pass. Just don’t worry about things. You have such a good life. You are doing so well in school. I don’t even know why you are depressed.” – they would say. Even today, I get the whole “mind over matter” given to me or “God will heal you, just pray.”
My problem with this is, none of these people have been in my situation. Sure, everyone gets “depressed,” BUT depression is such an overused word now that it has lost its real meaning. In reality, everyone gets “sad.”
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, depression is defined as: a serious medical condition in which a person feels very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way.
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, sad is defined as: affected with or expressive of grief or unhappiness
So when people say they are depressed, they are not, they are sad. Unless they have been to a doctor and have been diagnosed with a disorder that encompasses depression, they do not understand.
I am not saying that everyone who has a psychiatric diagnosis of something that encompasses depression will need to take medication, because there are a select group of people that can function and learn to function without it. However, many people do need to take medication. For others to put stigma on mental illness and basically encourage them to not take their medication by saying they do need it is dangerous.
I personally have gone on and off medication. I was noncompliant with my medication when I was first diagnosed. I didn’t think I needed it and I didn’t want to take medication the rest of my life. What ensued after every time I stopped taking them was a trip to the ER and then psych hospital for a suicide attempt, a trip to the psych hospital for suicidal ideation, the cops coming to my apartment for welfare checks and then usually bringing me to a psych hospital…and that continued until I was eventually committed to a state hospital where I was forced to take medication. The light bulb went off in my head there, my Aha! moment occurred there though. I was actually doing better! I was feeling better! The medications actually helped me!
It took years and years to find the right combination of meds for me. And for most people it does take that long. It is easy to give up, especially when people are telling you that you don’t need it. If you know that you need them because you are not functioning well though, don’t give up. Continue to use your coping skills and continue to fight to gain your life back. Mental illness is not easy, but you can learn to live with it. And not only live with it, but live a good life with it.
Most importantly, if you ever feel like you want to get off or change medications, for any reason at all, make sure you talk to your doctor about it.
Today I “graduated” from the NAMI Connection Facilitator Training! I officially can be a facilitator at my local NAMI meetings. Why am I so excited about this?
Well, first off, NAMI has been an integral part of my recovery through mental illness. I first found a NAMI Connection Group when I was in college and began having severe symptoms. I was in nursing school and had heard of it during my psychiatric clinicals. I was nervous to go as the meeting was held in the local hospital where I did my clinical and thought some of the nurses might recognize me. I went anyway, and continued to go. Meeting others that had similar diagnosis and faced similar problems in their day to day lives with me helped me tremendously. I was able to relate to them and learn new coping skills. I still struggled a lot and was in and out of hospitals, but they were there for me. I had no family in Indiana and they really became like family to me – they were my support system as I did not really have one before joining NAMI. After moving to Florida, I immediately began attending a NAMI group here. The closest one to me was about 45 minutes away at first, but I went anyway. I made such amazing friends. Another one started closer, about 30 minutes away, so I went to that one too – but I could leave my friends from the other one, so I went to both. And now a 3rd one is even closer, only 15-20 minutes away. And I have trained to become a facilitator for that group, as I want to step up and grow within the organization which has helped me so much.
So, what exactly is NAMI? NAMI is the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. It is the largest mental health grassroots organization. It has local affiliates all over the US and Puerto Rico. There is most likely one in your area – and you can go to http://www.nami.org to find out if there is one. They run all types of educational programs. They have support groups for people with mental illness (NAMI Connection), support groups for family members of people with mental illness (Family to Family), educational classes for people with mental illness (Peer to Peer), educational classes for family members (also called Family to Family), educational class for parents of children with mental illness (NAMI Basics), and many other services depending on what your local chapter might also offer.
Support groups are important to our success when we are trying to recover with mental illness, whether it be through NAMI or another organization. Whether we feel great or bad, attending them helps us. It helps us focus on how to continue to focus on the positives, how to socialize and not isolate, how to help others which in turn makes us feel good, how to learn new coping skills, how to examine our own needs, and how to express ourselves in healthy ways. Someone once told me, when you feel like you want to go to a meeting you should go, and when you feel like you don’t want to go to a meeting, you need to go. They said this because generally, if you don’t want to go, that is when you really need to go – you are isolating or feeling depressed, and being around people and hearing the support they can give is what you most likely need.
I hope that if you are not already involved in a local support group, you find one and check it out. There are many out there. A few that I know of are DBSA (Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance), NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) and MHA (Mental Health America. Depending on your area, these organizations might or might not run groups or another organization might have groups too.