Anxiety, depression and PTSD is…a lot, and so is the daily life of living with a mental illness. Not only do you have to struggle with your own bad days, but the people around you have to struggle as well.
First, before I go on talking about my experiences, I want to let you know that I’m in no way a professional on the subject. Yes, I have struggled with mental illness since I was a young teenager and I like I’m almost positive most people who have been diagnosed with mental illness, researched the hell out of the subject. But that’s about the limit on my credentials. I’ve researched with the power of Google, I’ve read textbooks like Abnormal Psychology (16th Edition) as well as other psychology textbooks, but there are absolutely no credentials to my name. I am fascinated by it and I like to help people feel they’re not alone. I’m not a doctor is what I’m saying. I’d be real bad at it.
There’s a saying these days regarding mental health: The process is not linear.
That helped me a lot. All that hatred and frustration I felt inside, that voice that shouted at me on a daily basis, “Why aren’t you better?”
Well, because as much as we wish it, talking to a professional, getting the correct tools to survive and in most cases the right medication, it’s not a cure. When I was diagnosed, I knew I’d be on meds for the rest of my life, I knew a lot of things in my life had to change. But I thought my recovery would be linear, I thought I wouldn’t have severe days that would regress my progress but it did. And I couldn’t figure out why.
One of the tools that were so helpful was a support system. It matters that you have people to turn to when you’re feeling the lowest and they give you a sense of safety. That even though you’re going through your worst they love you regardless. They love you for you and they don’t define you because of your mental illness. It’s a part of you but it’s not you.
There’s probably a more comprehensive list on what I’m going to talk about next but for the sake of this post I’m putting a support system into two categorizes. (these support groups can be friends or family)
- A safe and welcoming support system. (where there is no judgment but open communication.)
- A toxic support system (that generally leads to more harm than good.)
From my own experience, I spent several years in a toxic support system. Mostly because it was largely formed by family and family who are toxic isn’t the best place to form a support system. It can be a blessing when they are supportive but in the cases where family can effect you negatively, it’ll just spiral.
About a two years ago, I went through treatment. I took my meds, I was working with the tools the professionals had given me. I thought I was getting better, I wasn’t. I knew that deep down but denial is such a strong force. It helps you to not think about the unthinkable. There were a few problems to my attempt at recovery. Firstly, I wasn’t doing it for myself; that should have been a red flag, that I was pretending to be happy was another sign. I had been screaming for help before and after I had gotten it, when my father thought I had gotten it, it was easier to make myself believe that. Easier than actually making the realization that my journey wouldn’t be linear. It’s a hard thing to admit that there wasn’t a quick fix and how could I tell that to others when I didn’t want to think it myself? If I thought about it, then there would be obvious set backs and a glaring problem that I didn’t want to fix because it meant stepping away from my support system. From my family. How could I do that when I knew it would cause so much hurt? Not just to me but with everyone involved. So, I took the easy path. It may have worked in the short term but the price had yet to be paid for the long term.
That price would be my soul.
Because my family and more specifically my father had no clue on how to treat me, he came up with tough love, as I’m sure he’d say it was. To me it was verbal and emotional abuse. A pattern he had used before. And I felt crazy thinking that, crazy with the knowledge that he’d do that to me. So I denied it. For a long time. Because even if he didn’t do it out of malice it was still being done. He loved me but he kept on hurting me, and no matter how I tried to fix myself so he would be happy, it never really changed. There was always something I wasn’t doing right. His wife also suffered with depression, she has for awhile and she coped with it. He couldn’t or wouldn’t understand how I could not take her remedy and apply it to my own. So I went with the path of least resistance.
I got a 8 – 5 job as a receptionist. I got myself an apartment and paid rent and my writing was non existent because I was bone-weary, I was exhausted of just existing. I had all the things I should have wanted, a job that paid the bills, a place to call my own. Why wasn’t I happy?
Simply put I hated that life. Please don’t misunderstand, working at a job and getting the freedom you deserve is a blessing, and I wouldn’t take that away from anyone who is happy. Who finds meaning in their job and with it a sense of peace and security.
I didn’t. I hated my job, I didn’t like my boss. I felt criticized and humiliated on a daily basis, even though I thought I was doing my best at it. My boss was reserved and I got that, but when my boss started criticizing my anxiety or waved it away as insignificant, I felt small. My boss would say that because I had a job now I should be better, I shouldn’t have any real reason for anxiety. It’s somehow worse when I think my boss had a job in a medical profession. My boss and my job made me feel less than human. Just another cog in the machine. I didn’t get a shred of humanity working there. I didn’t have freedom, I had fear, stress and an abundance of anxiety. I tried my best to help them, even when it wasn’t in my job description but nothing I did was good enough, no matter how hard I pushed or tried, my work was sub-par. I was sup-par and I didn’t know how to fix it, how to change the working environment to be less tense, to change my work to meet with approval instead of a screaming match in front of clients.
I dreaded waking up and going to work, there was no purpose for me there, but when I told my misgiving to my father it was brushed away by “That’s how all jobs are in this life. You hate it. That’s reality.” That wasn’t good enough for me, I didn’t want that miserable long existence as my reality. Not if it didn’t make me happy. If I had to be at a place more than my home there had to be some redeeming qualities to it. I had to have some kind of purpose. And if that was what my father and family had experienced in their jobs, then it wasn’t going to work for me.
One of the hardest things I could hear at this time came from a member of my support system. It was when I had been looking for a job before landing the one I would eventually get. I had spent all day putting out my CV for jobs. Applying for multiples of them. I did that every day like it was my job. So after the hours I had spent doing that, I wanted to do something for myself, something that would be fun. The first thing I did was attend The Red Tent. My friend Altasha was hosting the event and asked if I’d be willing to write an article about it, as she had seen an article of mine before and liked my writing. I was genuinely humbled and so happy that she would ask. I love writing, I love telling stories, it is I believe one of my purposes in life. Other people didn’t seem to think that, it was a hobby, sure, but not a career to be followed.
The other thing I wanted to do was silly but I liked to do it cause it was fun. I like making amv’s and for people who don’t know what that is, you just take basic clips from anime you enjoy or a series/movie and edit it with music and upload it to YouTube. I love watching them and making them. It was just something fun for me, a way to decompress. I made the choice to tell this person in my support system about these two things I’d be doing, but as it didn’t pay she didn’t see the merit. I could tell she thought it was stupid when she looked at my amv. She thought it was downright irresponsible to write about the Red Tent when I wouldn’t be getting paid. When I told her that I got a free admission and maybe a start to write more seriously, she still didn’t enjoy that I was taking time away to do it. She had similar activities that she would do, like paint and crafting. But when it came to things I enjoyed doing it was met with derision.
Then came the conversation I never thought I’d hear from her, more so because I respected her opinion, I trusted her. I knew she had a kind soul. So it blindsided me when she told me that “she could see I was trying but that I wasn’t trying hard enough.” That “I should be concentrating on making money and not on silly things that won’t.” It hit hard. Those words rung in my mind for a long time, that I wasn’t trying hard enough. Every time I failed or was depressed those words would haunt and mock me. You’re not trying hard enough!
When I did get that job my family was shocked that I could actually achieve it, it’s difficult to say but they’ve always treated me as stupid. Things like getting a course done in TEFL with high marks or getting a job dumbfounded them. It also made me realize that they would never consider me an equal. And when things got worse I had that thought, like a virus had infected my mind. “You’re not trying hard enough.” But that was the thing, I could never try hard enough because what they wanted from me would make me miserable. I couldn’t bend and twist to a painful degree just to fit the mold they laid out for me. I had tried and it landed me in a very dark place. I changed my wardrobe when it was clear they didn’t like the style I loved. I wore colors that made me feel unconformable in my own skin, it wasn’t me. But I tried anyway. I love high waisted pants but to them I was too fat to pull it off, they took pictures to show me how unflattering it was. So I stopped wearing them. I lost a lot of that part which felt like me. I thought that if I changed, not only my clothes but my personality, they’d be happy and they were, I think because they thought they were helping me with their comments. I just got better at pretending. Because I knew if I tried to be myself they wouldn’t like that person, mainly because who I am goes against what they believe is normal.
My father never understood me, he didn’t understand my anxiety and depression but instead of trying to be sympathetic or have empathy in regards to how he treated me, he went in the opposite direction.
Every room we entered was tense, and it never ended in peace. He criticized my clothing choice, called me a whore because of what I was wearing. He hated that I liked black. He hated that I swore, he often told me that I was supposed to act like a lady. Even sitting cross-legged would aggravate him. If I felt particularly overwhelmed and oversensitive to noise, he would turn the music up when I had put it down. There were small actions that he inflicted on me but it stated clearly that he didn’t respect or believe me. I was so worn down by his behaviour but instead of fighting my father I tried to minimize the destruction I wrought on him but in doing so I lost my voice. When I tried speaking to him about my depression his advice was always, Be Positive! Like I had the ability to do that with a flip of a switch, like I could take a walk and suddenly feel better about my life. It didn’t work for me, especially since my mentality was steeped in darkness.
There are a lot of things about my father that people would never see, that he hides really well. He lies, he told me to lie about his behavior to cover his tracks. His cheating, his alcoholism, anything that wouldn’t paint him in the best of light. Things he’d undoubtedly get in trouble over. Family is family, he would say. You do everything for them. But he never stuck to that, not really. As he would ask me to lie for him, he’d lie about me to others to make him sound like a better father. People have a skewered perception of who I am because it was easier to make me out to be a lazy ungrateful bitch than admit his own faults. He was an absentee father in my childhood, he drank a lot, married a lot. Brought his girlfriends home who loved him and treated me like an obstacle to that love. One girlfriend in particular gave me a lot of trauma, weight issues and trust issues. My father never really let off on the weight issue either. His girlfriend at the time had a problem with gambling so he paid off her debt instead of my school-fees. I have a grade 9 education because of it. She got an engagement ring. It never entered his mind that his choices would have repercussions. They did. When we had a meeting with one of my therapists, I honestly thought it went well, we opened up and promised not to hurt each other, to listen and communicate. It was only several months after that, that I had learnt what he took from that meeting was that I was telling everyone what a shit father he was. His actions and inaction’s have had a profound ripple effect on me. Unraveling the trauma and to an extent brain washing is like trying to diffuse a bomb. I don’t know which wire I pull will lead me to a panic attack, nightmare, or meltdown. On one occasion I couldn’t use the bathroom because he was on the phone to someone, just hearing his voice from a foot away had me paralysed. I hid in that bathroom for 30 minuets. The only thing I can do now is figure out what sets me off and try to fix it. Somethings are easier than others.
This isn’t to condemn him and to find a platform where I can do that. With all my heart I hope he has a good life and has peace. I just don’t want to put myself in his line of fire, I don’t want to be involved in his life. I deserve peace as well.
My father and all the trauma he gave me, made me feel crazy, because he is a decent person, he has a big heart and is loyal to his family. And because that loyalty and love never shined on me, I questioned myself on a daily basis. I thought that if he couldn’t love me then I had to be fundamentally broken. I had to be crazy, I had to be the problem.
The thing is though; I wasn’t.
For what ever reason, my father resented me, he hurt me and he would never change that toxic behavior because he always thought he was right. Even against my doctors ‘ advice. It took one conversation with a trusted friend that made me believe I wasn’t insane. I can not tell you how just that, just words of support, and a space to not feel judged changed everything. Because it did.
After several years with him and a year at my old job, I finally quit and decided to cut off contact with my father. I moved 3000 km away from the only family I had ever known. I burnt a lot of bridges because of it. I hurt a lot of people who didn’t or couldn’t see how toxic my father was to me. They blamed me for his hurt. They never mentioned my own. And yes that was hard, it still is, but I couldn’t control their reactions, I could only control my own choices. And this choice saved my life and I’ll never be sorry for that.
I lost a lot of my family but I gained a true support system. That’s the thing, it’s vital to have people in your life that understand you. Who get your mental illness and don’t treat you as less than human because of it. I do still have my days, but I can tell you right now that it is not as severe or crippling as it was. There are people in my life now who understand that progress is not linear with mental illness. They know how I feel about crowds and will make sure I always feel safe. They get that as I’m working out my trauma and it will take time, sometimes I’ll feel worse about it all, but I will always ALWAYS feel better about it, because I am working on it and not burying my head in the sand.
I choose what I wear now, I can sit however I like and I can talk about my mental illness in deep conversations. With no judgement, only support and an ear willing to listen. I have coping mechanisms that work for me and if they don’t, I change them. I can talk about it and the relief of that is incredible.
It took two stays in a psychiatric hospital, moving to the other side of a country and breaking off ties that were harmful to me to get here. It was not a linear process and it still isn’t. There’s still work to be done but I’m not scared of that. I feel more like a person now than ever before. I feel like myself again, the dark of that but especially the light. I’m working on my writing career and I have no words to express how fulfilled I am because of it. It’s a gift that requires some sacrifices but they are the ones I’m willing to make. It comes at no cost to my well-being or my soul.
I need you to hear me when I say this: No one should make you feel crazy. No one has the right to fit you into a mold you want no part of. You deserve peace and safety. You deserve to be loved with no conditions attached. If your support system isn’t giving you that, if they make you feel less than you are, if they are hurting you, then they don’t deserve you. Because you deserve the world.
If it’s a struggle to find people who support you in your life then please consider a support group. Contact a support group online if you can. Research them and find out what they provide. I’m not fully informed on international ones but I will put a link bellow for the one I do know. It’s for the South African Depression and Anxiety Group. But they do have support groups for various mental illnesses not just depression and anxiety. It’s a free support group to join as well. They provide a safe place free of judgment to like-minded individuals.
I hope reading this helped you feel less alone. I know the journey can be incredibly difficult, that sometimes it feels like a mountain you’re too tired to climb and cliches really don’t help the matter. But I was there, I did feel helpless and so alone. And I’m not saying my trauma made me stronger, I’m saying I made myself stronger despite the trauma. I truly believe you’re just as strong and can make it. Believe in yourself and the endless possibilities and never be afraid to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a show of emotional intelligence, of being human. No one walks this world alone, you shouldn’t either.
Love Wren ♥