“What’s wrong with me?” I often thought years ago, as I was beginning my journey with mental illness. Only, I didn’t know I was on a journey and I didn’t know I had mental illness. I just knew I didn’t feel like me, and I thought it was my own fault somehow. I was only about 19 years old at the time, and just recently married.
My husband and I were both going to school full time and working. Things were very busy, and stressful. I was gone for most of the daytime at school and work, but home in the evenings. My husband also had a full load of school but worked nights–cleaning, emptying the trash and pressuring washing at our city bus stops. It seemed we had little spare time, which meant that there wasn’t much time to recoup and de-stress. But I didn’t know anything about doing that at the time. I always watched my mom go go go and thought that being busy was just how adult life is.
The emotional pain seemed to come on gradually, and then became a constant in my life. There was a long period of time that I remember “faking it”–to everyone. I plastered on a fake smile and did my best to feel like I normally would but it never worked. My poor husband, just as new to this as I was, did his best to help me feel better, but we didn’t know what we were dealing with and so nothing really could change.
The main symptoms of this time were the emotional pain, feeling “off,” downward spirals occurring daily (especially at night), and major paranoia. I was so clueless at the time–understandably. I knew absolutely nothing about mental illness. I just kept thinking that there was something wrong with me. I kept thinking, If I just pray more or study my scriptures more, try harder, or do something differently that I would be able to feel better. But no matter what I did, nothing improved. I would take my scriptures to the university library and study them at lunch–praying that I would feel better. But nothing changed. At night, when my husband was gone working and I was home alone, I was consumed with fear that I would be killed while he was gone. I prayed and sang hymns and did what I could to try and change how I felt, but nothing I did had any effect on what I was feeling. I remember being afraid to take out the trash in broad daylight, because there might be a killer hiding there, waiting to kill me. During these times, I would fall asleep in a state of fear every night. I would be lying in my bed, running different scenarios in my head over and over, of how a killer might enter my room and then I’d plan out how I could possibly get away. It was absolutely awful.
In my husband’s family, there is a person who has suffered from depression for many years. I finally remember thinking, that maybe I should ask her what depression felt like, because maybe that is what I was dealing with. I don’t really remember the conversation but I remember that I still didn’t know what I was dealing with afterward. So I just kept going on as I was before.
Things changed a little when I became pregnant with my first child. Postpartum, I found out I had hypothyroidism–severely so. I thought to myself, “Finally! Finally, I know what is wrong with me!” I got on the appropriate medications for this condition and felt improvements, but my mental state didn’t change. As I worked through the process of getting on the right dose for my thyroid, I was constantly calling my doctor in a state of anxiety that we needed to change the dose because I still didn’t feel right. After a while of this occurring, my doctor called me in and told me that she thought I had depression and anxiety and gave me some samples of medication to start taking. Having been raised with the idea that people who have depression or mental issues were “weak” or “crazy”, the whole idea of being thrown in with “that lot” made me freak out. I remember telling the doctor, that I was stronger than this and that I would beat it. I was very adamant. However, I took the samples just in case.
I took the samples for a short while, but felt little difference, and ended up stopping them all together when I found out I was pregnant with my second child. The pregnancy went well and I felt good, for the most part, until after my daughter was born. Almost immediately afterward, I started having some very troubling and scary symptoms. I felt “wrong.” I can’t describe it but what I felt was so scary and so unlike me that I knew something needed to happen. Still stuck on the role that my thyroid was playing in my mental health, I went off of my thyroid medication cold turkey. For some reason that did help for a couple months, but then the worst began.
I began having severe mood swings. One minute I would feel ok, then the next I would feel on top of the world and would think everything was funny and I was awesome. I would also struggle through intense waves of anxiety. The scariest part of all was the depression. It seemed to wipe a dark stain across my mind. Thoughts and feelings of wanting to do myself harm overcame me. If I looked in the mirror while depressed, my mind would see, in my reflection, an evil version of myself that wanted to hurt me. I suppose that is a hallucination of sorts. I also had these overpowering feelings that there were demons around me, that I couldn’t see, that wanted to do me harm. It was frightening to put it mildly.
Thankfully, I had a friend who had just gone inpatient for postpartum depression. She counseled me to go in and get evaluated. I did. They told me I was too high functioning for the intensity of their inpatient program and that I would probably be ok going to a doctor. (I was very good at acting “natural”). Late that same night, as thoughts of suicide started entering my head again, I knew I needed to go in and get help. I was afraid that I might get to the point where I couldn’t choose not to act on it. I was afraid of harming myself or my children.
And so, around midnight, I tearfully kissed my sleeping, 5 month old daughter goodbye and my 2 year old son, packed a bag for myself and headed out for the inpatient facility with my husband, while my wonderful mother in law cared for my children in my absence.
This is the beginning of my journey to a diagnosis. Look for more in part II, coming soon.