When Mental Illness Can Be Difficult to Accept

It is difficult to accept when you first learn you have a mental illness. Sometimes it’s a shock when the doctor tells you, but you believe and trust the doctor and begin exploring options towards recovery. What if it’s not a doctor? What if your family is telling you to get help or telling you why certain behaviors make them think you have a mental illness? Will you accept it when your friends or family say you have a mental illness? I have seen some people reject the idea and run from it instead of considering getting a professional opinion.

I can understand why some people have this reaction. When I first looked into the symptoms of Complex PTSD, I was shocked to learn how much of what I thought was my personality derived from symptoms of this disorder. While I learned many of the things, I didn’t like about myself were symptoms, I also learned many of the behaviors and traits I identified with most were symptoms. This was a hard reality to accept. The inner image I had for myself was wrong and I felt lost. I didn’t know who I was anymore.

It took some time, but I eventually started to accept this new self-image. Certain things were reidentified in different ways, but I am still the person I have always been. This new information only made me understand myself more. I know myself better than I did. It takes time to get to know another person and this is true of knowing oneself. The hardest part is accepting and learning how to move forward. I’m still struggling with moving forward. Most of my life I didn’t have a support system. I have a small group of people now, but the path forward is still difficult.

Anyone who feels their family is attacking them with accusations of mental illness, my advice is to see a professional if for no other reason than to prove everyone wrong. Don’t argue. Offer to see a counselor and get an official diagnosis. Too many mental disorders have similar symptoms and behaviors and it can be hard to determine what is causing certain behaviors. Even from a psychiatric professional, the news is difficult to process and accept. Remember that, despite the stigma, mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and does not make you less of a person. It is one more battle you weren’t expecting, but it can be won. Don’t give up.

Photo Credit: <unsplash-logoPriscilla Du Preez

I Read/Write/Watch Horror to Cope with My Mental Illness

I always enjoyed horror though I never considered myself a fan of horror. I remember watching Tim Curry portray Pennywise the Clown in “IT” (1990) when I was three or four. I pretended to sleep while my parents (and I) watched the film “Dr. Giggles” (1992) about an escaped mental patient who kills with a surgical theme when I was six. I saw the film “Return to Cabin by the Lake” (2001) about a murderous screenwriter as a teenager. These films standout because they reminded me of suppressed trauma. Repressed memories that only recently returned.

I recall watching many films and having no emotional response. Scenes that made most tear up left me feeling numb or indifferent. I felt out of place and segregated from everyone else who had ‘feelings.’ Even horror films didn’t scare me or make me jump. I felt I knew the scares were coming. In high school and the first few years of college, I was described as ‘creepy’ by many of my peers. I could easily sneak up and scare others. I’d walk behind them for several minutes before they noticed me. One friend remarked after going through a haunted house it didn’t scare them because they had known me for so long.

I didn’t become an avid reader until my late 20s, but I’ve always had interest in writing. In the first grade, I wrote a detective story. It had all the tropes of film noir though I didn’t know what those were at the time. Film noir has similar elements to horror with suspense building and dealing with killers without the fantasy elements. I always enjoyed reading the works of Edgar Allan Poe and he is considered the creator of the detective story.

Many of the stories I have written or plan to write deal with death in one way or another. Some may not be called horror stories but still have death somewhere. I have written a few detective stories as well and they’re much better than that first one in the first grade. Serial killers, murderers, monsters, and people who’ve lost their minds take center stage in many of my stories. These are the topics in which I am most interested. Why do I have this fascination with killers, monsters, and madmen? Why would anyone want to think about these horrors?

I believe this is my way of coping with my own trauma. Upon writing this, I am 32. My trauma began when I was four. It had such an impact on me, I had to begin anger management counseling when I was six. We were cleaning up one day in class to go to recess. I was putting away a puzzle or something and this other boy tried to help. I told him I got it. He helped anyway. I got angry and hit him with a chair. I reacted with violence because I was exposed to violence at home. I thought that was the best response.

As I’ve aged, repressed memories resurfaced, and I’ve started to feel. I tear up during emotional scenes in romantic comedies or dramas. I can feel my heart racing during chase scenes in horror or action films. Horror films and horror fiction remind me of the violence and terror I experienced as a child without causing a panic attack. Writing horror fiction, I believe, is my way of dealing with the trauma and getting all the pain out. My mind has tried to pull my repressed memories forward through horror fiction. I think this is why horror is becoming even more popular as so many traumas continue in our chaotic world.

I am not the only person to experience this and this is not exclusive to PTSD. People with different anxiety disorders have a similar affinity toward horror fiction. Here are a few other articles I’ve found on the subject.

How do you feel about horror when it comes to your mental health? Is it helpful as it is for me or do you struggle with watching or reading horror?

Photo Credit: James & Carol Lee

Repressed Memories Resurface With C-PTSD

Growing up, I never realized my childhood wasn’t normal. I thought my life was similar to everyone else’s but with a different order of events or situations. I was 30 before everything started coming back. Small pieces at first. I didn’t have an official diagnosis, but I knew I had anxiety and I researched everything. This is when I first started contributing to The Mighty. As I continued researching, more memories returned; repressed memories. Repression of childhood trauma. I lived in the trauma for so long I thought it was normal. I thought domestic violence was normal.

It started when I was four. This was the first incident and I have few memories from anything prior. I’m told its normal for people to not remember much from their early childhood, but I feel the trauma has something to do with my lack of memories. The trauma continued for years. My older sister recalled I would rock back and forth with my arms crossed every time my parents started arguing. I don’t remember this. She said I did it for three or four years. There are so many things I don’t remember and part of me doesn’t want to remember.

After those years, I became emotionally detached. As I aged and went to high school and college, I had trouble relating to my peers. They didn’t understand my perspective and I didn’t see the joy in life they all saw. Few people wanted to spend time with me. When someone did, if they poked fun or ridiculed me, I would leave. They always thought I was bluffing. I grew up being ridiculed and treated like I was nothing. I didn’t want to be around that anymore. I spent nearly 30 years without emotional support from anyone. That’s a long time to feel alone.

I have a long journey ahead of me and I feel I won’t be able to have a healthy romantic relationship for many more years. I’m only now starting to get emotional support from other people. It’s only a handful of people but it’s a start. And I provide emotional support for them. I’m not broken but I need to heal. I’ll never be fully healed. The damage is too deep, and I spent years without treating it because I didn’t know I had damage. Time heals all wounds? Maybe. This wound needs all the time I have. If your wounds feel like too much, don’t give up. Give your wounds the time they need. Don’t stop fighting.

The Year I Almost Ruined My Birthday

Birthdays were never something I looked forward to when I was younger. I’m 32 and I can think of four, possibly five, birthdays that were pleasant. Most were uneventful and that is my preferred way for my birthdays to go. The happy highlights include my 11thbirthday, party at Chuck E Cheese’s with everyone from my class; my 26thbirthday, the girl I was dating at the time made the day all about me; my 27thbirthday, my roommate and I had a pirate party and most people there didn’t know it was my birthday.

The not happy highlights include my 15thbirthday, my mother got a restraining order on me (and my father, his girlfriend, and my oldest sister) and the court date was my birthday; my 16thbirthday, the family and I were broke down about 20 miles outside Albuquerque, NM waiting for the engine to cool down so it could overheat 20 miles later; my 17thbirthday, I had a party at my house and two people came. I had never met the second person at my party. All other birthdays are just like any other day and that is my preference.

All these birthdays, both happy and not happy, involved situations that were out of my control. Either bad things I had no control over or someone else planned the party. I have yet to plan a party for myself that succeeded. Maybe I’m just bad at planning parties. Per usual, this year I made no plans for my birthday. I had turned off my birthday settings on my Facebook page and convinced myself that no one would care about celebrating my birthday. This was my first mistake and I felt depressed for a few days leading up to my birthday. The night before, I turned on the birthday setting again.

A few people kept talking about my birthday and asked what I was doing. This perked me up a bit but by then it was too late to make any decent plans. Someone suggested attending a Greek Festival. I had no real interest in this. I mentioned I wanted time alone with a steak dinner and watching a movie. This was a half-joke half-truth. I wouldn’t complain if I had time to myself, but I did want to see a few people on my birthday. I decided to give my sister the contact information for my friends that I wanted to see and left it in her hands.

Nothing was planned. I hoped I could at least enjoy some time to myself that evening at home. My sister was staying with me for the last few months in my tiny one-bedroom apartment and time to myself was rare. She made the joke on more than one occasion that she would plan this epic party and invite everyone I know except me and I would stay home and enjoy a steak dinner. Or she would say she was planning a party where everyone celebrated in their own way at their own homes.

That day, someone I had only just met offered to buy me a pastry. They insisted, and I enjoyed eating something sweet. I felt a little selfish, but I also wanted to feel special. My sister got me a Ninja Blender. It was something I would use and small enough to have in my tiny kitchen. My sister sat on the couch that evening binge watching TV. That’s when the negative thoughts started. Since I wouldn’t have time alone, I thought I would go out for a drink and invite some people out with me. I showered and changed.

I made it to one place I had wanted to go since it opened. It was crowded. I had a beer anyway. I chose to go somewhere else. It felt weird being out alone. I suddenly didn’t want to be around people or crowds and didn’t even want to invite anyone out. I didn’t want to drink. I wanted to read a book and be alone. I drove myself to a Barnes & Noble just before they closed and bought two books. My birthday gifts to myself. This eased my negativity, but it all came back when I got home.

My sister was still binge watching so I grabbed my bag with a book and writing notebooks and I went to Starbucks, where I work part-time. The ladies working briefly sang Happy Birthday. Just enough in an attempt to embarrass me but not long enough to annoy me. It was kind of perfect. I talked with them for over an hour and this helped settle my mind. The negative thoughts still lurked beneath the surface. Sleeping would put my mind back into the right place, but I knew it wouldn’t take much to push me back over the edge.

I almost ruined everything by getting angry because no one was spoiling me but given my birthday experiences, I think I’ve earned a little spoiling. Maybe one day I’ll find that special someone who goes all out planning something for me. I imagine I’ll have a few more mundane, uneventful birthdays before that happens. I’ve realized I don’t communicate or express my needs, wants, and wishes and I’m sure this is why I don’t get the things I want. I thought I had always made it clear what I wanted, but each day I learn something new about my condition. One day I’ll figure out this whole human thing.

To summarize, it was another uneventful birthday, and this was my own fault. I didn’t do anything to make it eventful. I don’t know that I will do anything special next year. I don’t think about my birthday the way other people think about theirs. I don’t think about most holidays like others. I have a long way to go with no end in sight. All I can do is keep working hard and moving forward. For now, I need to tell people what I want.

Learning to Accept the Small Victories

Sometimes I don’t know where I get the strength to go out into the world. I have days where it feels like everyone startles me. My chest pounds the whole day and I don’t know the cause of my panic attack. I still have night terrors. They aren’t often but the nightmares are always the same. I’m trapped or paralyzed and some creature, always something different, comes after me. My interpretation is I feel trapped everyday like I’m submerged in quicksand slowly being swallowed and sinking into darkness. Some days nowhere feels safe.

During those day long panics, I try to say busy. Sometimes this helps distract me to get through the day. Other times the distraction is enough to stop the panic. If I don’t have work, I devise projects to stay occupied. I write fiction and poetry, I read, binge watch TV or movies while cooking. I feel accomplished when completing tasks, but then I worry that I’ve run out of things to stay busy. I’ve run out of distractions. So, I have an unending list of projects and ideas. A To-Do List that never ends. Unfortunately, my distractions rarely involve people.

I hear people talk about their best friends they see every week or every day. I’ve only recently started talking to someone regularly and that’s still new for me. The people I see the most are coworkers and roommates, back when I had roommates. Otherwise, it’s like I don’t exist if people don’t see me. Other people usually don’t offer much for distractions. I rarely get invites, and if I do, I often don’t go. Most of my hobbies are solo tasks like reading or writing. I want to share experiences with someone, but most people irritate me or cause panic.

Some days are better than others. On good days, I can be super productive, have a positive attitude, and get a full night’s sleep. Not every day is bad and not every day is good. Most days are somewhere in between. I accomplish some things and sleep more than half the night. The small victories keep me together. Always appreciate the small things. Most days that’s where my strength come from. I have more average days than I used to. Every day that isn’t bad is a small victory. I hope that leads to more good days. Those days where my chest isn’t pounding for unknown reasons.

Photo Credit: rawpixel

How Sharing My Traumatic Stories Helps Me Heal

How Sharing My Traumatic Stories Helps Me Heal

I never realized I was struggling with mental illness until I started having panic attacks. A month passed before I realized these were panic attacks. At first, I thought I had anxiety, and the stress from my job made it worse. I was a bouncer at a nightclub surrounded by drunken fools, many of which used alcohol to overcome their own anxieties. I removed myself from that situation and eliminated many other stresses in my life. I felt I was improving but still had a long journey ahead. I felt good and optimistic until the repressed memories resurfaced.

I hadn’t fully looked at the trauma from my childhood. It was worse than I remembered and what I remembered was worse than I thought. The only true memory I have of the trauma was the first incident. I was 4, my father was drunk and beat my mother. I have no memories before this and only a few spotty memories shortly after. I thought lack of childhood memories was normal, but most of mine are repressed. The epiphany came when my sister shared her memories. She is 4 years older, and her memories from that long ago are clearer.

She told me about a time when she was 10. She sat on the couch watching cartoons as our mother sat next to her reading. Our father came home and started screaming at our mother. She screamed back. My sister turned up the volume on the TV and continued watching cartoons. Our father sat on the other side of my sister, and our parents continued screaming at each other. The argument became so heated, our father put his arm in front of my sister to choke our mother. My sister sat up a little more to look over his arm so she could continue watching cartoons.

This is a perfect example of how common violence was growing up in our home. My own memories returning and hearing my sister’s memories created an existential crisis. Everything about my personality I felt made me unique and set me apart from everyone else were only symptoms. Most of my personality traits were caused by Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’ve had to search for new ways to identify myself. I didn’t know who I was for a brief time. I’m doing better, but I’m still re-establishing my personal identity.

This can make it difficult to make connections with other people when I’m still trying to reconnect with myself. When I do make connections, I fear they’ll leave like so many others have. I fear they’ll push me away or I’ll push them away. Talking about and writing about my experiences helps me reclaim ownership and identity. Some people don’t like talking about their trauma, and that’s okay too. I need to tell people about my trauma, or I’ll feel I have no purpose. I write to have a purpose. I write to feel I belong. I write to be identified. Everyone’s healing process is different.

By James Pack

Photo Credit: Elijah O’Donell