The Ebbs and Flows of My Mental Health Disorders
I suffered from mental health issues throughout high school and college but was never clearly diagnosed during those times of my life. Part of that may have been because my symptoms first manifested as more physical – stomach pains, chest pains, headaches - and I never truly opened up about what was going on inside my head until much later. As a youth I was outgoing, a good student, and a high achiever. Despite eviction, having no lunch money at times, often living without gas or running water because bills weren’t paid, and maggots calling our dishes home in the kitchen sink, I managed to get a good education. Although a family history of neglect and trauma, a bipolar mother with an addiction to pain killers, the deaths of both my grandmothers one year apart, and then being told my mother had died by suicide the following year in 2012 should have been clear signs that I was susceptible to mental illness.
Getting sick was both sudden and gradual. The timeline of my mental health disorder, or rather disorders because I endured several, was so erratic, waxing and waning, often corresponding to a momentous event in my life or the birth of one of my children or the death of a loved one. It wasn’t that I was in the dark about being ill. I knew I had anxiety, panic disorder, and depression. I had been diagnosed with all those at one time or another and I had been prescribed medication for them. Sometimes I took the meds, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I took the meds and felt better and then sometimes I stopped taking them. Sometimes the meds didn’t work.
In August of 2016, I was returning home with my daughter from two funerals - my first cousin who had been addicted to methamphetamines and the mother of a close friend who died of cancer. From the backseat, I thought I heard my three-year-old say, “The water is all connected, flowing through the pipes and coming out in the bathtub. But you know what’s not connected? The trees. You need to cut down the trees and get the ants out, one by one, like with tweezers.”
From that point on, a lot of things made no sense but I thought and believed them anyway. A song on the radio told me I was an angel. My daughter said she was the bread that came from heaven. People were speaking to me in code. Emails were full of secret messages. License plates on cars gave me orders. A side of my body would tingle and I took it to mean one thing or another, telling me right or wrong. Everything was a disturbing sign.
After about a year of this, I left my husband. I took our daughter and moved in with an old friend who I felt understood me more. I felt I could tell him things I couldn’t tell anyone else. But it didn’t stop the delusions, thoughts, and images.
Instead, the signs were more hallucinations, abnormal thoughts, absurd images and ideas, and irrational feelings of people out to murder me and molest my children, which to me were my reality for many years. But I kept them in my head and expressed them in a way that allowed me to lead a somewhat normal life – divorce, marriage again, another child, work on and off, and so on and so forth – in between episodes and bouts of sickness.
But soon, my paranoia worsened. I believed my now-boyfriend was cheating on me. I thought my ex-husband was molesting our daughter during his visits with her. Then, I thought my boyfriend was too. That he was trying to poison and kill me and that he was sleeping with my sister. I believed my air was being poisoned at home and in my car vents and that my water was infected too.
One night in late March of 2021, I argued with my boyfriend and accused him again of terrible things. When he left the house, I took as many pills as I could find. At the hospital they pumped my stomach and I had to go to an in-patient facility. The new medications were not doing much either. Things took a turn for the worse a couple of weeks later. My paranoia was at an all-time high. I thought my boyfriend was sleeping with my stepmom. I believed everyone was trying to kill me, including the neighbors.
In early April that year, I took my younger daughter and drove away without even a car seat in the car. I thought everyone in a passing car was a child molester or gang member coming to do us harm so I would swerve into their lane and yell at them. Eventually, I ran a red light and hit another vehicle. Ambulances and police arrived. They arrested me and my daughter was taken to hospital. Thankfully she was fine but an order against seeing my children went into effect.
When I was released from jail, I went to live with my aunt. I still had fears of being followed and people wanting to kill me. But the accident made me realize I had to turn my life around. That’s when I opened up to my psychiatrist. I told my mental health team everything - from the signs and billboards to the radio messages, to the tingles, and everything in between.
I was put on a higher dose of Effexor and started taking Abilify. Within days, my aunt said I was a completely different, non-combative person. The paranoia disappeared. Within a month, I applied for a really good job and got it. I also made a safe plan with my family to watch for signs of deteriorating mental health. Eventually I was able to visit my kids and then have them with me again.
The mental illnesses I have experienced in my life run the gamut from anxiety, panic disorder, depression, psychosis, possibly paranoid schizophrenia and/or bipolar depression to ADHD, and while some were officially diagnosed and others not, I lived through them. I cannot begin to cover the different delusions, hallucinations, feelings of hopelessness, and distress I experienced but I can say there is hope and help.
With evidence-based information from organizations like ADAA and ongoing and novel research, advocacy and treatment, as well as candid and honest dialogue with mental health teams, friends and family, I believe we can all get better. There is life after severe mental illness.
I hope my story inspires and helps people who are suffering to feel less alone and know they will not always be in a dark, frightening, despairing place. We can rise above and every day I am so thankful for the science and medication that have given me my life back.
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