I’ve talked about Alicia before. She’s younger than me. She’s a junior in college and I’m 27. Without social media our paths would have never crossed. Without peanut butter we would’ve never started talking. Without talking we would’ve never seen past the social media posts and learned that we are more alike than we could’ve ever imagined. At the beginning of the summer, Alicia was struggling with mental health and I suggested she use resources on her college campus. I had used these resources as a student and at my last job, I knew students who had also used them. After many conversations and her sharing her experience, I bit the bullet myself and went back to therapy in July as well.
We push each other in positive ways and this semester Alicia has had to be an advocate for herself, especially when she was being pushed to the aside when seeking help for her anxiety. Her story isn’t very unique, but it’s a perspective that people brush aside.
Her story dabbles in her own blogging series I’ve let her write here and the It’s Your Turn Series. I think it fits both perfectly. So her post makes the IYT Series a perfect dozen, just cupcakes and doughnuts and sugar cookies.
Being a student and trying to juggling life is not easy, being a student is not easy in general. These past couple of weeks have honestly been the most difficult time I’ve ever had in my school career, between the mental breakdowns, anxiety attacks and all of the stress of the school work. Actually, I might be able to say that this has been the most difficult semester that I have had while in college. It’s at that point in the semester where there is only 2 weeks until Thanksgiving and every professor is trying to get all of the last tests, quizzes and assignments in before the week break. After Thanksgiving there is only one week left of the semester. Obviously there has been a lot of stuff going on in my life in general, my boyfriend moved out of state, I moved out of my parents house, officially decided on a major (even though I am still doubting it), applied for internships, and picked up another job – as you can see life has been crazy.
As I have said in previous posts in this series, I suffer from severe anxiety, trying to juggle life and school is not easy, but my anxiety skyrockets during school. The moment I get to school I feel anxious and as classes go on it begins to hit its peak. I can’t even count the amount of times that I came home and had a mental breakdown because of all of the homework and studying I had to for the following day. Even the slightest bit of work makes me anxious because I want everything done right and I want to do well. Tests make me anxious, I can honestly say that I have not gotten above an 80% on a test yet this semester. When I go into a test I blank, when I say I blank on everything I studied i mean sometimes I just sit there and stare at the test for a while before it actually comes to me. During tests I suffer from the physical symptoms of anxiety too, I mainly get the chest and muscle pains/ cramps, there are times I get muscle twitches or eye twitches too.
This is what I’ve been working on this semester to help me balance my mental health and school work as well as life in general because we know that gets in the way too.
- Being brave and seeking help, if you find yourself struggling with anxiety or depression or some type of mental illness don’t be afraid to get help. Most schools have a well-being center with free counseling, take advantage of it, it will help in the long run.
I started seeing a counselor on campus this year and while they are busy, they want to help. Recently, I followed my counselor to her own private practice off campus so I have access to more flexible hours. This is helpful for my situation since I not only go to school full-time, but I work part-time off campus at a retail job.
- Learning to take study breaks, if you find yourself studying for hours at a time take a break, you can’t just sit there and study all day, you do need to take a break, go for a run or go to the gym or even just sit outside for a few minutes. Anything will help you just need to give yourself a moment to relax.
This is something that I’ve truly had to come terms with. Sometimes, studying for extended periods of time makes me question or doubt my knowledge of the course. Taking a break to walk across campus or get a cup of coffee has allowed me to clear my head and come back with new perspective.
- Deciding to cut down on caffeine, trust me, I know I am a college student and most college student survive on coffee, but if you become anxious sometimes caffeine makes it worse. I am not saying to cut out caffeine completely just cut back
I still get my latte every now and then, but I’ve noticed that for me at least, cutting back has given me a clear head and taken away some of the jitters. It’s not a perfect science, but I’ve been drinking more tea (decaf) and water to fill in the void that was once a higher coffee consumption.
Finding balance between mental health and school work is not always easy. Not all people understand it either. It’s important to find balance because without it you, might not succeed in school. If you are a college student, tuition is expensive and you don’t want to waste that money or time to not be successful. GPA does not always matter, sometimes you need a break from school work, especially if you’ve been studying for days. I actually have a professor who allows you to take “mental days off” if needed. Mentally you need a break, taking on too much at once may not actually be effective in the long run and may hurt you. Talk to your faculty about this, they understand more than you know. Don’t be ashamed to get help, you have to understand that it will get better, but remember that you have to do something to make it better. Going to therapy is one of the greatest things I have done, trust me at first I was a little on the edge about going, but it ended up working out very well and I really enjoy going. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and know that you are not the only one who is going through this, there are plenty of other people who are going through the same thing.
This is my friend Ahmad. He pretty much started this series. What I mean is it was his words that set something off in me that made me think about the larger problem at hand. Yes, I am working through my own anxiety, my own PTSD, and I have no issue talking about it. But, there’s a but. But what about those who don’t share their stories. They don’t have an outlet to do so. They don’t think someone will listen or understand or care. What about the others out there who are also suffering silently. Maybe they need a place for their voice. He doesn’t realize that he sparked that in me, but he did. I wanted his story too though. So Ahmad Abojaradeh is the Co-Founder of Muslim Community Link, an Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, a Novelist and the founder and editor of Life in My Days. He speaks and writes about Mental Health, Wellness, Support, and Social Justice. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness through his writing, workshops and speaker events. Follow Ahmad on instagram and Facebook .
Ableism – are the practices and dominant attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities.
There have been quite a few who have reached out to share their stories and how mental health has impacted them, their families and what they believe to be their ability to be a mother. We know that events trigger us to develop these disorders we’ve been talking about in this series, but I don’t think we truly realize how the symptoms really crossover and not only confuse us, but our therapists and doctors. It’s possible that a diagnoses is completely wrong or is missing a piece – maybe it’s two or three disorders like mine with post traumatic stress disorder AND anxiety AND binge eating disorder. As you grow up and the brain becomes more evolved and there are more experiences, things can change.
Meet Courtney, she’s a stay-at-home mom of two and has been diagnosed with different disorders at different times in her life, but all have similarities.
I’ve always been a worrier – it could be from the years of living in a home with domestic abuse. I’d watch my Dad filled with rage and my mom would sheepishly try not to detonate the ticking time bombs of his own shattered childhood. I’ve spent my life never feeling good enough, and less than. My saving grace would be meeting my husband when I was 17, and in a whirlwind by the next year having our daughter.
My life changed and all my emotional burdens were now tucked away and my life’s goal was to do right by this little baby girl. It wouldn’t be until she was 2 that I would realize something was off. In my eyes everyone was out to get her, I knew for sure that something bad was going to happen – these thoughts filled my mind and the pictures they paint could bring me to tears.
See as a young teen I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD), then attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), then I stopped taking all those medications because the side effects either had me feeling like a zombie or so filled with energy I could not sit still. I sat in the doctors office naming off a laundry list of horrific things I knew would happen and that’s the first time in my life I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, for which I was put on medication, was examined by a psychiatrist and finally the horrible images started to become less and less. I was on this medication for five years up until the time we decided it was time to try for one more baby.
My doctor told me to immediately stop my medication and honestly, it almost felt freeing. Don’t get me wrong, I spent my pregnancy an anxious mess, but the thought of being medication free made me happy.
Flash forward to after giving birth.
Being a failure at breastfeeding my awkward body and staying at home, I started to feel hopeless. I let this fester until one day when my son was about six months old, I told my husband it would be better for my daughter and son to be raised by someone else. I could never do them justice and they deserved better, he deserved better. I remember that weekend my Mom came and took the kids so I’d have a “break” and a break is what I had.
That was the weekend I thought about killing myself. Just typing that gives me a nauseous feeling because in those moments I’d felt outside myself watching somebody that wasn’t actually me. Still, two months passed and I would put on my super woman cape in crowds. In a crowd of one, just with my thoughts, I’d be this self-loathing bitch.
Christmas time came and on Christmas Day, my Mom had gotten me a couple bracelets I felt were too expensive for my stay-at-home lifestyle. In that moment I asked her to take them back – I didn’t deserve them , I didn’t deserve anything. I let it get so bad before I was diagnosed with postpartum-depression and the anxiety I’ve always carried since childhood. I’ll never get those months back where I was in a fog, but if I can help someone else then it doesn’t seem as bad.
After that Christmas I started to take my mental health as seriously as I was my physical health. I started back on medication and visiting a psychiatrist weekly (for about three months). I still struggle EVERYDAY, but the two little people that I would never stop fighting for, need me, the healthy ,physically and mentally me. They deserve that and I am worth that. Some days are hard because I didn’t ask for this disease. I struggle with a lot still, but no where near as bad as a year ago. Postpartum-depression and anxiety changed the person I once was. I’ll have triggers from my childhood that can still put me in a depressed funk, but now I can say ” hey I’m anxious” or “hey, I feel like I suck at life” – being able to talk about it has made a big difference. I plan to start seeing my psychiatrist again with the holiday season approaching.
October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It was also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’m sure there’s a third cause out there that was also supposed to be highlighted and educate the public. I will not downplay that both of these causes are important. 1 in 8 women are impacted by breast cancer. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men are impacted by domestic violence. Whether it’s 12% or 30%, doesn’t truly matter, lives are impacted. But, there’s a but, one is more warm and fuzzy than the other. It’s more common to talk about breast cancer, screenings, a loved one passing away from an illness that has no cure than to talk about something that has been considered shameful and personal. Both are important and both need to be talked about.
Mental health has a stigma, just like domestic violence. It’s considered shameful, personal and must only impact those that are “crazy”. But according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, just looking at adults – 1 in 5 adults are impacted by mental illnesses that range from anxiety disorders to personality disorders.
Below is the story of a 40-something female and how she has lived with her illnesses.
It blows my mind the selfish-instant-gratification society we are living in. Consideration is hardly ever taken to those silently suffering with chronic illnesses. Mental illness has been my scarlet letter and a major part of my life ever since I was 15.
It all started when I was sexually assaulted one afternoon in front of the school library by a random stranger while waiting for my mom to pick me up. It happened quickly and something broke inside of me. A light went out and darkness filled my mind like a fog. I didn’t say anything right away to my mom thinking it was my fault because she told me to wait for her inside the library and I had disobeyed her like a careless little girl thinking the world was a good place helping a strange man take his books to his car around the corner. The guilt was so intense that two days later I attempted suicide.
When my mom found me, I had no pulse. I was rushed to the hospital and was saved by having my stomach pumped twice and put on a ventilator. At that time is when I revealed what had happened. Many people think that was my nightmare but my true nightmare began after that. I spent a week in a mental institution and after many evaluations, I was sent home with scheduled therapy sessions twice a week and a ton of pills as well as a new illness I had never heard of and my mom made me keep to myself.
An invisible illness that didn’t make you look sick. An illness that did not respond to diet and lifestyle change. An illness that caused intense pain that somehow not even the strongest painkillers can touch. An illness that can not be cured and carries a horrible stigma: Bipolar I with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The violent attack traumatized a part of my brain causing an inevitable imbalance. I wanted to fix it and make it go away. I wanted to run and hide. I did both things.
I’ve received some stories where the writer has asked to be anonymous. Writing is an outlet for me and I think some of you have found it to be helpful as you’ve sent me your stories. Some of you have pointed out that knowing someone on the other end is reading it, even though it’s a stranger, has been helpful. Some kind of release.
This is a story from a 25-year-old mom. I cried as I read her email, which made JP rush over to find out what was wrong. His heart broke for her.
By society’s standards, I used to be “normal.” I was fun, outgoing, had a lot of friends, spent most weekends out, worked my ass off at a job I loved, and so on. When I was 20, I met a guy who I thought was the end all, be all of men. He was sweet, funny, and kind. He treated me well and we always had fun together. But when I started seeing red flags in our relationship, I started distancing myself from him and eventually broke things off. He didn’t take the break up well and immediately showed his true colors (which he had done amazingly well at hiding up to this point). He started stalking me. He’d spend days at a time outside my house taking photos, calling me, texting me, threatening my family. I bought two guns to keep at home: one right next to my bed and one next to my front door. I was terrified of him. Whenever I called the police, he’d be gone before they could catch him. When they finally did, he was arrested and sent to prison. I spent almost an entire year in court with him. One court hearing per week, every single week until the case was finally closed. It was draining, to say the least. I had to change my phone number several times to avoid getting prison calls. By the second month of court hearings, the judge suggested I see a counselor. I was barely eating, I was having trouble focusing at work, and I was having nightmares so bad, I was afraid to go to bed at night. I gladly took the judge’s suggestion and met with a counselor. She was amazing and helped me through a lot. She even got me set up with an advocate who came to the remainder of the court hearings with me and spoke for me so I wouldn’t have to face my ex alone. The case was finally closed and I felt like I was starting to heal and get back to my normal life. I had no idea what was coming soon after.
Fast forward about a year and a half later. I was happily married and pregnant with my daughter. I went into labor on a Saturday, my husband and I took our daughter home from the hospital on Monday, and my world fell apart on Thursday. I was sitting at home with my 5 day old newborn, enjoying every second with her. My mom was at our house helping me with the baby. She picked up her phone to check the news and her face went white. When I asked what was wrong, she turned her phone toward me and a picture of my ex was plastered on the front page of the news: he had been released from prison and had brutally and violently murdered someone. My husband quickly grabbed my daughter because he knew I would fall apart. And I did. I fell to the floor and could not control the crying. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even know what to think or how to feel. Was it true? Maybe they had the wrong guy. The next few weeks went by in a blur. I was terrified. I didn’t answer my phone. I didn’t leave my house. I didn’t see my friends. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. Most of all, I didn’t understand what the hell was happening. Everything was back. The fear, the nightmares, the paranoia. But a thousand times worse than before. I had nightmares of him escaping from jail, breaking into my house, and killing my family; killing MY baby girl. The story was on the news for two weeks straight. All my friends knew. Everyone tried to call, everyone wanted to talk to me. I stayed off the internet and social media as much as I could and tried to ignore it all. But then I got a letter in the mail. It was from him. I didn’t know how he got my address and that scared the hell out of me. The letter was long and detailed. He blamed me for the murder. He went on for pages about how if I had never left him, he would have had a normal life and he never would have murdered this person. Any sane person would have understood the absolute ridiculousness of such a claim. But me, in my mentally unstable state, completely believed him. He was right, wasn’t he? I shouldn’t have left him. I could have prevented that murder.
My mental health deteriorated so fast, it was unbelievable. Three weeks after the murder, my mom came over to my house and found me lying on my kitchen floor staring at the ceiling crying. My 3-week-old daughter was lying on the floor next to me. My family called the police and I was taken to a hospital for observation. I spent 3 days in focus groups with other “mental” people. We had to talk about our feelings and share why we were there. Looking back, I can honestly say that 3 days saved my life. Was it weird? Yes. Did I feel like a freak? Yes. But I needed it. I needed the break. I needed sleep and food and peace and quiet. And something about being locked up in a place with bars on the windows gave me an odd sort of comfort. I knew that he couldn’t get to me. When I got to go home, my family worked hard with me to restore some of the balance in my life. I started seeing a counselor again and I was determined to work as hard as I could to be a good mom and take care of my daughter. But within days, the police were at my door. They needed me to testify in the trial. If I wrote about the next year of my life, I could fill a book. Long story short, my life changed for good. I’m no longer outgoing, I have very few friends (I chose a small circle of people to keep in my life) and I keep my family closer than ever. It’s been a while since the trial ended. My ex was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Some days are great, some days are awful. The awful days are usually the days when I can’t control all the thoughts that fill my head. Most days, I still can’t connect in my head what my ex did. I can’t seem to connect the fact that my sweet, loving, kind hearted (or so I thought) man had violently taken someone else’s life. This man that had told me so many times that he loved me. This man that had planned romantic dates for us and wrote me love letters. Some days, it still just doesn’t make sense.
About 6 months after the murder, through a VERY strange chain of events, I ended up on the phone with the mother of the man my ex had murdered. We talked for 5 hours straight. I told her all the things my ex had said to me and that he blamed me for her son’s death. And I let her talk for hours about her son. She told me all about him. His likes, his dislikes, what he did for a job, what he was like as a person. It was a relief for her. But at the end of the phone call, she said something I’ll never forget: “Forgive yourself. My son is not dead because of you. And you can’t live your life believing that he is.” I was floored. This woman had tragically lost her son and here she was comforting ME? What?! We cried and thanked each other. A few days later, I visited her son’s grave and placed a bouquet of yellow roses at his headstone. I took a picture and sent it to his mother. She appreciated the gesture and said she thought her son and I could have been good friends. We haven’t talked since. I guess we just needed that one 5 hour time period to cry and talk and vent.
Very few people understand my story. Most people look at me and say, “Um, someone was murdered. You have no right to be affected, you’re still alive.” In a way, they’re right. But it still doesn’t change the fact that I am affected. I was and still am. I never would have imagined that this would change my life so much. You see murder everywhere: in the news, on TV, in movies. But it’s never so close to home. It’s never someone you know. Nowadays, I’m a stay at home mom. I do nothing but spend time with my family and do my best to make amazing memories and appreciate the time I get with the people I love. But he’s still in my head. I still have nightmares. Fairly often, I sneak into my daughter’s room and crawl into bed with her just to remind myself that she’s safe because the nightmares are so real. My ex is in a level five facility in the middle of the plains of Colorado. He is guarded by some of Colorado’s finest and there’s no way he’s ever getting out. But some days, that doesn’t matter. It’s still terrifying. I do my best to choose happiness and peace every day, but of course some days I fail miserably. I’m thankful now to have a beautiful, healthy, and happy 3-year-old who loves life and lights up every room she walks into. I’m thankful to have a husband who supports me no matter what, even on my terrible days. Life goes on and that’s something I’ve learned the hard way.