Why would she post that picture for the world?
When you see it on an ad or in a movie, when it’s fake, does it bother you as much? Does it make you uncomfortable or feel embarrassed to look at? Am I supposed to feel ashamed or embarrassed? I don’t, why should you? Don’t you have these moments too? Count your blessings if you don’t.
May is mental health awareness month—fitting as the last two months have been FULL of awareness of the lack of my mental health. This morning was the first day in eight weeks that I woke up with my kids, and stayed up—actually brushed my teeth and got dressed—without going back to bed. That picture was every night I drove to my empty home after work.
Of the last 56 days, I have cried during 53 of them. Of those three days I did not, two, or maybe all three, of them were because I was too sick to even cry. I was chronically dehydrated. For seven of those weeks, I spent day after day nauseated and unable to eat, often throwing up what I did eat. My clothes felt baggy. I had to let my physical therapist (who I still see post-knee surgery) know what was going on because I knew my body was weaker than normal. She urged me to try and consume protein shakes.
My brain didn’t turn off while I slept. There were vivid, lucid visions and dreams I couldn’t escape. I slept intermittently but never got rest. Every morning as I woke up for the day, before I even opened my eyes, the heavy thoughts taunted me. It felt like my brain was reminding my body before my body was even ready for the day, “Heyyyy, its 8 a.m.! Open them eyes, welcome back to everything you didn’t want!”
I felt like I was failing myself and my kids. I understood I was depressed and needed to give myself grace but felt intense guilt for my kids, who didn’t understand why mom was so tired or short-tempered. I picked up lots of extra work, increased my anxiety medication, saw my therapist more. I still ended up frustrated, exhausted, and falling apart. I found it hard to stay out of my bed. Why couldn’t I just feel better?
I was in a trauma-induced shock. After all the crazy things I had experienced in my past, nothing shook me to my core quite like this most recent event had. Perhaps it angered me worse that I couldn’t face it, process it and conquer it as fast as other things. In fact, it seemed there was simply no processing happening at all. I was stuck.
I’m not a stranger to seasons of sad thoughts, but this was different—a whole new level. And it was new and scary to me. My brain and my body—like never before that I’d experienced—shut down, all the way down. Dare I say shut off?
My therapist cautioned me to not burn out by avoiding it and keeping busy, but then other guidance suggested I wait awhile to allow my nervous system to settle enough to allow the processing to occur. My unconscious brain could not make sense of my situation, leaving my conscious self panicked, confused, and depressed. I would have these muted, out-of-body experiences that left me feeling like I was living in a hallucination—was this my body coping or was it exhaustion? Often my arms and hands would go numb and tingly all over from my shoulder down. The physical effects were escalating. This was nothing like me.
It tipped the scales of my anxiety further. I overwhelmed my closest friend with my mental state and began to feel like a terrible burden. As an extrovert and outward processor, I can only imagine how depressing I must have felt to others, especially her. I began to then feel angry for not keeping to myself and holding it together more. I tried to withdraw from others. Why could I not work through this hurt and grief?
My prayers became angry. A spiritual war was beginning to brew inside of me. After a month, I couldn’t find God, and I questioned everything. I loathed who I was and how I loved and cared for others. A lifetime of narratives, relationships, and events came uninvited to the party and haunted the many choices I’d made, scoffing at where my life had led. What was wrong with me, why was I made this way?
While I still prayed, I was losing faith. Every pillar in my life was crumbling. I couldn’t get out. My mother urged me to snap out of it. While it pained her to see me suffering, she couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to feel better, get better. What she truly didn’t understand, though, was that I did want to. My body ached to feel better, and I was trying. With every night I went to sleep and every morning I opened my eyes, I begged for a new day.
I reached out. I asked for help. I took the vitamins. I went to the gym. I did the things—at least I tried. I attempted in so many ways to numb every bad thought that crept in. But I couldn’t do it. 56 days of darkness.
Mental health is far more than an “I’m fine” or an “I’ll get over it.” Believe me, I am a big fan of fake it ‘til you make it, but the fact of the matter is, mental health cannot be an afterthought and has very real, physical effects on your body’s overall health. This example is more extreme than most of us experience day to day. (I had never sunken as low as that before and for so long.)
Many, many people would not consider opening this kind of stuff up for public viewing. It’s real though. It exists every day for some. Although it’s getting better, the stigma and the judgment from others who have never experienced this kind of mental health struggle oftentimes leave people feeling shame or embarrassment for the feelings they are experiencing. It can cause people to fall prey to addiction, damaging behavior, or even suicidal thoughts in order to hide it or cope.
Your brain. Your heart. Your thoughts, good and bad. Your hopes. Your hurts. They are important. They cannot be shoved to the side. They cannot be swept under a rug. They may get worse before they get better. But they matter. They have purpose.
And you are not alone. The people who love you and want the best for you won’t judge you. The ones that do judge you . . . maybe it’s a sign that it’s time to outgrow them. And if you have kids, teach them it’s okay to not be okay, and that they too can face challenges and heal.
This morning I woke up a little different. I flicked the devil off my shoulder at church yesterday when he was dragging me down with terrible slurs about who I am. That’s not what Jesus wants me to believe. That’s not what the people who love and appreciate me think about me. And I woke up this morning with some confidence. I remembered who I was—who I really was—not the fear of the things people want to think about me.
I know the battle isn’t won. I’m well aware of how hard I hold on to the worry and hurt when someone I love thinks badly of me. There will be more crying, there will be more therapy. But this morning was a start, and maybe now my heart and brain are in a place to start processing.
Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others.
**Grief is NOT just a loss of a loved one due to death. Grief occurs when there is any kind of loss of a person or a life you thought you had. The following article explains it in terms of a death, but read through the stages and you may find you connect with what it is describing. Grief can be messy and hard and has no timeline. If you think you may be experiencing grief-related mental health challenges, look into coping with grief and reach out for support. Health Agenda: Mental Health.