Mental Health Month – Living With Mental Illnesses

I don’t exactly remember when I first started showing signs of having a mental illness. When I was about 12 or 13 I started feeling lost. Not the usual “I don’t know what to do with my life” lost. Instead, I felt that no matter what I did, I couldn’t be happy. I started not wanting to leave my bed in the morning, which wasn’t because my bed was a lot more comfortable than having to go to school. It was because having to co-exist with other people made me exhausted. I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t sad either – I was just numb. This was also combined with the fact that I started doing things just to feel safe. I thought that if I didn’t switch the lights on and off seven times, a family member or myself would be injured – or worse; die. I didn’t understand all of these feelings. I didn’t know what they meant, even the words “mental illness” seemed so far away, because would that mean that I was crazy? I was so scared of not being “normal” that I bottled everything up inside. But how did it end up like this? Why did it happen to me?

Nobody knows what causes mental illnesses. Some people are born with them others get them after series of events in their lives. Everyone’s situation is different and so is mine. I’ve always been a quiet person; that’s just who I am, but at some point that quietness turned into anxiety. I was constantly anxious of speaking in front of people and to people. It became so bad that I couldn’t carry a conversation without stuttering or saying all of my words in the wrong order. But how did I go from just a quiet girl to an anxious person? I’m not exactly sure. I’ve always had a problem with what some people call blushing. However, in my case it wasn’t just blushing – I turned full-on red in the face just by being addressed by another person. Other kids thought that this was funny, which meant that I received a lot of comments. Soon, it became a competition to see who could make me flush the fastest. When adults, even teachers, started to comment on it I started to not speak anymore. I was terrified of getting snarky comments about how I looked.

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Teachers played a big role in my mental health. I’m from a small town and I attended the local school, which wasn’t the greatest. I had two teachers in particular who made my life miserable. The worst was a woman in her mid-thirties. To this day, I still don’t know why she hated me. I suspect it was because I questioned her teaching because we didn’t do much during our lessons. Who could have thought that a teacher would hate a student who just wanted to learn? My parents could sense that we clashed so a few meetings were set up between us so that we could learn to get along better. I thought it was great until she started making remarks to me in front of my entire class. Soon, they all knew what was going on. Some people even started to dislike me for it. Still, I thought our meetings were great until I found out that everybody knew what I had said during one of them. My teacher, who was supposed to keep everything a secret due to professional confidentiality, had told one of my classmates’ parents. This parent told another parent who luckily contacted my father and let him know what was going on. Since that day, I started to avoid school.

At first, I started cutting a few classes here and there. It soon evolved to me not wanting to go to school at all. I got a depression, even though I didn’t know it was that. I started sleeping more, I started not eating, and I just felt numb. People think that having a depression is feeling sad all of the time, in reality, it’s more like you don’t feel anything. It’s as if all of the colors have disappeared from the world. Everything is just a vast black hole of nothingness. Today, I don’t remember much from when I was 15 years old. Maybe I blocked it from my memory because I don’t want to remember, or maybe I was just so lost it’s impossible to remember. The only thing I remember is not being happy. However, I wanted to try.

This meant that I wanted to get rid of my blushing. After leaving 9th grade, my parents contacted a doctor and I was cleared for surgery. They could finally make me stop flushing. For the first time, I was excited. The surgery went well and the blushing went away. My anxiety, however, did not. I was at a new school and all of my old problems followed me. They not only followed me, they got worse. By then, I had already seen a therapist which didn’t help me much. I wasn’t ready to talk about my feelings because it was hard to understand them myself.

One consequence of keeping everything bottled up was anger. I became so angry with everyone around me including myself. I started to feel so much self-loathe it was nearly impossible to be in my own body. I was self-destructive and I didn’t know how to handle it.

A year, and two therapists later, I started a three-year-long business-oriented education. At this point, I knew that I had a depression, anxiety, and OCD. I wasn’t ashamed of it anymore but it still prevented me from living my life. I started feeling guilty for having mental illnesses. I thought that I was letting my parents down. I’ve always had loving and accepting parents, however, they didn’t understand my illnesses. For a while, things with my parents were a bit tense, not because they didn’t love and support me – they did, but because I got frustrated that they didn’t understand how I felt. They didn’t understand that I couldn’t stand leaving the house or that I had to do 50 rituals before going to bed. It made me feel alone even though I couldn’t blame them. No one can understand someone’s mental illness unless they’re that person. It just took a while for all of us to realize that.

Mom and Dad on the left - Sister and I on the right
Mom and Dad on the left – Sister and I on the right

On January 2nd, 2013, everything collapsed. I had finally had enough. I couldn’t see myself live anymore. I hadn’t been happy for five years. I felt so lost I could only find one solution. I honestly wanted to die. I had planned it all very last minute and thank God for that. My mom found out and soon I let out all of the emotions I had kept bottled up for years. I talked to my parents all night. I found new motivation for living. However, I still wasn’t ready to see a therapist again even though I tried. I realized that although my parents and my sister loved me more than anything, their love couldn’t cure my illness away. Everything else in my life was starting to add up, though. I was attending school regularly (where I actually had amazing teachers), I had an incredible friend, and I started to do things to become happy.

My friend, Anir, was a blessing I never saw coming. You wouldn’t think that we would fit so well together because she’s outgoing, crazy and not at all like me, but surprisingly we do. She had everything I didn’t and I had things she needed. She didn’t care that I wasn’t “normal”. She was the first person I told about my mental illnesses. Like my parents, she didn’t understand but I didn’t care most of the time because she was my first and only real friend. She was there for me whether it was to hold my hand during class, hold me while I was crying in the middle of the night in a crappy hotel in Paris, or just simply make me laugh during our daily lunch session in our school’s basement. We were inseparable and having someone from outside of my family love me for who I was, helped me survive.

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Jo and Anir

During my three years at that school, I went through ups and downs. I found out who I was as a person without my mental illness, I became more confident and outgoing, I started to hang out with other people. I also lost one of the most important people in my life and went through a tough time when my mother became sick. I finished school, though, and I did well. I was proud, excited and finally I started to have days where I was happy.

It all came crashing down last fall when I wanted to start university. I started to have bad anxiety attacks like I used to have and I felt lost again. This time, I decided not to let it stop me. I decided to take care of myself for the first time in my life. I realized that things don’t get better unless you make an effort to actually make it better. I dropped out of school and started an intense treatment program.  I started seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist. I started to focus on myself in ways I hadn’t done before and it helped. I found out that even though I’ll never get “cured” of my mental illnesses I can learn to live with them.

I’ve been in treatment since September. Today, I have two jobs and I’m happy. As cliché as it sounds, I’m actually happy and excited to wake up and leave my house. I have been blessed with the greatest family in the world and I’m positive about my future. I still have bad days – we all do. I still get anxious, but now I don’t think I’m going to die if I forget to switch off the lights correctly. I’m not normal, but I can function in society. I know who I am and I’m not ashamed of it. People with mental illnesses should never be ashamed or feel guilty. Having a mental illness does not make you a bad person. You can learn to live a fulfilling life, but it takes time and a lot of hard work.

 

Written by Josephine Sjelhøj

CelebMix Editor.

A bit obsessed with airplanes, musical theater, and forensic anthropology.

Contact: [email protected]
Twitter: @_JosephineS