Art by boggletheowl.tumblr.com.
This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. I've seen a few posts on Facebook about it, friends and family opening up about their experiences. And I've felt prompted to open up even more about my experiences. I am pretty open about having anxiety and depression. Most people who know me will find out eventually. I don't whine about it a lot, but at the same time, it is a huge part of my life and I would be lying if I pretended it wasn't a big deal.
I don't believe that complaining about my lot in life is productive, but I do want to paint a clear picture of what it is like dealing with my mental health issues. So if it seems like I am complaining, just understand that this is a one-time post that will hopefully foster understanding and sympathy toward others who deal with similar issues.
On Monday, I was actually rather productive. I cleaned around the house, only yelled at my son once, got all the bags unpacked from our weekend trip, and even stayed awake during the kids' naps so I could work on a few things. This is all massively impressive considering how overwhelmed I often feel. But instead of feeling good about it all, I focused on everything negative you could get out of each of those accomplishments.
- Cleaned the house? Great. But you let it get that dirty in the first place. And hey, you cleaned some things, but there is still a LOT that should be done. You didn't even do the dishes before Eric came home.
- Ha. Only yelled at your kid once. That means that a) you still yelled at him, and b) if this seems like an accomplishment, that means that yelling is your standard mode. You're such a bad mother. You're messing this kid up. And you're an angry person with issues because you can't deal with this in a normal way.
- Sure, you unpacked the bags. But you didn't wash the clothes that are dirty that you took out and put in a huge pile in your laundry room. And the car is still a disaster zone. And speaking of the trip, the kids are exhausted because you waited too long to leave Houston and so you didn't get home til late and they went to bed hours past their bedtimes. Oh, and you let your 19-mo-old watch movies to make the trip go more smoothly. So pretty much you're frying her brain.
- Oh! Wonderful. You stayed awake during the kids' naps. So......what is your excuse every other day? And you know that you are doing a terrible job going to bed early enough at night. So of course you're exhausted. And it's not fair to your kids because then you're super tired and you just want to find any way to rest your eyes while the kids play during the day, even if it is sleeping on the floor. Good moms don't do that.
The cartoon at the beginning of this post is poignant, because I KNOW that there is someone reading this who is thinking, "Those are things that every mother of young children says to herself. Don't be so hard on yourself, Cindy! This is just life and you'll make it through." And sure, that is true. But what I can't convey in type is the absolute darkness that overtakes my mind and body when these thought patterns take over. The nausea that starts in when I start to get really overwhelmed with everything. And the uncontrollable anxiety attacks that bring me sobbing to my knees because I JUST CAN'T GET CONTROL OF MY LIFE!
My therapist in Virginia helped me pin down some of the ways my anxiety presents itself. We even came up with an acronym: GAFF. Guilt, Anger, Fear, and Frustration. These are all valid emotions that everyone deals with, but the problem with anxiety and depression is that these emotions become magnified and exaggerated in my mind until they well out in very unproductive ways. A messy house can be very frustrating, yes, but my messy house drives me to retreat from life, quite literally. I empty my mind of everything because I'm afraid of the frustration filling every crevice of mind until I explode in tears or anger. I'm pretty sure that isn't the typical reaction of every mother of young children trying to keep a clean house.
Another extremely difficult aspect of my life is the projection of my unrealistic expectations of myself onto my expectations of my husband and children. Of course I know that it's ridiculous. But the emotions are there and while I try to police what comes out of my mouth, it is extremely difficult. Because your thoughts become your words and actions. Then the guilt sets in again. It's a really painful cycle.
And this is all the little stuff! It is day-to-day, run-of-the mill, could-it-get-any-more-mundane kind of stuff. Then life throws in actually hard stuff, and I'm a real mess.
The good news is, I have come a long way. Sometimes I have harder times than others. But because of the treatment I've had, I have a lot of great tools that help me through. I try to remember that it took 22 years to develop this way of doing things, it's going to take more than a few years to replace the bad with good.
I know there are probably some of you out there who are also thinking about how my religion should be helping me through this, and if I just had enough faith and studied and prayed more then I wouldn't have guilt, anger, fear, or frustration as my constant companions. But let's be very clear here: I have a clinical disease, just like someone with a tumor. I am not just going to be able to pray and study my way out of this one. That said, I am extremely grateful for the Atonement of my Lord and Savior, because I would not be doing as well as I am without his constant care. My weaknesses will become strengths, and in many ways, have already. I would never say that I am GLAD I have anxiety and depression, but I am extremely grateful for the lessons that I've learned, the compassion I've developed, and the empathy I can feel for other people who suffer.
I hope that this helped at least a few people gain some insight into mental illness and how it impacts millions of people. Please know that I am not posting this for pity or sympathy points (though if it helps you understand why I seem so overwhelmed all the time, that is a fringe benefit!). So go hug someone who deals with mental illness. But don't tell them why. We don't want your pity. More than anything, we want to feel normal.