A Story of Mental Illness, Self-Medicating and Getting Right
Sometimes the journey to mental health is something one has to do alone – but it’s important and OK to ask for help.
It’s strange to think I’ve struggled with mental illness for nearly 25 years. I was only diagnosed two years ago, yet I’ve been experiencing symptoms and attempting to self-soothe since I was seven. Unfortunately, the combination of being raised by the GI Generation and coming of age in the sixties hadn’t equipped my Boomer parents with the ability to recognize the signs of mental illness in a young child.
And so, I just suffered — sometimes out loud, but mostly in silence.
I thought I was a freak.
I was afraid of everything. I had horrible thoughts I simply couldn’t dismiss. They were with me always, and I dwelled on them constantly. I would become so overwhelmed by these disturbing thoughts that I would sob, beg my parents to let me stay home from school, and vomit repeatedly.
My parents shrugged it off as “growing pains” and a nervous stomach, but in reality, these were the initial signs of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
“Stop worrying so much.”
“You need to get over this.”
“What are you so worried about? Nothing’s going to happen!”
If I had a nickel for every time my parents said one of the above phrases, I’d be a wealthy woman. And although my parents understand now, I still hear many of these from friends and acquaintances who don’t understand the intricacies of my mental illnesses.
I’d love to stop worrying, but I physically can’t.
When I was little, I used visualization to self-soothe — although I had no idea that’s what I was doing. I referred to it as “telling myself stories”, and I did so to fall asleep at night or in an attempt to block out intrusive thoughts. I also read a lot. If I was lost in a book, I couldn’t be lost in my mind.
However, once I hit my teenage years and came into both money and a car, I started using marijuana to self medicate. It worked very well, and I smoked it from age 15 until the time of my diagnosis. I don’t regret using it, and honestly, if it were legal in my state, I would still.
What I do regret is not seeking help.
By the time I was 17, I knew what the signs of mental illness were, and I recognized many of them in myself. But, I refused to admit that there was anything wrong. I didn’t want people to treat me as if I were weak, or “broken.”
Like my parents had done when I was young, I shrugged my pain away, treating it as insignificant.
Obsessive, intrusive thoughts are an interesting thing, they come and go as they please.
When I was a child, I was convinced both of my parents were going to die, and that I’d be left alone in the world. This thought was my constant companion from ages 7-12 — and then, poof, it was gone.
My teenage years were spent obsessing over being considered fat, ugly, and unloveable. Truth be told, I’m not sure how much of that was simply normal teenage behavior and how much was in relation to my OCD.
What prompted me to finally seek help was an intrusive thought that started a few years back. I started to worry about getting older. I was concerned that I would be alone, unable to care for myself, and end up in a state-run nursing home where no one would even care to change my diaper. Triggers included seeing an older person, hearing the word “retirement”, or thinking about my aging parents and their future needs.
I discussed my symptoms — both past and present — with my doctor. He diagnosed me with OCD and GAD, put me on an antidepressant, and for the most part, I’m okay. Good days are good, mediocre days are okay; hell, I can even get through bad days alright. However, extreme stress sends me into a tailspin that often takes months to get over.
In the last year, I’ve twice been driven into a deep depression marked by anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Both of these incidents were preceded by episodes of acute stress. The first incident was so intense, I thought my anti-depressant had stopped working. I switched to a new one and felt perfectly fine for two months. However, after the second incident produced the same results, I realized that my brain is what it is, and that I have to be careful to avoid over-stressing it.
Besides medication, I have also started to see a therapist in order to work through my past traumas and learn to cope with some of the more taxing parts of life.
I will never be completely symptom free, nor will I ever be cured. I can, however, have a perfectly wonderful life filled with family, friends, and love. As long as I continue to take care of myself, I will know my own version of normal.
And you know what, I’m perfectly fine with that.
Mental health resources for anxiety disorder and OCD
For more information on topics discussed in this article, please see the following resources:
- Debunking Common Misconceptions of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (TED Lesson)
- The Different Types of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- How Do Obsessive Compulsive People Think?
- What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
- 8 Things People With Generalized Anxiety Disorder Want You to Know
- 8 Most Common Dual Diagnosis Disorders
- International Suicide Helplines