By Anonymous Submission
I started having panic attacks when I was eleven years old. My mom had just married her third husband and my sister and I now had to share a room with this man’s six-year-old daughter. Both people were complete strangers to me. My panic attacks consisted of severe hyperventilation and unrealistic fear that I was going to die. After I had experienced several of these attacks, my mom took me to a doctor who told her I was experiencing anxiety. The doctor instructed my mother to put me in my room and close the door when I began to hyperventilate and then ignore me. He said I would be fine. I wasn’t. That was 1978.
I continued to experience anxiety throughout my childhood and teenage years. It was undiagnosed, of course, but I managed. I married my high school sweetheart at the young age of eighteen and by the time I was twenty-one, we had two children. To say that there was stress in my life would be an understatement. When I was twenty-two I began to experience physical symptoms that felt like flutters in my heart. I would get other symptoms too, like dizziness, tingling in my hands and feet, and a choking feeling in my throat. Much like when I was an eleven-year-old, I was sure I was dying.
I eventually went to the doctor and saw many different specialists. I had test after test and they couldn’t find anything wrong with me. Then one day I went to get an MRI on my head. One of the specialists was trying to figure out why I was dizzy all the time. It was standard for a patient to take a pill prior to the MRI because of claustrophobia so I took it. The MRI showed nothing, but I quickly noticed that when I took the pill, all my symptoms went away. I told my doctor this and we were finally on our way to a diagnosis.
I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder. You wouldn’t know this about me if you met me on the street. I’m doing great and have been very successful with treatment. It didn’t happen overnight though. It’s been a long road.
Since then, I have been seen by many mental health practitioners and had years of counseling. I have been prescribed every SSRI that there is to prescribe. They always worked, but after a while I would go off them because I didn’t like the side effects and I didn’t like the idea that I needed “crazy pills” to cope with everyday life. I went on and off medications for twenty years before it finally occurred to me that I had a medical condition that would require me to take medication, most likely for the rest of my life. And it was okay! If I was a diabetic, I would inject insulin. If I had cancer, I would get chemotherapy. The problem was that those medical conditions didn’t have a stigma attached to them. Mental illness was my family secret and I was hiding it well. I needed to give it a voice.
I attended a conference in 2013 that included a talk on the stigma surrounding mental illness. I learned about NAMI through this group and, along with my daughter, we joined. Since then, my daughter has become a part of the “In Our Own Voice” program and I have joined the NAMI Speakers Bureau. Because of my affiliation to NAMI I have found it very comfortable to talk about my experiences with friends and family. I have learned that mental illness is a lot more common than I ever thought. Everyone knows somebody who is dealing with a mental health issue.
My passion is to encourage people to talk about their own story. How will anyone ever be comfortable with mental illness if nobody talks about it? If I had survived cancer I would be shouting it from the rooftops. Well, I have survived major depression. I have survived a serious anxiety disorder. I am so proud of myself.
Please tell your story. There is someone waiting for you to open up so that they can open up to you.