By Annie Doherty
My experience with mental health has been full of ups and downs. It took years to come to terms with the fact that there is something wrong with my brain chemistry, and not something inherently wrong with me. It also took a lot of work for me to be able to talk about these things openly without embarrassment or shame, but not without hitting rock bottom first. Because I felt like I couldn’t talk about what was going on in my brain, I reached a severe breaking point that landed me in the psychiatric ward after attempting to end my life. Because of this, I had no choice but to face my illness head-on.
I spent a considerable amount of time in therapy the year following my hospital stay. At first, it was two or three times a week, until I felt stable enough to move to once a week. I played with different dosages and types of medications for months, seeking something that could help me catch a breath from the crushing weight of emptiness living inside of me. My parents welcomed me back into their home, which provided a safety net and support system. A lot of my days were spent quietly watching our dogs play in the backyard as I sat wondering what life was going to be like now that the secret was out about what was going on in my brain.
It’s been almost five years since I hit that lowest point of my life. I’ve come away from that experience realizing that recovery is a lifelong process that looks different for everyone who goes through it. Living with mental illness is a constant battle. Some days are great and require little effort, but other days still take every amount of strength I can muster up to remind myself that I will get through it, this isn’t how it will be forever, and there is something wrong with my brain chemistry causing me to feel this way. It hasn’t been easy, but the more I learn about myself, the better equipped I am to face those bad days.
One thing I’ve learned through all of this is that everyone has a different experience and there is no shame if something works for you that doesn’t work for someone else. Medication, therapy, diet changes, exercise, natural remedies, meditation, having a support system – I’ve seen all of these be helpful to different people at different times. Medication was something I only needed for a short period of time to help me get back on my feet with regard to my depression, but I still have medication for acute anxiety attacks. Therapy has proven to be my greatest aid, but my frequency changes as the ups and downs of my mental health change. It can get expensive, but it has been the investment in myself is worth every penny. Being open with those around you and creating a support system is a huge help as well. Some people could not handle knowing all the things going on in my brain, but I have been lucky to have a handful of friends and family that are capable of providing love, support, and kindness when I have needed it most.