Living life with a “mental illness” such as depression, anxiety, ptsd, or similar can feel like a death sentence some days.
I have been coping with the challenges of the above mentioned issues since a fairly young age. My first major bout of depression was when I was around 16, but most definitely the signs and symptoms were there in years previous.
Like most people, I assume, I go through peaks and valleys, sometimes the path even feels smooth and steady for a while. There are even days that go by where I feel well, peaceful in my mind, and as if it might all be behind me. Those days are so good. I cherish them. I treasure them beyond any amount of riches. Nothing, absolutely nothing can be as precious to me as being of sound mind, because without that, I am unable to enjoy and be a part of the lives of those I love, without that I am unable to function as I desire. It is a priceless “thing” that I cannot place enough value on, it is truly the grandest gift to be in a state of mental wellness.
Tonight, for a brief, but horrifying moment, I thought I had lost it. I thought I had lost that precious gift and it sent terror coursing through my veins. It happened as quick as a light switch being turned on. One moment I was perfectly fine, sitting at the dinner table and talking with my family, and in the next moment, my mind had spun into a place of complete fear, entering a completely different state of mind that I can only describe as overwhelming panic.
It happens like this for me, just that fast. I guess it would be an anxiety attack … that is usually brought on by thinking about or talking about topics that generate a lot of anxiety or fear for me. There have been times when I am not even thinking about anything fearful when it has happened though, and that makes it that much more scary, coming out of nowhere. This evening I was relaying the details of a nightmare, or series of nightmares, that I had last night. My daughter was curious about it and had asked me to tell her about it. I am afraid to go into it now, not wanting to trigger another attack… but it was a very frightening night of dreams for me last night. As I was in the midst of retelling what I could of my dreams to my family, I began to feel the intense fear and panic creep into my brain. It goes beyond the rapid heart rate, beyond the shortness of breath and strange nervous sensations, to a feeling in my head as if it is switching gears… and the fear and irrational thoughts start to feel as if they are taking over in my mind. My mind grabs on to the thought that I am losing my sanity and that I will be stuck in this panic state forever. The panic that I feel seems to me to be as intense as if a train was coming straight for me, as if I was facing certain death. Although, I have to say, at that moment, death would sound soothing to me in comparison to living in that state of being.
I was able to calm down…I took some anti-anxiety medication that I am far too dependent on in a situation like this (although it has not happened for months) and I engaged myself in a different activity. I began washing the dishes and talking about a different subject, to divert my attention. Within a few moments I felt more “myself” and a sense of relief came over me that the “attack” seemed to be over.
The most terrifying thought that I have in regards to having these kinds of “attacks” is that in that moment I am so frightened of living like that … so very frightened that I will lose my sanity and senses… that I fear one day it will be the death of me. I fear that if I continue to struggle with this later in life that I will be inclined (in an irrational state) to take my own life rather than to live in such fear.
I can’t explain to you how that shakes me, how that rocks me. Fear is my enemy and I am working diligently to conquer fear. But to have a surprise attack by the enemy certainly took me off guard tonight.
This is why we must continue to talk, to work towards ending stigma, to speak out about how difficult it is to live with mental health issues… so that people like me ( a seemingly “normal” person) do not have to live in fear of losing their sanity. We must make it part of our responsibility to be there for others … young or old, rich or poor, to assure them that they will not be left all alone in their darkest hours.
Ultimately, that is my greatest fear, that no one will be there to hold my hand, to reassure me that it will all be okay when or if this happens again. I know I am not alone, as I know others who struggle with mental health issues, but if we don’t talk to each other, if we don’t share resources and hold out a hand for others to hold on to…then we will be all alone when we need a hand to hold.
It may be different for you, it may be a different ailment, but it is all the same in the end. If we do not take care of one another, if we do not share what we are experiencing and needing help with, then we will all end up alone. Don’t isolate. Reach out for another hand, and if they don’t return the gesture, keep reaching. Speak about the issues, speak about the struggle, speak about the fear and the pain. Help the world to understand. And by all means, let’s help each other.