Dealing with the mental health bulldozer

By Anonymous Trigger Warning: This article contains descriptions that may be triggering to people who have experienced feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide

I like to think of myself as a strong person. I’ve been told that I come off as confident, intimidating, knowledgeable—and I take pride in that. To me, it always meant that people listened when I spoke, took my opinions seriously, and generally treated me with respect.

Recently, though, all of that came crashing down around me.

As someone who tells herself she’s “strong,” I often take on lots of responsibility—but, I always seem to argue, I can “handle” it. So when I suddenly started having trouble getting out of bed and started feeling deeply inadequate earlier this semester, I told myself I could “handle” it.

When I started noticing weird symptoms towards the end of my menstrual cycle a month ago—deep sleepiness, lack of motivation, inadequacy and guilt—I told myself it was just for a couple days, and I could handle it. I mentioned it to the doctor who prescribes me my birth control and she suggested that could be an indicator of depression, and that I should go talk to someone at Monsour. Again, I decided that it was PMS and not depression—“I’m too strong for that”—and basically forgot about it.

Then, a few weeks later, an innocent weekend visiting a friend somehow spiraled out of control into a complete mental breakdown. I wanted to punch something. I wanted to rip myself in two. I wanted to fall and break my skull on the tile floor. I felt so heavy and dense that I was going to cave in on myself. I felt empty and pointless. I wanted to scream so loudly that everyone would hear. I wanted to be silent. I wanted nobody to notice me at all.

After that weekend, nothing has been the same. My dreams are roller coasters that leave me feeling completely unrested. I can’t focus enough to follow a conversation. I realized one day that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d showered, and I can’t bring myself to do laundry. Sometimes I can’t even get out of bed.

Until a few weeks ago, I had no experience with mental health. I knew nothing of the social discourse surrounding mental health. I had heard of the stigma attached to talking about and addressing mental health issues, but had never comprehended what such a stigma might mean. And, most profoundly, I knew nothing of the struggles people with mental health go through.

And, to a great degree, I remain ignorant. I have no education in the language one uses to talk about these things. I have no idea what one should expect when it comes to mental health care. Here I am, profoundly affected with something I can neither describe nor name nor begin to address.

So I made an appointment at Monsour. I was told I had to wait two and a half weeks to see anyone, but I could always call if I had an emergency. I booked the appointment, and said—guess what—“I can handle it.”

Of course, everything in my being told me that I needed to see someone sooner, that I wouldn’t have asked unless I really needed it, that I was scared and needed answers. I couldn’t say that, though. I had gone to Monsour partly to talk to someone, and partly to be told what I needed. I thought that since they hadn’t put me in with someone right away, I must not really be in danger. This must not be that big of a problem. I can probably—definitely—handle it.

Again, as usual, I was wrong.

Nothing has been getting better. I’ve fallen behind on homework. I’ve asked for extensions on assignments—something I never, ever do. I’ve spent days in my bed and nights trying to cry myself to sleep because nothing else works.

And right now, I have no idea what’s wrong with me and I don’t know what to do about it.

People I talk to keep using analogies about broken bones. Like, if a bone was broken, I’d go to the hospital and it wouldn’t be a big deal, but when your brain or mind isn’t working, it’s the same thing but people treat it differently, and that’s not okay.

That’s a nice analogy, but it doesn’t make me feel any better. I’m only starting to unlearn the perceptions I had about mental health—not because I ever questioned them before, but because I’m trying not to allow them to dig this hole even deeper. My already deep-set feelings of inadequacy are compounded because I was always taught that people used mental health issues (and other invisible illnesses and injuries) as an excuse to get out of something. I was always taught that only certain types of people could “get” mental illnesses. I was always taught that I was stronger than that.

And while I’ve learned a little bit, I’m still struggling so much to figure out what I don’t know. I can hear, read, think, “You don’t have to feel bad about needing help” a hundred thousand times but I think it’ll be a long time before I actually believe it. I think it’ll be a long time before I can rewire my thought process to stop destroying me in this way.

And maybe it’s selfish and pathetic of me to even write this. I’m acknowledging here that I was wholly, inexcusably ignorant before I got bulldozed by this myself, and I’m not sure I can forgive myself for that. But that’s also why I’m writing it. I’m writing to let whoever’s not going through this that this shit happens to people, to anyone, sometimes out of nowhere. So I guess I’m writing to start that process of dialogue.

I’m also writing because I am weak. I’m not strong enough to stand up to anyone who tells me that I’m just incapable of handling my commitments. I can’t even stand up to myself. This is me articulating that weakness. This is me begging you not to make me feel weak, to emphasize it, to rub it in my face.

And secretly, I’m writing this because I still like to believe that I am strong enough, that I can handle this, and that, maybe someday, I’ll be able to feel like I can breathe again.