It Does Not Define Me (My Mental Health Story)

My mental health story, a change in structure.

So this is highly personal, and something that is hard to openly share, however I am a big believer that the more people talk about mental health the more it is normalized and the more change can be made for the better.

I was an anxious child. That much was clear. Maybe it was the prednisone I was on for much of my early years, to help me breath through my asthma, that triggered it. I’ll never know.

I had rituals. I had to be the last to say goodbye to visitors or else I acted as if the world was ending. I had to stomp my feet when I got in the car. I had to look at my self a certain way in the mirror. I worried. I worried all the time and about everything. I had so much going on in my head that in kindergarten and first grade I was in a slower reading group.

By age 6 I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I was put on medication. I started therapy. I jumped from the bottom reading group to the top. However, this was just the start of a long journey.

Bipolar Disorder ran in my family. The anti-anxiety medication I was put on at such a young age, an SSRI, triggered the Bipolar gene in me that might have otherwise remained dormant. At 6 I had a manic episode. I thought with every fiber of my being that everyone, including my family, was trying to kill me.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar by age 7. I was put on Lithium and never had a manic episode again. At first, looking at the pamphlet made for early onset Bipolar in kids, I was happy. Sure anxiety was always my main issue, but seeing a book made for symptoms I experienced was amazing to me. I wasn’t alone. I thought I would be understood. Little did I know what was coming.

I had reflective days in the early years, upset I had to take medication, feeling like an outcast. Society surely didn’t help. In second grade a fellow student’s parent found out about my conditions. Worried her son would be negatively influenced, she requested her son be kept away from me. The school obliged, even recess aids were informed to keep us separate. I was full of hurt and pain at 8. I knew all of what was happening, and the embarrassment and shame was indescribable.

All of puberty was tough, adjusting medications regularly to match my ever changing hormones. The side effects of long term medication being fully realized. My home life at the time was less then ideal and a struggle in it’s own right, not aiding my mental state. I would break down in school. Panic. Fear.

Some teachers were a help, letting me be with sympathetic words, allowing me to calm. Some only made it worse. There were rooms the size of a telephone booths with windows in the counselor’s hallway. They were for in school suspension, kids that did bad things. Kids had a habit of looking in the rooms to see who was in trouble on their way to the counselors. When I was having panic attacks, break downs, because the world around me was too much, I would get thrown in these rooms until I stopped crying. I remember my panic only intensifying.

I’m trapped, scared, I wish I had a phone to call someone to rescue me. Shame. I wasn’t in trouble. Everyone walking by will think I’m in trouble. I’m a good kid I swear.Adults and kids are laughing at me. Get me out please I’m hurting. I want to die. Please. I can’t breathe.

I stabilized in middle school, but for the rest of my time I had to fight for my place in many higher level classes because I got extended time on exams due to my anxiety. I developed secondary conditions due to my medication. I never stopped taking it, I was fortunate to not know any different, and see the dangers of trying without a doctors supervision.

In college, my roommate made fun of me for being on medication, calling me crazy, saying I have a drawer full of pills. The school made it difficult to get a single room.

I lost friends and opportunities during a rough patch in life when I was having multiple panic attacks a day, struggling to function. I was going to therapy and following the rules, but sometimes that’s not enough. They didn’t understand. My anxious behavior, which I actively challenged with every fiber of my being, and did not ask for, was too bizarre for some.

Depending on external life factors, and my condition in general, my anxiety ebbs in and out. Some periods are grand, some are not. Regardless I give it my all. Every day I try. There are days where getting out of bed seems like too much to bare. Almost every day is exhausting. Existing takes everything I have.There were times I wanted out. There were close calls. But I know now the good times are worth the bad, and I will fight for the good times.  I have to pay for medication, which isn’t cheap. I’ve known my whole life I will have that added cost, on top of the emotional cost. I hope one day I can go off some of them with a doctor’s supervision. I deal.

Above all in my journey I learned you have to help yourself. If you don’t, no amount of external help will get you anywhere. You have try. And sometimes that’s not enough. That’s okay. It’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to need help. Seeking help isn’t weak. It shouldn’t be stigmatized. It should be like going to a physical doctor. Your brain is an organ it, needs check ups too, which could even save a life.

For a number of reasons, including my mental health, I wasn’t expected to achieve this much. To go beyond community college. I graduated in the top 10% of my class. I got a full ride to college. I earned a spot at the Clinton Global Initiative University. I’ve appeared in commercials. Ran clubs. Moved to another country. I succeeded in spite of my mental health. I am more empathetic because of my mental health. Anyone can do the same. Most have. That’s just not the image portrayed in the  media.

However the more we speak up, the more we normalize the discussion around mental health, the more the struggle becomes apparent, the better of the world is. I deal with mental health issues. So do 1 in 4 in the US. 1 in 4 is not homeless, a psychotic killer, an outcast. 1 in 4 should not be treated as if they are. Those who treat people less because of their mental health should be scolded, not those trying their hardest to overcome. The more we personalize this issue, come forward and put faces to it, the more stigma goes away. The more the diagnosis becomes less of a defining feature for a person. It’s not easy, the fear of judgement, the fear of being viewed as having a character flaw instead of a medical condition, is very real. But it’s necessary.

I am Kelley, and I have OCD and mild Bipolar.  I am not my illness. It has shaped me, but it in no way defines me.

Ring the Bells that Still Can Ring

Nothing is perfect.

How many times have you heard this uttered throughout your life? A dozen? A thousand? A million? So, why do we so often try to idealize people, places, and things?

We let exes ruin tastes. We let negative events ruin wonderful places. We hold grudges against friends and family, ruining good memories. We let the bad trump the good, to define our world. If nothing is perfect, we are going to be really unhappy campers- letting imperfections ruin everything for us.

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”

Salvador Dalí

The world isn’t absolute. How else would you be able to explain a murderer who happens to be a great father? Varying memories from a place like New Orleans, that thrives culturally yet has suffered extremely from the effects of a natural disaster? Good and bad are intertwined, sometimes deeply, in every sense triggering feature of the world. You can’t have one without the other. But would you want to?

“Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.”

Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light

It’s hard to be thankful for pain, agony, or downers when experiencing them- but that doesn’t mean they’re not helpful. Would you not be desensitized to blessings if they were free flowing? Would you be as deeply appreciative of the ups without the downs? Would you have as much depth if you’d not known hardship? Still be empathetic? These questions may not be poignant enough to raise awareness on the worth of dark times, but hopefully they show the purpose of them.

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen

Nothing is perfect, and imperfections serve their purpose, so a great option is to embrace blemishes on the world around us, or at least not let them ruin something that previously provided joy. Life has enough misery on it’s own, more doesn’t need to be applied to aspects of life that have potential happiness.

Don’t let the bad define the good. Let the good shine, and take joy in anything you can, tainted or not. Mentally remind yourself that you deserve it. I still do.

Say you’ll remember me?

A dark post, but it doesn’t have to be.

We all think it. We all care. Wondering what other’s think of us, valuing their opinions. In our darkest moments we ponder if they’d miss us when we’re gone. We see heart bearing social media posts for friends who passed too soon, even from strangers to the deceased. We wonder if our own untimely passing would elicit such emotion, such regret, such love.

“Dead people receive more flowers than the living ones because regret is stronger than gratitude.”

Anne Frank

For my own part, I know I often feel underappreciated. Whether this feeling is supported by fact or the outside world is a debate for another time, but nonetheless it is a thought that passes through me often and probably through many others. I go out of my way to be kind. In fact it would hurt me not to be. I enjoy being supportive and lovely, even in the face of adversity. What I do not appreciate is being taken advantage of or being  taken for granted. It happens all too frequently because it is not in my nature to be anything but nice, even when standing up for myself. Inevitably people regret hurting me because my actions never gave them a reason to deservedly treat me so poorly, but that takes years of self reflection and leaves me wallowing for a good while beforehand.

I wonder, would it take a tragic end to me for people to appreciate the light I try so hard to spread. I don’t spread it because I am weak, or because I never have seen pain. I spread it because I’ve suffered and I wouldn’t wish others to feel that low. Because though my faith in humanity is shot, I have faith in every individual I meet.

“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”

Robin Williams

What is so wrong in our society that it often takes death for overwhelming support to truly show from a community? Support that the person being supported may never feel. Why can’t we reflect on those in our lives while they are in them. When the impact will matter for the person. Maybe if we could express our love openly there would be less sadness. The fact that more than once in conversation the logic of “I wish I was dead so people would appreciate me” has been uttered by multiple people is appalling. Tragedy shouldn’t be the spark for love. Love should flow constantly and consistently. Maybe then we will feel comfortable enough in our own skins to shine. And light spreads far more efficiently than darkness.

So please tell people in your life you love them, and why. Who cares if it’s sappy. Who cares if it’s hard. They may need to hear it, and you could be giving them the boost they need to change the world for the better.