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.