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When I Realized Mental Illness Is My Illness

The tears came after I left my doctor's office and finally realized that my head isn't getting better.

I was in my 20's before I realized something was wrong. It was probably a long time coming, but the night that I first contemplated how similar the skin of a tomato was to my own arm, and how easy it would be to move the kitchen knife from the cutting board to my skin, allowing an escape like the tomato gel and seeds that bloomed forth--that was the night I knew I needed help.


Years of Zoloft later, I've had bouts of isolation, crying, hyperventilating, blaming, praying, trusting, normality, smiling, sleeping, and numbness. Acquaintances think I'm a really happy person because a lot of the time, I am. Friends know that I love Jesus and my family, yet I still have dark times. The thing about anxiety and depression is it's easy to hide without knowing you're hiding. It's isolation. I can be in the middle of a great social time and then come home and spend all night awake with ideas and visions that flit from the past to the future, or something can set me off into crying jags until I can't breathe, or a list of mundane tasks suddenly feels monumental. I've tried going off the meds, even for a year at a time, but eventually, I always need to go back on them.

Last week was a time when it became painfully apparent that I wasn't doing as well as I hoped or thought, so I went back on the meds after a year off. My chest lightened, and my head began to feel less spinney. My dad told me to never go off the medication again. He's been through all of this and lovingly told me to just stay the course with the prescription help. It's OK. I kind of nodded and just wanted to get through that week.

Then I had a follow-up appointment with my doctor, who explained that I have an illness and it's just how I was made. For some reason, most of society treats mental illness differently than other diseases. It's not separate. My doctor pointed out that I wouldn't ask someone with seizures if taking seizure meds was really the best way to handle their illness. Thinking about my state as equal to that of other sicknesses shifted my view. Based on my family history, I know I am predisposed to a chemical imbalance. The part of me that feels anxiety might be a way for me to try and gain control, or it might be that by refusing meds, I'm actually in a worse state of control.

What I know is that off the medication, my heart feels tight and my head spins with negative, exhausting thoughts. With the medication, my head feels level enough to suss out the voice of God in the midst of lots of trash, and I can cling to Him and climb out of the hole.

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The tears came after I left my doctor's office and finally realized that my head isn't getting better. This isn't a phase; I'm not something to fix; no addition or subtraction of stress matters. I believe someday I will be whole in heaven, but here on earth this is who I am. It's because of God that I'm still alive. He gave someone the knowledge to develop a medication, but more than that, he's always with me, even in my loneliest times. I'm his and he loves me just the way I am.

So the next time someone recommends a special diet, exercise or a natural supplement, I can stop groping for a fix. "Have you prayed?" Of course I have, and when my head is cloudy, my heart knows that even in my brokenness, I'm whole.


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