An Open Letter to Anyone Suffering from a Mental Illness

Hey guys,

I just finished watching this awesome film titled Call Me Crazy: A Five Film and felt inspired to take to my blog and share some of my thoughts with you. Unlike my usual spunky and funny posts, this one will be a little different … I hope that’s ok with all of you.

First off, I highly suggest watching Call Me Crazy, and not only because of its star-studded cast (with names including Jennifer Hudson, Melissa Leo, Brittany Snow, and many more), but also because of how eye-opening its content is. Without giving away the plot, the film is divided into five short films, each focussing on a specific person who either is suffering from or knows someone who is suffering from a mental illness.

Though other films on mental illness exist, I really felt the authenticity of the subject matter here. I can’t say for certain whether it was the content of the film itself or whether its because it is the first film on this topic that I have watched since beginning my road to recovery after seeking treatment for a mental illness.

Growing up, I always felt different. When other kids were happy about normal kid things and upset about normal kid things, I was feeling extremely sad and angry about pretty much everything. For the most part, I blamed my feelings on my father leaving me and my mom and also on seeing my mom struggle to not only keep us alive, but to regain some happiness. My mom took me to see a therapist when I was very young (probably about 7 or so) and all I remember is sitting across from a dude who looked a lot like Freud and being asked to draw my family. It was at that moment that I decided I hated therapy and I never went back.

I remember constantly asking my mom “Do you love me?” at least 50 times a day, sometimes even calling her at work just to make sure she hadn’t changed her mind. If I didn’t see my mom waiting for me outside when my grade 1 class let out after school, I would break into an immediate panic. Years later, I have learned that both these behaviours are immediately linked to my father leaving.

Once my panic about whether my mom loved me or not wore off (it lasted from the age of 6 to well through high school), my illness took another form: an eating disorder. I began dieting and refusing to eat anything until my mom got home and I would eat dinner with her, allowing her to see that nothing was wrong with me. I was frequently exercising and spent copious amounts of time staring at my naked body in the mirror and screaming at it for not looking the way I wanted it to. These fits of screaming led to me beating and cutting my stomach and thighs. The beatings and cuttings led to my ability to finally take a breath and relax.

This pattern continued through high school and university and for a few years afterwards too. It was in my last year of university that I met Em (my future wife) and unfortunately, she took the brunt of my outbursts. I was often upset with her for the most ridiculous things (for example: “Why are you five minutes late?!”). I was often jealous of any friends she met up with or stayed out with late. And I was often telling her she was a horrible girlfriend (she was never horrible). She responded with nothing but patience and love toward me and somehow managed not to let my cruel words and actions keep her from giving me a huge hug in some of my worst moments. I don’t know where I would be without her.

Em often suggested I get help, but after my encounter with Freud, I wanted nothing to do with therapists or doctors. For many years into our relationship I refused to go and talk to anyone until I began to lose a lot of weight rapidly and my friends and my mom began to notice and fear that something was wrong.

In 2013, I finally decided to go and get help. With Em by my side, I went to various doctors, many of which told me “you don’t have an eating disorder because you don’t keep a journal of your weight or calorie intakes,” which to someone suffering from a mental illness is the worst thing to hear. It took all my energy to finally agree with Em, my mom and my friends that I was not well and seek help, now hearing from doctors that they don’t want to take the time to learn what was wrong was absolutely horrible.

In August 2013, my mom took me to her family doctor and sat in the room with me while I explained to him what I’ve been going through. Though he wasn’t ready to diagnose me, he did prescribe an SSRI (or anti-depressant) and over a period of 6 months, increased my dosage until I felt like I’d never felt before. For the first time, I wasn’t panicking about anything and I didn’t have to force myself to look or be happy. I wasn’t worried about food and I wasn’t beating or cutting myself. I would often find myself staring at my reflection in the mirror and not recognizing who I was. This calm and collected person was not me. It didn’t feel like me. I actually felt happy. I began doing things I really enjoyed and had missed out on like seeing my friends, trying new restaurants, exploring my city, etc.

Earlier this year, I went to see a therapist. I’ll admit, I was extremely weary and wasn’t sure if I’d be up for going for regular visits, but I know what it feels like to feel as though your entire life is out of your control so I wanted to make sure that never happened again. So I went and it turns out that therapists aren’t all bad! My therapist is really great. I feel comfortable talking to her about any and everything and getting her thoughts on various things. Though she says that I am coping really well, I still enjoy checking in with her once a month.

After spending my entire life in panic, despair and fear, I was officially diagnosed with Chronic Panic Disorder last month. In laymen’s terms, it’s a mental illness (and a form of anxiety disorder) dominated by crippling and frequent panic attacks, which can strike at any time and can take hours or even days to recover from. It can also manifest itself in various forms (ie an eating disorder). Having a panic disorder means that I’ll have to take medication my entire life, but it’s a very small price to pay for never having to go through the 20 or so years of crippling depression and panic that I’ve already suffered through. I have read that there are ways to treat panic disorders without medication, but personally, I don’t trust myself enough to try going off my meds, at least not at this point in my life.

I recently found a post on Buzzfeed describing what it’s like to experience constant panic attacks and thought the writer described the symptoms and thought processes really clearly. If you’re interested in reading it, you can find it here.

In particular, I found this photo and list of symptoms of a panic attack described really well:

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 1.33.53 AM

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 1.34.24 AM
Content from: http://www.buzzfeed.com/caseygueren/wtf-is-happening

The symptoms I most commonly experienced were pounding heart, shaking/trembling, trouble breathing, dizziness, nausea, chills, fear of dying, fear of going crazy and derealization. To put it lightly, I don’t ever want to go back to feeling like that.

I’m happy to say that I am now living a very happy and fulfilling life. I take my medication every morning and go about my day. I don’t ever feel as though I need to brace myself for anything because I now feel confident in myself and in who I am, panic disorder and all.

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