This contribution to the Mandalas for Marinke project comes from Cheryl who writes,
“Thanks so much for doing this wonderful project. I had written online how much hearing of Wink’s passing affected me. I had no idea that she had problems with depression and that she also was on the autism spectrum. I had “found” her online a few years ago and really loved her enthusiasm, creativity, and energy. I was not an avid follower of her but was happy whenever I saw something attributed to her. She was just “cool”!
And she shares her own story with us,
“I was first diagnosed with depression/ anxiety/ neurosis/ paranoia when I was a teenager. I had started feeling like people were going to poison me to the point I could not eat out in public and only ate foods that my mother or I prepared. This went on for several months, while I was trying to go to school. Eventually, I could not participate in my school as my anxiety was such that I thought I was losing my mind and was terrified I was going to “lose it” in the middle of a classroom. I became agoraphobic (afraid to leave my home) unless with my boyfriend of the time or a family member. I, thankfully, had a really good support system, but I continued to get worse until I was eventually placed in a revolutionary, for its time, day program in a hospital. While there I took correspondence courses for my school – with certified teachers -, had group therapy programs and did individual counseling. I was there about ten months before I “graduated”. I went back to my regular school and regular class and was able to graduate with honors with my class. I still felt “different” from others but at leaf I finally rallied that I was smart!
That was the beginning … I am now 50 years old and, over the years, I’ve had several episodes where my depression and anxiety caused me to become agoraphobic again or become completely withdrawn again. Some episodes worse than others. In my early 20s I was diagnosed with “clinical depression”. I was told I should be on medication, but I refused as I still had some neurosis / paranoia and taking medication was one of my “issues”. I wouldn’t even take the medication for headaches, and I suffered from almost migraine-type headaches for years and years.
Eventually, when I was in my early thirties, while in an abusive relationships, I knew I needed to take medication. It was hard starting but I remember a few weeks later, while raking the lawn one day, having a feeling of peace, instead of stomach churning dread. I stayed on that medication for a few years during which time I left my abusive relationship and moved back across the country to my family and starting a “new” life. Eventually, I felt well enough to go off of the medication – a factor was also realizing that although I no longer had my “lows”, I no longer had any “highs” either. My life was one flat feeling. Nothing fazed me, and that is not who I am. I am passionate person who loves fiercely, is an advocate for social injustice, loves to laugh, and cries very easily at very touching moments. I didn’t even feel much when I found out my mother had been diagnosed with cancer! That wasn’t me.
However, within about 16 months, I was again in a dark place. Easily frustrated/ angry, outbursts, seeing “bad” everywhere – thankfully no longer paranoid/ neurotic, but not able to cope with life either. I was put on a medication that was both my depression and anxiety, and within about a week or so, I felt like “me” for the first time in a very long, long time.
I have been on that medication since – 16 years. Even with this medication, I’ve had a couple of episodes, but they are nothing like they used to be. And I am able to recognize early symptoms to make some changes in my life of self-care – getting proper rest, eating healthy / nutritious, talking to others, making sure I make time for my creativity (knitting, crocheting, collaging, coloring, painting, etc.)
My life has not been easy, but in all my yard of being a person diagnosed with a mental disorder/ mental health issues, I have held down very good full-time jobs, I have bought a house on my own, I have maintained friendships. I continue to grow, and learn about myself. I live a “normal” life!
What I really want people to know is that mental health issues are “brain disorders”. They are actually not “mental” disorders. They are disorders of the brain – possible with chemicals or synapses in the brain – which affect mood, feelings, thoughts. We, who have these disorders, cannot make them go away much the same as someone who has Type 1 diabetes can not stop their diabetes. If we are “lucky”, we will find a medication or other intervention that will work to help control the disorder, but it doesn’t go away.
We are not “weak” – every day, I get up and get to work and function very well in this world, even though every morning my body and my brain tell me to “stay in bed”, “don’t move”, “you can’t do it”. I get up, I move, I do it! I wonder if the “average” person would be able to keep going every day under those same conditions. But I do not wish this on anyone.
I just wish to be understood or, at best, accepted as someone who was born with a genetic condition, or other “physical” ailment would be … What I have, IS actually a physical ailment, which manifests in my brain.
We need more acceptance in this world, less judging of anyone who is perceived as “different” in any way. I am so glad to be a part of something that may help to raise awareness of mental health disorders / illnesses.
For most of my life, I felt I had to keep my disorder/ illness a secret because of the stigma attached to having “mental health issues”. It isn’t until the last several years that I realize how important it is for others to know about my disorder. Similar to someone who may have asthma, there are situations that can affect my disorder negatively, and I need to be able to remove myself from these situations (and not thought of as “less than” for doing so!) – for me, some of the situations that affect me negatively are: loud noises, not enough natural light, negative/ toxic people / workplaces, etc. There are things I need to do to take care of myself on a daily basis (at my desk): surround myself with colors/ pictures/ things that I love, have music going (not loud), have normal everyday conversations, eat nutritious meals,spend some time outdoors, have a Seasonal Affective Disorder light available all the time – I know when I need to put it on – close my office door sometimes for quiet take, take regular breaks, and on those really bad days not push myself too much and forgive myself for having to slow down once in awhile, etc. I also think it is important for workplaces to have training in Mental Health First Aid, the same as they have people trained in First Aid.
Most people I know who have Mental Health issues are very hard on themselves and have high expectations for themselves.
Mental health issues should not be feared as much as they are. I believe that if there was less stigma to having a mental health issue, it would help reduce some of the stress that is caused by the diagnosis.”