Cheryl’s Mental Health Story for Mandalas for Marinke

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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I’ve had several episodes where my depression and anxiety caused me to become agoraphobic again or become completely withdrawn again.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.”

Kathryn

San Francisco based and crochet-obsessed writer, dreamer and creative spirit!

9 Comments:

  1. This is a very hope-filled story. I have chronic type 1 diabetes and there are parallels to depression for sure with the lifelong attempt to manage a chronic disorder. But just as good management of diabetes leads to a feeling of physical well-being and good physical condition, finding the right treatment can relieve bad mood. The analogy breaks down to some degree though because going from no insulin to insulin is pretty straightforward, but the pharmaceuticals for regulating brain chemistry are more of a shot in the dark.

    • Yes, agree with all of this. My dad was a lifelong diabetes sufferer until relatively recently when he had a pancreas transplant. A whole different life with no more daily insulin injections!

    • Thanks for sharing this Cris. Yes, I agree completely, the Diabetes vs Depression/Mental Illness does not hold true throughout and is not a parallel disorder. My statement was to show that Diabetes1 is a disorder that the person who has it cannot stop it from happening the same as mental illness cannot be stopped. There are things that can be done with both (and other disorders) to lessen the impact on our lives. Some things work better than others… Take care and wishing you well. 🙂

  2. I found this article extremely interesting. I myself am Bipolar and recently, after being in remission for 9 years, I was admitted to hospital. This was a huge shock to me, I spent a month altogether in hospital and am now back in remission again. I have just recently taken up crochet after many years of knitting, so maybe I will be posting photos of my mandalas.

    • So glad that you were able to get help when you needed it and that you’re now back in remission. Keep hanging in there, reaching out when you need to and taking good care of yourself. <3 <3 <3

    • Wishing you all of the support and love you need through your remission. Yes, definitely, being able to work with our hands and minds helps to ease some of the issues around mental illness. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Take care. <3

  3. Hi
    I have just read your story and am so glad you managed to cope despite your setbacks. I am now in my early seventies and started with anxiety and panic attacks when I was 18. Like you I managed to have a good job and I was able to get married and have a family. My husband supported me but I don’t think he really understood what I was going through until he had a bad bout of depression a few years ago. I also kept quiet about my condition as at that time as it was not something that was understood. I was on medication for a long time but thankfully in my early 50s I was able to come of it and am able to cope well without it. People don’t realise how life changing this condition can be and I feel I could have done so much more. However I have good health, my husband and two sons so I feel I have been luckier than a lot of other people. I knit, crochet., make cards and jewellery to keep busy. Good luck to for the future.

    • So glad that you were able to work your way through the years facing these difficulties, especially during a time when it really wasn’t talked about at all. Sending so much <3 <3 <3

    • Thanks for sharing your story Irene. I am so very glad you have been able to cope well without your medication. This condition is certainly life altering. I think it is so important for us to share our stories to help reduce the stigma around mental illness and I so appreciate this platform for helping to do that. Take care!! 🙂

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