World Mental Health Day, a Reflection

I meant to write this yesterday but it didn’t happen.  Yesterday was World Mental Health Day and it was a time of reflection for me.

The majority of my life has been tainted by mental illness.  Joey (my brother) struggled with severe OCD and bipolar 1 most of his life.  He died by suicide when he was 28.  It was a very gruesome way for him to die, and I will always remember that.  I’ve written about it many times, but he used a rifle in my parents’ office.  My parents wouldn’t leave while they cleaned and stripped the room.  I will never forget the smell of the cleaner.

I have had anxiety my whole life.  I didn’t know that’s what was going on until I was 18 and a psychologist diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder.  It made so much sense when he listed the symptoms.  I realized in that moment that it was something I struggled with my whole life that I can remember.  I often felt like the world was ending and struggled to just make it through the day often.

I think my bipolar 2 started after I started having kids (along with PPD and PPA), but I really don’t know.  It was made way worse by Joey’s death and the trauma that I dealt with through that.

I have since been in inpatient once (should have gone another time but couldn’t afford it).  I have done outpatient twice.  I went to rehab almost 2 years ago (tomorrow is my two year sobriety birthday!).

I remember the first time I started drinking to feel different.  It was about 6 months after Levi was born and we had moved in with my in-laws.  They had rum in their pantry and I started mixing it with my Coke Zero.  The first time I did this to feel different, I was grading papers late at night.  I was so anxious.  Not only were we living with my in-laws, I was working at a very tough school, had PPD and PPA, had just lost my brother to suicide, and had three kids 4 and under.  I wanted to calm down the anxiety.  It worked.  Then I drank more and more and more.  Almost always to calm down my anxiety.

It led to alcoholism.

So my current diagnoses are bipolar 2, generalized anxiety disorder (which, it manifests as panic, obsessive/compulsive, and social anxiety), and alcohol use disorder.

While these don’t define me, they are a huge part of what I manage and fight daily.  I’m thankful for meds (I’m on lots), therapy, AA, self care, motivation to keep the house clean, my amazing family, etc.  Also spending time in God’s word and in prayer.  Going to church.  Participating in Bible studies.  Worshipping Jesus.  These are how I fight.

People say that I’m so strong; maybe they are right, but I wouldn’t be where I am without Jesus.  I give Him the praise and glory.  He has led me to the right doctor, helped me find the right meds, led me to an amazing therapist, worked out the details for me to be able to go to rehab, led us here to camp to be surrounded by lots of love and help, and given me hope and purpose.

And gratitude.  Like I wrote the other day, this is what keeps me going.  Focusing on the good even on hard days has revolutionized my life.

I’m so thankful for life these days.  I take things one day at a time because struggle comes and goes with mental illness and trying to stay sober.  So I just pray!

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