Tuesday, April 5, 2016

My Mental Health Story: A Timeline

Freedom comes with authentic openness, and it is with that mindset that I share with you part of my story.  As I've recently experienced, sharing our stories has the potential to help us in all of our journeys!
  • As a kid: 
    • What if a burglar breaks in to our house?  
    • What if a person close to me hurts me in some way?  This is the first true intrusive thought that I can remember.  I knew that the people in my life would NEVER do  the horrible deeds that I was afraid of, and that led to lots of guilt, even as a young kid. 
  • 10 years old: I had my first bout with depression and didn't like myself much at all.  My mom, who has been a huge support to me through my journey, noticed that I was down and asked if I wanted to make sure that I was a Christian.  I did, and even though I'd said the sinner's prayer as a preschooler, this was a significant part of my journey as a Christ-follower. 
  • 6th grade: I washed my hands to get rid of germs - over and over and over - which led to them becoming very chapped and dry, even to the point of bleeding.
  • Middle School: Checking compulsively became a big problem.
    • What if someone is hiding under my bed or in my closet?  
    • What if I turn the light switch off with wet hands and start a fire?  Better turn it off with my dry elbow.  And then on again.  And off again.  And on again...
    • What if I sinned and didn't ask God for forgiveness?  
    • What if the stove is on?
    • What if the door isn't locked?
    • What if the curling iron was left on?
    • What if something got on the toothbrush that will make someone sick?
  • Age 15: I became obsessed with not eating much fat.  I ate only about 15 grams each day, and I was very thin.  It got very close to being an eating disorder.
  • Age 16: I went on a trip with a friend I didn't know very well to her dad and stepmom's house in a different state.  The environment in this house was very different than what I was used to (alcohol, her stepbrother was a partier who they later found out was gay, we were stuck at the house without a vehicle, etc.).  This stressful trip triggered a lot of OCD.  
  • High school: 
    • I played conversations I'd had with people over and over in my head to make sure I hadn't said anything wrong.  
    • I was also very afraid of free time (with no good reason), so I would fill my days to the brim with activity - compulsively.  
  • College:  
    • I had a season of intense OCD which caused me to move home (I lived on campus at a local Christian college) for three weeks.  It was during this time that my mom took me to our family doctor who was a friend.  He prescribed medication for me, and he also prayed for me with tears in his eyes.  
    • It was soon after this that I met my husband at a Bible study.  We started dating very soon after we met, and I remember wondering before I met him if I would ever meet anyone who would want to untangle the mess that I was on the inside.  When I told him that I was taking medication for depression and anxiety, his response was to tell me something that he was struggling with as well.  What a relief it was that he wasn't repulsed by me!  
  • 24th Birthday: My 24th birthday was a low point.  Again, my mom helped me, this time by helping me get in to a Christian counselor.  This is the same one that I'm still currently seeing this many years later.  He encouraged me to adjust my medication, and we eventually found that Zoloft (which I'm still on) works very, very well for me.
  • Mid-twenties: I became a middle school teacher after college (and I LOVED it!).  There were some really difficult, foggy days, but I still went through all of the motions to get the job done.  Not easy, but I made it.  
  • 2011: After my first son was born, I had a very difficult time postpartum.  He was born 3 1/2 weeks early and aspirated during birth.  This put him in the NICU for 10 days, and that time was extremely stressful.  I took a 14-week maternity leave from teaching in which I felt very lost.  The shock of going from no kids to suddenly having a son was a big one.  I was completely responsible (at least while my husband was at work) for this new little life.  It was overwhelming.  No longer could I fill all of my time up with activity, because I never knew when the baby might need me.  We got through it, but the first 8 months or so of his life were difficult for me.  
  • 2012-2015: I went off of medication while trying to get pregnant with baby #2, but I had a very, very difficult time.  I was in lots of distress but still managed to get pregnant.  This son was also born prematurely at 34 weeks.  Surprisingly I did okay after that kid.  He was in the NICU for 8 days, and soon after we left the hospital I felt my thoughts starting to slide toward depression and anxiety.  We immediately upped my medication, and that seemed to do the trick.  I felt pretty much completely fine until this past November after my daughter was born in August.  
  • 2015-2016: Body/hormone changes + lack of sleep +caring for a newborn, toddler, and preschooler = lots of OCD triggers!  The past five months have been a bit of a mental roller coaster with existential obsessions (How does time work?  I must figure it out!) and scrupulosity (Do I really believe that Jesus is the Son of God?  What if I'm misinterpreting Scripture?  Have I made God mad?).  I've tried to make changes in my life to better manage my mental illness after my counselor told me in no uncertain terms that if our family was going to be healthy, we were going to have to make some major changes.  At the end of the year, I pulled way, way back from my work.  Even though I was working mostly from home, the stress of trying to get everything done and take care of the kids took its toll.  Since cutting back, I've been able to better take care of myself and my family, even though it's still very hard at times.
I'd love to hear your story if you're willing!

All things work together for the good of those who love God - even mental health