Especially since being diagnosed with moderate Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in November 2013.
Though it has taken me awhile to get used to living with this label, I am not ashamed of it.
I have known and loved people with mental illness throughout my life.
From a young age I was taught to appreciate what alcoholism is and how those who have addictions, as well people with mental illness, are not defined by these conditions.
I have been writing about secondary infertility and loss and advocating for awareness here on my blog since it’s inception in April 2007.
Since I lost loved ones to suicide in 2011, I also began to write and share more here about suicide prevention and mental illness. I even created a resource page, which I continue to expand, as I learn more.
Now I am ready to take this next step and tell you about my personal experience, as someone with mental illness.
Are you surprised?
I was (sort of).
Do you think about me any differently now?
It’s okay (I am different now).
Do you have questions for me?
Go ahead and ask me.
Why did it take me this long to share about my diagnosis here?
I needed to process this on my own, with my family, close friends, therapist and PCP first.
As they say in 12 Step Programs, the first step is to admit we are powerless over ____________ and that our lives have become unmanageable.
To some extent, that is how I ended up being evaluated. I was feeling overwhelmed by my life and wasn’t quite sure what was wrong or how to change things for the better.
So I asked my therapist her opinion and she agreed it couldn’t hurt to get an evaluation.
At the time, I was learning about a loved one’s recent diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), so I could better support and care for them.
You know how they say medical students will often think they have the conditions they are learning about in school?
Well, it was kind of like that for me.
I started to question if I too had ADHD.
As it turned out, I don’t have ADHD, at least not clinically. Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t ever get distracted and have trouble staying focused on tasks.
We all do, right?!
When I got the results from my evaluation I was fascinated by my diagnosis.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (a.k.a. GAD)
I honestly didn’t know such a thing existed.
I knew about ADD, ADHD and Depression.
I knew about Bi-Polar Disorder/Manic Depression.
I knew you could be anxious or feel anxiety.
In fact, when I really thought about it, I was anxious and felt anxiety often.
However, it was totally off my radar that there was a category of mental illness related to feeling the way I did.
Now I knew.
So what to do with that information?
I discussed my diagnosis first with my therapist, who I had already been seeing monthly for almost two years to deal with some very specific things I was struggling with in my life. Ironically, at the time this came up we were actually preparing to transition me out of therapy, as we felt those issues had been addressed and I was now handling them well.
My therapist explained my options, which included behavioral therapy (likely continuing to meet with her regularly) and taking medication (likely an antidepressant).
Then I met with my awesome Primary Care Physician (PCP) who echoed my therapist’s sentiments and suggested I start with a low dose of Fluoxetine (a.k.a. Prozac).
Taking an antidepressant?
Isn’t that for people who are depressed?
I was irritable and grumpy a lot (my husband and kids could attest to that, especially when I was hungry and tired)…
Apparently, antidepressants can help people cope with things other than depression (which technically I already knew, since I had taken a very low dosage of one earlier that year to help with pain in my urethra, as part of my pelvic floor physical therapy).
It took me time, though not very long, to warm up to the idea that medication could help me and it would be okay for me to try it.
It didn’t make me a failure, a bad mom, a bad wife, or a bad person, just because I was considering taking medication to see if it could help me to feel better, more stable.
In fact, after years of trying to take care of my body through exercising regularly and trying to eat healthier, didn’t my mind and emotions deserve the same level of care and attention?
I already knew how much eating healthy, exercising consistently, getting enough sleep and practicing yoga and meditation, not to mention praying, helps me to cope with the day-to-day stress and challenges of life. However, I was ready to explore how medication might also be able to help me get a handle on things.
I was prepared for the Fluoxetine to take time to work its magic.
Three to four weeks, or more, I was told, before I might really notice a difference.
That proved to be true.
In the meantime, there were side effects, drowsiness, weird dreams, and night sweats, to name a few.
Would it all be worth it?
Was it really a “magic little pill?”
In time, I was able to see a huge difference in my ability to cope with my life.
Not that my life was so hard that I couldn’t cope before, but I used to feel a sense of being in a funk or overwhelmed often before my diagnosis.
Sometimes those feelings would almost paralyze me.
So instead of doing the things on my “to do list,” I would sit on my couch or walk around my house, thinking about what I was “supposed to be doing,” making lists even, but not getting very much accomplished.
My magic little pills, which I take in the early evening every night, have become a Godsend for me and my loved ones.
They help me be more even keeled.
At first, I wasn’t sure what to think, as even keeled didn’t feel like me.
Not that I haven’t aspired to being more balanced for years, but it was weird to not have as many highs and lows as I used to.
I would be interacting with a friend or family member, who would say something that might have upset or offended me in the past, because I have a tendency to be oversensitive, and instead of saying to myself, “I can’t believe s/he said that… What a bitch!” I would think to myself, “Huh… How about that?!”
People that used to get on my nerves a lot suddenly were much more bearable to be around and interact with.
The OCD parts of my personality became less pronounced.
So if I was talking with someone in my family room and I noticed the blinds on the windows weren’t all hanging at the same exact level or the picture frames on the bookshelves weren’t exactly where “they belong,” I didn’t necessarily need to fix them as we chatted. Adjusting the blinds or picture frames could wait, at least until later, after our conversation, instead of in the middle of it.
There is likely a lot more I could share and so much more I have learned over the past six months and counting, since I have been adjusting to this new normal for me, as a person with a mental illness. And I may choose to write and share here more in the future.
But that seems to be enough for now.
Thank you for reading.
Thank you for not judging me.
Thank you for supporting me, as I choose to open the door to this part of my life and share it with you.
Thank you for your thoughts and prayers as I continue to learn to navigate my life, as a woman with moderate Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Thank you for all the ways you support and care for your loved ones, especially those who have mental illnesses (whether you or they know it or not).
If you also are living with mental illness (whether diagnosed or not), please know that my heart, thoughts and prayers go out to you as well.
We are in this together.
One step at a time.
What does mental illness mean to you?