Life with Mental Illness

What are Mental Illnesses?

Before I dive into my own personal story of mental illness I want to talk a little about what mental illness is and statistics that go along with it.

Mental illnesses are conditions that affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood or behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more. Mental illness range from mild to intense and long-lasting also known as chronic. These conditions affect the sufferer’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. In short it affect the person’s ability to think, feel, and act.

Statistics Regarding Mental Illness and Suicide

  • Mental Illness is one of the most common health conditions in the United States.
  • 1 in 5 will experience a mental illness, including children.
  • 1 in 25 Americans live with a severe mental illness.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
  • Suicide takes the lives of around 45,000 American’s every year.
  • An estimated quarter million people each year become suicide survivors.

Stigma

Unfortunately, many individuals don’t seek help due to fear of being stigmatized. Stigma is when someone views you in a negative way due to a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait. Stigma often leads to discrimination and bullying.

Sadly, negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have a mental health condition are common. There is a common stereotype that people with mental illnesses are dangerous, violent, weak, or incompetent. The truth is , people with mental illnesses are more likely to become victims. It’s also a fact that people suffering from mental illness only account for a small percentage of violent individuals.

Don’t believe me? Read some of these articles below to see for yourself.

Ending the Stigma

One way to fight mental stigma is to talk openly about mental health and share your story. Which I what you will find below; my story.

To learn about more ways to fight the mental health stigma read this article by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

My Story

Childhood

Ever since I could remember I’ve suffered from mental Illness. As a child I remember having a deep, dark feeling in the pit of my stomach along with feelings of guilt, sadness, and constant worry. As a child I knew nothing about depression but in hindsight I have realized that I was suffering from childhood depression.

Childhood Photos – myself and one of my sisters.

As I grew the feelings came and went without warning but I never really talked to anyone about them. For a while I thought that maybe my feelings where just a part of growing up and then at other times I felt like I wasn’t normal. I tried my best to hide how I was feeling and I prayed that the “bad feelings,” as I called them, would just simply go away.

My childhood wasn’t the worst but it wasn’t exactly the best either. My Father was an alcoholic who suffered from mental illness as well. There were many times when he would lose control making physical violence a reoccurring event at home. My Mother had chronic depression and anxiety and had the responsibility of raising my siblings and myself, keeping our home together, and dealing with the issues my father regularly brought home.

I use to hate my dad for all the problems he caused. I realize now, as an adult, that he just didn’t know how to deal with his own innner demons. Still, it was no exception for laying his hands on my mother, myself, and my siblings.

Arguments and physical fights were frequent in my home. Once when I was about 5 my parents got into an argument that soon turned into a physical altercation. My Dad was hitting my Mom while she had my sister, Beth, who was an infant (around 9 or 10 months) in her arms. My Mom attempted to run out the backdoor of the trailer we lived in to get help as we didn’t have a phone. My Dad grabbed her and slammed her to the ground. My sister went flying out of her arms and without disregard to her own injuries she began fanatically asking, “is Beth okay?” My Dad sharply exclaimed, “She’s fine.”

As haunting as that memory is it is only one of many. I am highly overprotective of my mother, even as an adult and I’m sure that is because of the abuse I seen my Dad inflict on her.

At one point in time I blamed my mom for my bad childhood because I believed she should have left him for good. Turns out that many women in abusive relationships don’t leave their abuser but that’s another story. I no longer blame my mom, realizing that she was a victim herself. To note though, she gained the courage when I was 14 to no longer put up with him (and kicked him to the curb).

The Teen Years

When I became a teenager I still felt the depression from my childhood but this time anxiety began to rear it’s ugly head. I began having panic attacks. Out of nowhere I would begin to sweat and my heart would race. My head became cloudy, my vision was hazy, and I feared that at that very moment I was dying. The fear was intense and felt more real than I could ever explain.

Related: Ways to Manage Your Panic Attacks

My anxiety became so intense that I began to faint from the panic attacks. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me and I ended up seeing many doctors to try and sort out why I was having the symptoms I was experiencing. I suppose it was never crossed anyone’s mind that I was solely suffering from anxiety.

Myslef in high school

Before and during my experience with anxiety I began to branch out and experience life on my own, as many teenagers do. At 14 I had my first real boyfriend. We were together until I was 17 with an on again off again relationship. By the age of 16 I found out I was pregnant with his child.

I remember when I found out I was pregnant. My period was late by over a week and I couldn’t bring myself to take a test. I was a sophomore in high school for goodness sake! Thankfully, my friend, Lora, was and is an amazingly supportive and all around great person because she convinced me to get tested and even took me to the health department for it.

Lora sat with me while I waited for the results and when the nurse came in, before she even said anything, I knew. Yet, it still hit me like a ton of bricks when the nurse confirmed my pregnancy. I began having a panic attack. They were closing but the nurse was a sweetheart. She sat with me and told me to take all the time I needed.

To this day I am still grateful for her kindness and the kindness of my friend.

Although having a child while I was a child myself wasn’t Ideal I slowly embraced the fact that I would soon be a parent. I knew it wasn’t my child’s fault that I was only 16 and I wanted to give my baby a good childhood.

After I found out I was pregnant my anxiety symptoms came to a hault. I’m not exactly why the symptoms stopped but maybe it was because my focus shifted.

Four months into my pregnancy, in the middle of the night , I began experiencing intense pains. My mom took me to the emergency room where they took me to the maternity ward. I was bleeding intensely and I was scared for my unborn child. Two hours after my arrival the doctor broke the news that I was experiencing a miscarriage.

Even though my pregnancy wasn’t planned I was heartbroken. I went though contractions and labor as any mom would but my child was very small, underdeveloped, and deceased when he was born. After he (we found out he was a boy) was born I was allowed to spend some time with him.

For weeks I cried every single day. I couldn’t handle his death and my depression grew deeper and deeper. At one point my mom took me to our family practitioner. He prescribed antidepressants for me.

My mom was extremely concerned about my mental well-being and made sure that I took my medicine every day. She had never suffered a miscarriage but she knew what depression was all about as she suffered from it herself. I never really felt whole for a long time after that and I felt like the medicine didn’t work.

Before my miscarriage I had met a girl in my GED classes who was 16 and pregnant also. After I lost my first child my friend told me that her baby could be “our baby”. She was such a sweetheart to share her baby with me.

I loved on that little boy any chance I could get. He was as cute as a button but unfortunately when he was two months old the unthinkable happened.

Related: Panic Disorders: Yes They’re Real

Early in the morning one day I received a call from my friends boyfriend. With a devastated and shaken up tone in his voice he told me that the baby had died in his sleep. Even though I knew he would never lie about something so serious I still hoped that something had possessed him to lie or pull some kind of a sick prank. A lie or a prank was better than the alternative that we were now facing.I woke my mom up screaming and we drove to the hospital post haste.

When we arrived I saw my friends dad sitting on a bench outside of the ER. I ran to him and frantically asked him where my friend was at. He was staring at the ground while smoking a cigarette. He was in such shock and despair that he didn’t even look up as he answered my question.

I didn’t waist anytime once he told me. I sped into the emergency room to find and comfort my dear friend. What I found shook me to my very core.

My friend was sitting net to a hospital bed in complete despair along with her mother and boyfriend. The tiniest most beautiful little boy was laying lifeless on what seemed like the biggest bed I had ever seen.

The next few months were hard. I tried my very best to be there for my friend while I grieved too.

I became obsessed with the thought of death. It was all I thought about despite my best efforts. My anxiety began once again. I became obsessed with death and was convinced that I would die in my sleep. Most nights I lay awake focused on my breathing worried that if I fell asleep I would die. I was terrified. I assume it was my minds way of dealing with all the chaos and emotions that had been thrust upon me.

Becoming a Mom

At 17 I got my GED and started working at Arby’s. My boyfriend and I went our separate ways shortly after and a few months later I met another man. This new guy was 24, had a vehicle, and a place of his own and I was absolutely smitten of over him.

Related: Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression – Risks, Symptoms, Treatment, and More

Before I knew it I had moved out of my parent house and was living in his apartment. I wanted so badly to be an adult and with a boyfriend 6 years older my dream was, what I thought, finally coming true. We weren’t exactly being careful and even though I was so young the void that took place from losing a child was still fresh in my mind. Within two months I was pregnant all over again.

I took a pregnancy test at work and even though I was scared and worried I was overjoyed and hopeful at the same time. I felt like my life was finally coming together and happiness was just behind the door. As a stupid teenager I was convinced that having the baby I was carrying would solve every problem I had ever gone through. In my mind I was convinced we would be the happy little family I always dreamed of. I was eager to grow up too fast.

I just want to note though if I had to do it all over again I still would despite everything that I had to go through because my son is a wonderful, amazing, bright, and sweet human being and I couldn’t imagine a world without him. I only wish I was a little older, out of school, and had more knowledge than when I was 17 when I had him.

My boys when they were little.

With each of my boys I suffered from postpartum depression that ranged from mild to severe. I’m not going to go into too many details here because I have a post regarding my entire postpartum experience here on my blog as well. If you would like to read my detailed and personal account of surviving postpartum depression you can find it in the link directly below.

My Story of Surviving Postpartum Depression

Reaching my Breaking Point

If you have read my story of postpartum depression than you know that between my postpartum depression, anxiety, and other issues that I was going through I got to a point where I gave up.

Medications, therapy, and hospitalization wasn’t helping as much as I had hoped. I know now that sometimes certain medications don’t work for everyone and it can take a lot of medication and dosage, trial and errors to find what works best for each individual.

Nine months after my youngest son was born I found myself at an even worse place than I had been before. I had lost all hope and was still scared for the most part to care for my children on my own. Though my illnesses had gotten a bit better I was still far from feeling “normal” again.

Aside from my mental illnesses I was having some issues in my personal life that I was dealing with as well. Everyone around me knew that what was happening to me wasn’t my fault and that I was trying the best I could to get better, they were all just exhausted with my situation.

Related: Journal Prompts for Depression

When it came to my children, I felt like I would never be the mother that they needed and deserved. I have been asked several times, why in the world would I try to commit suicide when I had kids. I would like to first point out that it is something you will never fully understand no matter how much I explain unless you have been in that situation. Also, I was thoroughly convinced that my life was a burden to everyone around me and that my family and children would be better off without me. The pain, despair, anxiety, and fear I felt inside, feeling like everyone would have a better life without me, and other personal problems including my marriage and some friendships, was the perfect combination to throw me off the edge.

One Life Changing Decision

I asked my mom to watch my kids one afternoon when I had been arguing with my husband so I could make the stupid decision to go home and try to talk to him. I was very upset that day and my mind was spinning. I should have just stayed put but I didn’t.

It’s important for me to note that later on I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder which explains my emotional, irrational, and impulsive state that day. With my bipolar disorder I was experiencing a mixed episode.

A mixed episode refers to meeting the diagnostic criteria for both a manic episode and major depressive episode at the same time for a period of time. These episodes are generally more severe than either the high symptoms or low symptoms on their own. Mixed episodes severely impair judgement and carry a greater risk for suicide.

I stupidly went to my house. My husband wouldn’t let me in the house which made me enraged. I banged on the door with my fists and kicked it as hard as I could. I began crying profusely and got back into my car.

As I drove down the road everything was racing through my mind; my depression, my fears, my kids, my failing marriage, etc. I didn’t try to kill myself over an argument with my now ex-husband despite what some gossipers might think. It was just the final straw that broke the camels back.

With my mind racing and my emotions surfacing with an extreme intensity I began to push my foot harder on the gas. I felt like I was going to burst and before I knew it I made a split-second decision that will affect me or the rest of my life.

I jerked the steering wheel to the right and headed directly for a very large tree. I remember looking down at my speedometer a few seconds before colliding with the tree. My speedometer read 80 mph.

Crash and Rescue

Obviously, I ended up recovering from my suicide attempt. Unfortunately I was conscious for most of the aftermath until the doctor in the emergency room put me into a medically induced coma upon my arrival.

A lot of my experience between hitting the tree and being taken to the hospital is very spotty. I think after the initial collision I passed out for a while. I don’t know if it was from the pain or from hitting my head.

I was told that a woman had found me and pulled over to help / call 911. I don’t remember her at all. I might have been unconscious when she found me or I possibly just can’t remember.

The tree a few years after the crash.

I do very much remember the pain. My whole body was covered in horrible absolutely excruciating pain with my legs feeling the worst. Blood was pouring out of the bridge of my nose and the corner of my eye. My left eye stung as the blood flowed into it and I could barely see through the blood.

I remember my ex-husband’s sister standing at the driver door. (She had thought she saw me drive into the creek so they came looking for me.) She is not a trained medical professional but she was trying to help me and comfort me the best she could.

She was holding napkins under my left eye trying to catch the blood. She gave me sips of water and attempted to take my wedding ring off after I begged her to. My finger was bent in a weird way and was swelling quickly. I could feel the ring digging into my skin as the tissue swelled around it. She couldn’t get the ring off and was concerned that she would hurt me.

My husband was frantically running around my car screaming. (He’s not good at handling intense situations and had a tendency to completely panic. He did something similar when I went into labor with our first kid too.) His sister kept telling him to shut-up and that he was going to cause me to panic.

I was told that a police officer arrived and made everyone get away from the car. I don’t remember that or the officer at all.

My next memory was when the firefighters and paramedics came to my car. I distinctly remember one of them climbing into the car with me but I couldn’t even tell you if it was a man or a woman. I can’t say with certainty but I think I remember one climbed in the passenger seat and one climbed in the backseat.

They covered me in a sheet to protect me from the sparks that were caused by them cutting off the door. At some point I had an IV placed in my right arm. They warned me before they broke the seat I was in, that this part was going to be very painful. They had to break the seat because my legs were pinned under the dashboard. They weren’t lying either because it felt like I hit the tree all over again when they pulled my seat back.

For some reason in my mind I remember one person picking me up like a baby and lifting me out of the car. My mom, step-dad, and little sister were there at this point and my mom said that part didn’t happen. She stated that there was a backboard involved and many people working together to lift me up very carefully but urgently.

The remnants of what was once my car after it was towed to my parents house.

Someone on the team of heroes (yes, they are heroes despite some people’s opinions) told my mom that she could come over to me as they took me to the helicopter. She said she reach her hand out to touch me but they told her she couldn’t.

I remember telling everyone that I absolutely was not going in a helicopter. Obviously, I had no choice.

Helicopter

Once I was in the helicopter I really started to panic. I still felt as if I couldn’t breathe even though I was wearing oxygen. The paramedic cut my pants off. It wasn’t until I reached my hand down under the sheet that was placed over me that I realized just how bad my legs really were. Up until this point I just knew they hurt and didn’t think anything more than the pain.

I moved my right hand down to about where my thighs were located. My body cringed as I felt warm, wet flesh and something hard sticking out of the skin. It was my femur. I moved my hand about an inch or two farther down, my leg. I felt myself gasp as I realized It was my foot that I had made contact with. My legs were in an accordion shape and bent in such a way that my foot was almost touching my hip.

I kept asking the paramedic how long it would be. She let me know each time that we were almost there. The ten minute helicopter ride felt like it went on for an eternity.

I don’t remember being taken out of the helicopter or being pushed into the hospital. I do recall that as soon as I saw the doctor I begged him to put me to sleep. The pain was too much at this point and being awake for most of the experience I was ready to be put to sleep or just die already.

The Aftermath

I was put into a coma for a few days. My first memory afterwards was waking up groggy and extremely out of (from all the pain medication) it with a tube down my throat. I reached for it to pull it out but my hands were tied to the bed. I’m not sure if I had woke and tried to pull the tube out previously or if it was a precaution to tie my hands down.

I spent the next week(ish) asleep or so entirely high on morphine that I only remember bits and pieces.

This picture was from about a month afterwards. My first trip out of my hospital bed thanks to my step-dad and 4 hospital workers that got me into the wheelchair. My Mom thought it would be cute to put my hair in pigtails.

The following is a list of all (i think these are all of them) of my broken bones and injuries:

(Just to note bilateral means both sides – i.e. a bilateral femur fracture would mean I broke both the left and the right femur.)

  • Left ulna shaft fracture – (the longer of the two arm bones between the wrist and elbow)
  • Bilateral, femur fracture – (the leg bone between the hip and knee)
  • Bilateral media malleus fracture (part of the ankle)
  • Bilateral calcaneus fracture (heel bone)
  • Right fracture of great toe, open DIP joint
  • Open wound of right heel
  • Open wound of right great toe
  • Right Pubic ramus fracture, superior and inferior (top and bottom part of the inner hip bone)
  • Right tibial plateau fracture (the top part of the bigger of the two bones in the lower leg)
  • Left 4th finger fracture proximal phalanx
  • Nasal fracture
  • Left ulna fracture
  • Left side laceration to nasal bridge and eyelid
  • Liver laceration
  • Laceration of the stomach

Some of my x-rays

Most of the fractures in my legs were open compound fractures meaning the bone broke through the skin. I also came very close to having to get my right leg amputated because I wasn’t getting very good blood flow through it. I also had to receive multiple blood transfusions due to internal bleeding.

My left arm and left hand.

I now live with daily pain, a limp, a 3/4 inch height discrepancy between legs, hammer toes, nerve damage, muscle atrophy in my right foot, arthritis, and excessive over supinatation of both feet. Some days I have to use a cane and on worse days I have to use a walker.

I will write another blog post in the future detailing my stay in the hospital and my physical and mental recovery.

More of my x-rays.

Moving Forward

After a while my doctor and I found medications that work well for me. I graduated out of counseling and for the most part I am happy and well adjusted to life. My illnesses are well under control. Every now and then I have days where my anxiety and bipolar effect my life but the effects are very mild and I know how to cope when the symptoms appear.

The scar on my face.

If you met me you probably wouldn’t be able to tell I have any type of mental illness except for maybe, a little social anxiety (which makes me a little socially awkward at times).

I’ve learned to live with my injuries and I very much enjoy my life as a mother, wife, blogger, and Etsy seller.

Below are some of the many pictures of my life since recovery. I can’t believe I could have missed out on all these wonderful times.

Conclusion

The point of sharing my story is to show that there is hope and that you can recover. I also want to remind you that no matter how hard life may get do not ever make a decision that has permanent consequences.

Even with all my permanent disabilities and pain I still consider myself lucky because at least I am alive. I am grateful that I was able to get a second chance at life.

I encourage anyone suffering from symptoms of a mental illness to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If you know someone who may be suffering from mental health please be there for them and encourage them to get help.

Suicide Prevention

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or intentions visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or call 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger call 911.

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