When people hear the words “mentally ill” images of straight jackets, scenes from Girl, Interrupted and words like “crazy”, “unstable”, and “dangerous” are usually conjured up. More often than not, if you don’t suffer from mental illness yourself, you know someone who does, and that person could easily be a co-worker, your boss or even a business owner.
Yes. That’s right. I suffer from mental illness. Though I don’t really like to use the word “suffer” because it comes off like I’m some sort of victim – but if I’m being honest here – the word “suffer” is accurate. I suffer.
The Dark Side
For those of you who have read my personal story, you know that I’ve overcome a great deal in my life, but I have also been diagnosed with a cocktail of issues – depression, anxiety, ADD, insomnia and frequent night terrors.
People “get depressed” for various reasons. Sometimes you get into a rut, life sucks and kicks your ass, bad things happen – you get depressed. But then when it gets better – you get out of it. I get that. In my world, the sun could be shining, birds can be dressing me every morning while bunny rabbits brush my hair, my finances, lifestyle, business and my relationship could be amazing – and yet I still want to curl up into a dark hole. I spend most of my time questioning what the point of everything is and what am I even doing here? I have spent countless days in bed with the lights off and the shades drawn for seemingly no reason at all.
It’s a special kind of prison where people point out all the good in my life, tell me it could be worse, compare what I have to others who aren’t as fortunate and then ask, “Why can’t you just be happy?”
As a business owner, life can be stressful, but before I ever became one, I was riddled with anxiety. I have had full blown anxiety/panic attacks in the middle of the grocery store over making the decision of which lettuce to buy. I stress over mundane tasks and driving to new places. I have ended days in tears because I’m so overwhelmed by my to do list. Depending how in order certain areas of my life are, I can be a total mess – or not.
Several years ago I was in a horrible relationship and it was pointed out to me that when we fought, I couldn’t keep up. I couldn’t remember a point he’d made or the question that he’d just asked. Because dementia runs in my family I went to the doctor, concerned that maybe I had some early memory loss.
I scored perfect on the memory test.
“So am I just not listening?” I asked the doctor who nodded. I realized that it had always been difficult for me to pay attention when someone was speaking. In school I would write something different while a teacher lectured, in order to ‘hang on’ to what they were saying. I took a learning test and found out that I’m tactile kinesthetic (meaning I learn by doing), then visual and lastly audial– which many people with ADD are.
My ADD makes multi-tasking incredibly inefficient because I often abandon a task to start another, forgetting about the first.
Insomnia & Night Terrors
“I think you’re the only kid on this campus who genuinely needs a sleep med.” I was told by a staff member one night at boarding school.
From as early as age 5 I have struggled with the inability to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. There are times when I wake up in the middle of the night and see things. Men standing in my room, evil scary faces, random movement and anything from vines growing, arrows flying and arms coming towards me.
I know, crazy right?
My insomnia cycles from okay (6 hours of sleep a night), to bad (3-6 hours), to terrible (1-2 hours). I live for the okay times and try to enjoy those nights while they last.
To me, meds are a personal choice. If you find something that works for you – by all means take it. Currently, I’m medication free. Again, this is my personal choice. I’m not saying I’ve never been on medication, because I have. I’ve run the gamut and at times have been on a cocktail of medication to match my cocktail of illnesses. I don’t like how anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds make me feel, and I’ve tried a lot of them.
I’ve had plenty of people suggest medications but they are aren’t my doctor or living inside my body. I know they mean well but when someone asks a person who has suffered from insomnia for 27 years, “Have you tried Melatonin?” I want to slap them.
I hate the thought of dumping chemicals into my body daily – on top of everything that is in our food, cosmetics and toiletries (which I’m also working on phasing out) so I’ve opted out of meds. But that doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything to help myself. Only recently have I started to treat my illnesses, rather than just shrugging and “dealing” with them.
So you may ask yourself, how does someone like me manage to run multiple businesses? How do I not constantly fall apart at the seams? How do I not crumble into a pile of emotion when things go wrong? How do I not go nuts and hurt people?
I’m passionate about my work, but I’m not emotional about it and I take comfort in the rational. Somehow my brain is able to keep business a separate entity and I find it to be incredibly soothing to be buried in work. I make decisions based on facts and express myself directly with candor.
Some people say it’s because I’m stubborn, others because they think I’m magically high functioning but really I don’t think they understand what it’s like to live with mental illness. Recently I met an amazing female business owner with Borderline Personality Disorder and she’s one of the smartest, most driven people I’ve ever met.
If anything I think we’re all pretty amazing because we have these internal battles on top of the day to day external, and we continue to overcome them.
I also can’t speak for others, because even if we have the same thing – it can affect us very differently and there are illnesses that are considered more severe than others. We all have different triggers and different ways of managing.
What Works for Me
Limiting alcohol- I love wine and enjoy drinking, but if I have too much I usually feel like a bundle of nerves and incredibly depressed the next day. Since alcohol is a depressant, it’s obvious that this only adds fuel to the fire.
Cutting out negativity- There’s enough doom and gloom in my brain, having people around who complain a lot or are perpetually negative, are people that are unhealthy for me to have in my life. I’ve had to completely cut off some relationships and limit others depending on the severity. This has really helped me from falling into the hole when I wouldn’t otherwise. I also work really hard on eliminating negative self-talk, or trying to catch it when it starts.
Just being happy- Just kidding, that doesn’t work. But I do try my best to be positive in daunting situations.
Leaning on others- So often I feel alone but taking the leap to reach out and ask for what I need has been so good for me. It’s always been difficult for me to ask for help or expose my weaknesses. Luckily, I have a few people I can talk to and my fiancée is SO unbelievably understanding (even though he doesn’t understand it from a place of personal experience) and has figured out how to manage my moods.
Knowing my triggers- Very recently I realized that my schedule was making me incredibly anxious. If I set up several meetings in a week, I’d feel stressed and unproductive because I felt I was taking away from my to do list. So I chose 2 days a week and a time block on those days for me to take meetings and calls. Having a set time to do this has alleviated a good portion of my anxiety around it.
I also have restricted myself from looking at my phone after ‘lights out’ and first thing in the morning before I’m out of bed.
Taking care of myself- Falling into fitness and eating for my goals has done wonders not only for my physical health but my mental health as well. If I miss workouts and don’t stay on track with my food, I don’t feel as good in my head.
Having a purpose- There are plenty of days when I don’t see a point to it all. Those are the days when I have to remind myself why I work so hard. Finding a purpose outside of myself has helped to keep going when I would otherwise want to throw it all away.
This is one of those pieces I write and I’m not sure if I’ve done a good enough job. I’m sharing this because I think there is still far too much stigma behind mental illness. I’m sharing this part of me, and every part of my journey because if I help or give even just one person hope, then I know it was worth it. I don’t want to be one of those super successful entrepreneurs who tells everyone after the fact how hard it was. I want you right here with me, knowing the struggle is fucking real, and maybe think to yourself,
“Well shit if she can do it– so can I.”
Photo credit: Shutterstock
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