Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Day I Realized I had a Mental Illness

I did a phone interview yesterday. The people from my life insurance company had to call and ask me some questions about my "mental illness." I guess I hadn't realized I had a mental illness. It was humbling. I felt so vulnerable. All those questions!

How long have you struggled with this condition? What was the trigger?
Are you on any medication? What type? What's the dosage? How often do you take it?
Are you under the care of a physician? Is this person a psychiatrist?
Are you under the care of a counseling professional or psychologist? How often do you see them?
How many days of work have you missed relating to your illness?
Do you consider your illness a disability? 

Now, this lady was so kind and objective. There was no tone of judgement in her voice. Still, all those questions are enough to leave anyone shaken and feeling insecure. They're enough to make anyone want to hide. Because I just had to answer what she asked. I couldn't tell her my story. I couldn't explain to her what brought me here, or tell her about the everyday victories that surround me. I couldn't shift her perspective and make her see the reality of how I live. But if we had had the time, this is what I would have said.

Hi, my name is Stephanie Campoverde, and I struggle with mixed anxiety and depression. And I'm done hiding it or feeling shame over it. I am getting better. And I'm learning. And even though I still have bad days sometimes, it is good. I was diagnosed four months ago after going through pretty much every major life upheaval that a person can endure in just over a year. I started in a new position at work. I moved into a new home. I reconnected an old friend from high school and we fell in love. One of my closest friends was diagnosed with leukemia. I became engaged to that guy from high school. I quit my job. I was offered an amazing position at a new school. I moved to a new city. I started yet another new job. My friend died. I got married. To say that I had a lot to process would be an understatement. The fact is though, I didn't give myself the time to do that. Not as much as I needed anyway. I didn't think I had to. Most of those things were great things. People don't need to process good changes. I was wrong.

The truth is, I am a high achiever who thrives on success, high performance, and a sense of control. I am so richly blessed. I love Jesus. From the outside, I lead a charmed life. On the inside, I live in constant fear that something is going to break... like that mask I wear. Oh, that would be the worst... if this facade cracked and someone saw who I really am. So I clenched tighter and tighter, and shame tightened his grip too. I grew more and more afraid of conflict. I tried harder and harder to do everything right and make my life into this dream that I was supposed to be living. One that would match what I saw all over the internet. One that would exceed every expectation I felt others placed on me. I couldn't keep up. Finally, I was so drained that I couldn't even do the things I loved anymore. I was so discouraged that I started lashing out or running away or hiding or hyperventilating. Some of the signs were obvious. The tears. The shortness of breath. The clenching of muscles. Some were more subtle. A critical spirit, especially toward my new husband. Sleeping later. Wanting to stay home more often. And some weren't noticeable to anyone but me. The constant tension in my jaw and shoulders. Feeling like every day was an uphill battle. An unrelenting sense of heaviness. That continual sense of fear and foreboding. Racing thoughts.

It took a long time, but I finally realized that I needed help. I realized that I could not pick myself up on my own. I wanted to. I wanted to be strong enough to take care of myself. I wanted my husband to be strong enough to take care of me. But nothing was working, so I finally took the plunge and made an appointment with a counselor. And here's what I learned...

Depression and anxiety can affect anyone for any reason. There are ways to control it through diet and exercise and taking up hobbies. You can retrain your inner voice to speak differently. You can count gifts and give thanks and practice seeing the beauty around you. You can learn a lot of things and do a lot of things. Sometimes these things can be enough. But sometimes... sometimes the chemicals in your body can't keep up with the stress you're going through and you end up having to take a pill each day just so your body stands a chance. And regardless of what your journey looks like, you realize that nothing is quite as you thought it was.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of blessed strength. Admitting your brokenness is not giving up; it is giving yourself room to be healed. Taking a pill is not copping out; it is taking in what your body has been missing for so long.

So yes. One could accurately say I have a mental illness. It's not severe, but it is real. It is part of how I live my life. It means that I've had to miss work so I could get help. It means that some days and activities are harder for me. It means that, for this season, I am on medication. But it also means that I have learned how to take care of myself, to love and appreciate who God made me to be (as well as the process of redemption that is helping me become more and more that person), and to embrace others who fight and struggle on a daily basis with whatever. I thought that strength was making it through on my own, but for me, strength was getting the help I needed. And I'm glad that I did. And my life insurance company should be glad too, because my quality of life is a thousand times better now than it was when I was living in denial and pretending I had it all together and could conquer the world. I am not ashamed.

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