mental health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Unveiling Invisible Illnesses – Depression and PTSD with Emily

You never really understand something unless you have lived it. Many of us don’t know how to respond when we know someone is deeply hurt and struggling. Saying something like, “be positive” or “everything will be fine” is not a bandage to anyone who struggles with mental health. It doesn’t make them a negative person. As a society, we are never told that it is okay to feel. We all are trained to suck it up with a smile on our face, making mental health a truly invisible illness. Take Robin Williams for example. He was charismatic, funny, talented and all around a great guy but yet he took his life.

Emily shares her story in hopes of raising awareness, letting people know they aren’t alone, and teaching others how to be a friend to those who struggle with mental illness.

What is your official diagnosis and when were you diagnosed?

I have depression and PTSD. I was diagnosed by my therapist this year around March. However, I have been diagnosed with manic depression since I was 14-15 years old.

Looking back, how long where you having symptoms before you got diagnosed?

My depression started when I was really young, I would say about 8 or 9. When you’re younger, not a lot of people take mental health seriously. It wasn’t until I was 15 or 16 that I saw a therapist for the first time.

What do you do to keep your symptoms managed?

I go to therapy. I’ve tried almost every depression and anxiety medication but they don’t work well with me. CBD tends to be the only medication that helps manage the symptoms. But I have to see my therapist once a week, we also do coping skills, like grounding, to help through panic attacks or flashbacks.

For my PTSD, I avoid obvious triggers, block certian things on social media, and I make sure people around me know my main triggers. I have to make sure any movies or places I go won’t have those triggers involved, so there is a lot of work to do before just going somewhere.

What advice could you offer to someone who is currently struggling with the same illness?

That the fight isn’t over, but you have an army beside you even if you think you don’t. Treatment is expensive but there are orginizations to reach out to help. I know it’s really mentally taxing to always have to think about your mental illness. You have to stay on top of it because one slip can spiral you. Life is so worth it though. The next week will never be the same as this one.

What is the scariest moment you have experienced because of your illness?

When your life is in your own hands, and you don’t want to be alive. When you are in a really bad low in your depression, your PTSD isn’t managed. It’s really scary being on that edge of giving up and letting yourself fade away. When I wouldn’t eat, or even move was my scariest experience. It lasted for a few months until my support system got me to a doctor.

How do people react when they discover you have an invisible illness and how does that make you feel?

As soon as someone hears about my illness, their face changes. They get this look in their eyes of pity, like I just turned into a glass rose in front of them. They never talk about it and pretend it’s not there after a while. It’s not everyone, but it’s the majority of the time. It makes me furious, mostly because I want to talk about it. I want people to know it’s not just me and there are other people that need you to talk about it too.

What way can others show support to someone with an invisible illness?

By being around and a voice for people with depression and PTSD that can’t reach out. With my illness, sometimes I can’t reach out, it stops me from getting help. Be educated in knowing how to read the signs of your friend or partners mental illness. Also know it’s not something that you can “fix” or help someone get better from. It’s a life-long illness that doesn’t always have a magic pill to fix it. So the best way to support someone, is to just be there. Talk about mental illness, keep talking about it because that’s what supports the idea therapy and help should be more mainstream and accessable.

I know you lost someone close to you who has also battled with depression. How has that affected you?

Losing Nate was one of the biggest eye openers of my life. Not only with him leaving like he did through suicide, but everything after. I learned about the responsibilities loved ones have after someone passes. Seeing everything I had to go through with his death made me realize how much my loved ones would have to go through if I died the same way. It’s unbearable. I joined a support group of people that lost someone to suicide almost immideately because it felt like I either wanted to join him or wanted to live to give that to him. The extremes in your grief are insane and almost impossible to understand because everyone feels them at different times.

Is there anything you wish you could say to him?

Oh, there is so much I would say to him. A good summary would be that I forgive you, and I am working on forgiving myself even though you told me it wasn’t my fault.

What are your triggers and do you feel comfortable explaining how you developed PTSD?

I developed my PTSD when Nathanial died. I did have previous PTSD that I didn’t know about yet, but this was the big set off. My triggers include suicide, blood, abandonment and certian trigger words like promises.

What type of advice would you have for anyone in the same boat?

You have to keep going. Even when you think you were doing really well, but have a panic attack for 6 hours crying one day before work. You still go. You remember that attack will not last forever; you will be okay. You get your “war paint” on, as I call makeup, and go to work. We push through but never forget to work through it too. Learn from every emotion you feel, learn what will make you happy and to start weening out the things that set you back into the dark. Because your light is so bright and it deserves to be out in the world for everyone to see.

Biggest inspiration? It can be music, anything…

Honestly, the people I am closest to are my inspiration. My friends and support group do things like invisible illness blogs, that help others who think they are alone, get connected. Nothing is more inspiring to me then helping people live their best life. My personal inspiration, having something to look forward to is Live Action Role Play (LARP). Making costumes, characters, relationships, meeting new people, being in the woods for a weekend fighting with boffer weapons. It’s absolutly an inspiring experience that helps as a coping teqnique too in a lot of ways.

Favorite quote:

“Everything’s gonna get lighter, even if it never gets better.” -Mates of State.

Three things you can’t live without:

My best friends, Spotify, LARP

What are your goals? Where do you see yourself in five years?

It’s crazy to want to do something so far away as 5 years with my illness. Recently, I see myself getting ready to open and own a bookstore/venue with my best friend. A goal is to finish becoming a licenced sign language interpreter. Mostly, in 5 years, I want to have lived so much, but still say that I have so much more living to do.

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Health

Invisible Illnesses Unveiled – Major Depressive Disorder

This year I have decided to speak up and share my story in hopes that I can break stigmas, knock down walls, inspire others to take their health into their hands by advocacy and research, to help others realize that they are not alone and to grow from all of this.
I finally started seeing a therapist for the first time and was officially diagnosed with severe Major Depressive Disorder. Not mild but SEVERE! I was shocked. However, it is time to acknowledge this and do something about it. It is real and it exists and ignoring it will not make it go away.
Throughout my health journey, I had decided to look into my genes. One of the genes I carry is SLC6A4, a type of monoamine transporter protein that transports seratonin. This provides a lower rate of response to SSRIs (antidepressants). Genetically speaking, this affects individuals when experiencing stressful events in their lives and their cortisol response. Cortisol is a hormone that your body produces to respond to stress. This particular gene is a risk marker for Anxiety, Depression, OCD, PTSD,  Alzheimers and even Autism.  For those who have alcoholism that “runs in their family” actually have association with this gene variant. These are all reason why I feel that EVERYONE should be tested genetically to know what you are predisposed to for preventative measure as well as proper treatments due to certain genes causing resistance to treatments.
Here I am at 33 and finally dealing with something that I saw signs of in my early childhood. Mental health has always been wrapped in shame and stigmas which make it hard for anyone to accept and even wrap their head around. When I felt down and depressed, I did not ever think of it as a chemical imbalance or a disorder. I thought of its as insecurities and a lack of self worth because I truly believed that I was worthless. Now, I have the ability to check myself and remind myself that I am not worthless and that I am having a depressive moment that will pass. I know that this is a never ending effort on my end to continuously work on. I am so sad for the young girl, teenager and young woman that I was. She did not realize that it was a dark cloud blurring her view of the world and that she could take a deep breath and wait for it to pass. Instead, the stigmas and closed doors made her feel alone as she spent her entire life suffering.
Opening up about mental health is incredibly difficult to do. People judge, form their opinions, label you, make assumptions or just completely shut down. For example, I opened up today to a friend about my recent diagnosis and how it was never real to me and what I was feeling with this new acknowledgement and the subject was changed as if I never even spoke of it. When you open up to someone about your health and it gets dismissed you feel like you cannot trust or open up to anyone. However, I knew I could let that go and move on and find the right friend who would understand and listen. Maybe not everyone is cut out for it but I hope to make others aware of this epidemic of depression which takes so many lives. If you are a friend or a person that someone chose to confide in but don’t know how to handle the situation, direct them to someone who can. Dismissing them or ignoring the issues may cause them to feel more isolated.
Mental health disorders are another form of invisible illnesses. When people meet me, I smile and am generally friendly and most people would never guess I battled depression my entire life.
I can’t even fathom to explain how much I can’t stand when a complete stranger says, “Smile! It can’t be that bad!” I like to suggest that if you are that type of person, say something else like, “I hope you have a great day” instead. Those are the little things that make our head sink less.
My advice to anyone in a relationship with someone who struggles with depression is that you have to be patient and when they isolate themselves or push you away, keep a close distance instead so they get their space but don’t feel more alone. We never want to push you away, we self sabotage because in that moment we truly feel like you are better off. My husband always reminds me that it will pass and we even came up with a code word. Communication is so valuable. Always discuss these moments and how you can work through them better next time.
If you are the depressed one in the relationship, you need to be patient as well. They do not understand but they are loving enough to try, so bear with them and listen to them, no matter how stubborn as you can be. You have to do the work. You have to read the self help books and go to therapy and try or their help and support is going to be useless for you. No one can save you besides yourself. This is your battle to fight even if you have people on your side. If you feel like you cannot manage or handle your depression then do not be afraid to seek help. Some people do not know what to do or how to handle a situation, so finding local resources is recommended for more professional help.
There are people who are prisoners to their own mind. I am fortunate to have found a way to cope and get through my depression, but for those who have not can fall into a colossal traumatic, dark hole that may lead them to hurt themselves or others. There is a spectrum for everything, from mild to severe and everyone copes differently but as a community we need to open our eyes whether it is to seek help for yourself or know where to point someone to if they turn to you for help.