If I think hard enough, I can remember the first time I truly knew I had a problem. I’d stopped somewhere to buy new clothes, as none of mine fit, and I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. It wasn’t just that I was thin- life was missing from my eyes.
I’ve seen that look in countless people before. I remember realizing that I needed help, but not knowing how to get it, not wanting to admit to someone else that I needed it, and not wanting the negative stigma that comes along with it. So I did nothing. I continued in college, doing the best I could do to get through each day, hoping that things would get better.
They didn’t. And about a year later, I found myself in the hospital being transferred to a mental health facility.
It’s been 12 years. 12 years of ups and downs. 12 years of saying “I can never go back to that.”
The past month has not been too great for us. October started with a stomach virus, then pink eyes, then snot noses, then double ear infections, and ultimately pneumonia for me. I admit my self-care was down, simply from having sick babies and a sick husband. I realized the past couple days that I was a heck of a lot more snappy with the babies and vowed I was going to take them for a run this morning. Then it was foggy and wet out. And the babies were crazy. Thank you day-light savings time.
So tonight I finally got back on the treadmill- after 3 weeks of not running. And it was GLORIOUS. My lungs seem to be almost fully healed. And I realized, as I was running, just how strong this body is- how much it puts up with and endures, all it’s been through over the years, how it carried my 4 miracle babies (that I was told I’d never be able to have children at all), how it’s come back after a knee surgery to be stronger, how even when it gets struck with illness, it still manages to do what it needs to in order to care for those precious babies.
Afterwards, before I got in the shower, I saw a glimpse in the mirror- of my sweaty, red face, my eyes glowing, my heart full, my soul at ease- and remembered that day I realized I’d lost the life in my eyes. How dark that time was. How I knew I was struggling and was too afraid to speak. Mental illness does that. It says “no one will understand.” And in many ways, that is true. Many people WON’T understand.
And many will. If you just dare speak and ask for help.
12 years. In this past year, I’ve witnessed a huge change as our country elected someone who has openly boasted about disrespecting women. (I promise not to make this political.) I’ve seen more and more women begin to speak out- and many also voice concerns that women will continue to be mistreated. I’ve seen as our elected officials go back and forth about healthcare- wondering how this is going to affect, not only my job, but the millions of people who need help. Will people go back to trying to “fix” things themselves?- like I tried to? Will they end up in ICU only to have insurance say “oh- sorry, we don’t cover mental health issues.”? Will they not get the help they need because financially they can’t afford it? It makes me nervous. I never want someone to have to fight insurance as hard as I had to. I remember well- when I finally voluntarily sought help, there was concern about my insurance. I called my daddy and was crying- and he told me a little story.
“When I was in the marines, I came home once on leave and saw bills from our pediatrician and doctor bills from when we were little. Mama told me- she was still paying on them. That you just have to pay what you can when you can…You need this. It doesn’t matter the cost. If it means you have to pay $25 the rest of your life, it’s worth it. Because it’s your life.”
That’s stuck with me.
Mental health is important. On November 5, it always hits me a little more so than any other day of the year- because it was the moment when truly had to admit there was a problem. Step 1. I remember on this day, that I probably shouldn’t be here; that I was given a gift. I’m reminded of all the wonderful clinicians who helped me along the way. All the friends and family members who got it and supported me- and all those who didn’t get it- but still supported me. Those who gave me space when I needed, and those who refused to give up on me- even when I really didn’t know how I was going to make it through.
12 years and my life is DRAMATICALLY different. For all of you that might stumble across this- wondering “can life be better?” Yes. Yes. I’m not saying it’s perfect. You’ll still have struggles. You will also have joy. You’ll intuitively know better how to handle situations. You’ll have stronger coping skills. When life throws you a curve (or quadruplets), you’ll be able to tackle it. Yes, you’ll still have to be on your guard at times and know how to spot the beast when it creeps back. And you’ll fight it- because you are worth it. Because this life is worth it. Always know- there are people who understand. We are here for you. We see you. You are worth this life. You CAN get through the hard times. I NEVER would have EVER thought my life could be this great. Yes, we have our struggles- largely financially, because quads. Yes, sometimes I get discouraged by the pain in the world. And I am incredibly grateful that my life is where it is. I’m grateful for those struggles, as they’ve helped me see the world in a different light- and has given me the opportunity to help others through their dark times.
12 years strong. Thank you, Higher Power. Thank you, Life. May I continue to make the next right choice and be able to give back to the universe the love and guidance that I’ve been so graciously given.