Claiming Mental Health

My husband calls me an "over-sharer." He is right, like he is about so many things (someone please tell him I put this in writing!), but I over-share with a purpose. Not one single one of us escapes this life without some form of trial, heartache, or hard battle. Every person you meet has a family member who is an addict, abusive, mentally ill, or been struck by tragedy so unimaginable you wince at the thought. And yet, here we all are, posting selfies of our most beautiful selves all over social media. We put on our make-up and our big smiles and we show a brave, happy face to the world. While part of this behavior is just what it takes to get through tough stuff, I do yearn for honesty. I don't know why we think we are the only ones "fighting hard battles" when really, it is a prerequisite for life. 

The good news is that while life throws each of us hard things, sometimes unspeakable things, as my favorite blogger, Glennon Doyle Melton says, "We can do hard things!" (I will mention for the hundredth time - she is coming to The Homestead in October!!!) We can survive almost anything if we are brave and honest. And when I hear people share their courage with the world, I feel connected and braver myself. The truth is that the rebirth that happens when you come through one of life's trials is the essence of life. It's where the good stuff begins! 

I "over-share" for three reasons. One, I know I am only saying out loud what so many people experience behind closed doors. Two, I hope sharing my story makes someone else brave enough to know they can make it through their own. Three, I feel called to connect with people on a deeper level. Stick your toe into that electric current with me and feel that ZAP of being truly alive, human, and connected!

I've struggled with mental health since I was twelve, maybe earlier, but definitely by twelve I could feel a blackness creeping into my brain, taking hold, and setting up residence. It came and went for the next ten years, but mostly it came. It feels a bit like wearing the ring in Lord of the Rings - like something beyond my control has ahold of me. It distorts my view of the world, causes me to see failure, defeat, and hopelessness despite the reality of the situation. Mostly, it makes me angry. I don't mean mildly ticked off. I mean overtaken by a heat and a blackness so thick that it is hard to breathe. 

In my early twenties, I moved away from all my support systems to graduate school in Arizona. I tell my family Jesus had nothing on me. He spent 40 days in the desert. I was there for three years. And in those three years, I reached the end of my rope with this albatross. I went to the doctor and got on a silver bullet called Effexor that probably saved me temporarily.  Within three weeks I was fine. Within a year I met my husband, reclaimed a direction for my life, and started laughing at how screwy I had been.

I divided my life into childhood, pre-Effexor, and post-Effexor. There were only a few troubling things. Despite not feeling bad, I still had zero coping mechanisms when it came to stress or sadness aside from drinking too much, which had been my solution to everything pre-Effexor. And, I couldn't write anymore. Writing had been a part of my life for as long as I could remember, and I could not write a word. Not one. Then, when things became stable in my life and I was in a completely different place, in fact, I thought a different person, I could not get off the drug. Every time I tried I would get violently ill. Once or twice I made it past that few weeks and then I would sink right back into the suffocating blackness that I ran from.

Like many people, I assumed I would spend the rest of my life on antidepressants. Until just over a year ago several things happened. First, my brother encouraged me. He thought life was possible without meds, and I began looking into it. I read over twelve books on beating mental illness naturally. I bought over $500 worth of supplements, of which I am now down to three that I know work. Second, I changed my diet and lifestyle in a pretty dramatic way that made me feel better than I had since I was a kid, thanks to a few women who taught at The Homestead (Thank you Mandi, Lindsay, Marion, and Lynn!). And finally, I had a friend who was a health coach who saw me through the transition. Every time I wanted to give up, she redirected me to another source of information, a new author, or a new insight about myself. Mostly, she sat with me through the worst of the heebie jeebies and self-doubt (Thank you Nancy!)

My drawer of supplements, all of which I tried at some point during my road to recovery.

My drawer of supplements, all of which I tried at some point during my road to recovery.

It's been just over a year. I started writing again almost immediately, which was probably the only initial benefit. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. After 15+ years of being comfortably numb, I had to feel every emotion down to its very depths and trust that I would survive. I had to learn real coping mechanisms for the first time in my life. Prayer, meditation, and yoga are not optional and food is central to wellbeing. I had to dig in deep when my husband worried I was losing it. And I had to surround myself with books, people, and rituals that support wellness. 

Nancy Woodruff my health coach and friend aka lifesaver! Here is her email if anyone else wants to start the journey new_369@yahoo.com

Nancy Woodruff my health coach and friend aka lifesaver! Here is her email if anyone else wants to start the journey new_369@yahoo.com

But I did it. Or, I am doing it everyday. I am able to feel so many things I missed without worrying I will sink. I am well, which was my goal before I turned 40. And if I continue to live well, I trust that I will continue to be well for many years. I am making it in a way I that is so much better than my old half-life. 

Don't go back to sleep! You can do hard things too. You can share your trials with another person and help them find the courage to jump into the fire and come out the other side fully alive.  

Alison

Me in my garden MAKING IT!  

Me in my garden MAKING IT!