Mental Illness

Mental Illness Isn’t a Choice, But Compassion Is

February 3, 2018

Mental Illness Isn't a Choice, but Compassion Is

On New Year’s Eve, my boyfriend had to work, so I chose to spend the evening alone in our apartment. I couldn’t remember the last time I had flown solo on a holiday, but my soul was craving a low-key night of solitude, reflection, and goal-setting. I needed my 2018 to be so much better than my 2017 — it had to be. I mean, I was finally in a good place mentally, physically, and emotionally, plus had some big plans and ambitious goals to realize!

Rewind to one year ago…

In late 2016, I moved to Portland, Oregon (a city I had always wanted to live in) and was feeling incredibly determined and optimistic about where my life was headed. 2017 was supposed to be *the* year that I was going to start blogging regularly and grow my readership, stick to an exercise routine, become a certified health coach, and bring singing and performance back into my life. But I soon learned that the Universe had other plans for me.

After just one month of being insanely productive, my arch nemeses, Depression and Anxiety decided it was the best time ever to rear their ugly heads. Soon, I found myself in the middle of one of the worst bouts of depression that I can remember. My hopes, dreams, and the bright and shiny new life I had been planning for myself and my boyfriend in Portland quickly disintegrated.

Anyone who truly knows me understands that I am usually a positive, ambitious person. They also know that I’m highly sensitive, emotional, and empathic. But during this time, I can honestly say that I felt numb to everything.

And. It. Was. Scary.

It was the first time in my life that I couldn’t show my emotions. All I felt was a sense of heaviness in my chest, mind, and limbs every single day for almost two months. I couldn’t form a genuine smile. I couldn’t laugh. I couldn’t cry. I struggled to get out of bed most days. But instead of showing myself some much needed compassion, I grew frustrated for allowing the demons I had been grappling with on and off for nearly 24 years to take control of me again.

I was frustrated even though I knew that mental illness isn’t a choice.

 

Depression and Anxiety continued to squeeze the life out of me and weren’t showing any signs of letting up.

Meditation wasn’t helping.

Seeing friends wasn’t helping.

Trying awesome new vegan restaurants wasn’t helping (what was wrong with me!?).

But through it all I had to stuff my feelings inside, put on a happy face, keep up with work and chug along so I could afford to live in a pricey city. But after suffering a debilitating panic attack and getting into it with my loving boyfriend for no reason at all, I knew it was time. I had to find a way to give my demons a roundhouse kick to the jaw and then some. My relationships with my boyfriend, family, friends and most importantly, myself depended on it.

My Own Hero

For many years, I went without health insurance because I simply couldn’t afford it on a freelancer budget. But in 2017, I finally had enough money and was able to get some pretty stellar health coverage that included mental health services. And man, oh man I am so thankful to have had it. While I struggled with mental illness for years, it wasn’t until last year that I sought help from a therapist. Why? Aside from the lack of health insurance, I also thought I was strong enough to combat mental illness on my own. Obviously, I was mistaken.

The in-network therapist I found couldn’t have been more perfect for me. She truly saw who I was, why I struggled, and how to gently push me in the right direction so I could work through the issues I had with myself and my relationships. She taught me how to sit and feel the anxiety, panic, and fear and realize that I would be okay — that I didn’t have to run out of the store when I felt panicky in the soup aisle (so many options to choose from — cue anxiety!), and that I didn’t deserve to beat myself up when my depression forced me to lie on the couch for a day or two, or when I didn’t feel I had room in my chaos to speak with certain family members or friends.

She taught me how to love the person I am — even the part of me that struggles with mental illness — and that compassion can often be a beautiful cure. 

 

For nearly one year, that 50 minutes we had together every week was my sacred space to just be me without judgement. But when insurance prices skyrocketed, I was forced to leave my therapist at the end of the year. Then panic set in.

How would I handle depression, anxiety, and all the craziness of life on my own without her? 

But I later realized just how much our sessions empowered me.

I’m a healthier person now.

She equipped me with the tools and techniques I need to be my own hero. I learned how to ground myself, breathe, and move forward with a warrior heart.

New Year and Newfound Self-Compassion

As I write this, it is February 2, 2018, one month later than when I originally wanted to share this post. But there is good reason for it. After the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, I actually went through yet another bout of depression. And I’m still pulling myself out of it.

Mental illness isn’t something that just goes away on its own. It’s a part of you — all the time. Even if you’re having fun, laughing, and smiling with friends, it’s always there beneath the surface. But at the end of the day, it’s imperative to choose compassion for your mental illness. My therapist taught me that showing myself love and kindness is much more helpful when attempting to wade through the murky parts of life. While I still beat myself up from time to time, I (thankfully) don’t suffer from that self-abuse as much as I used to. I now know that I am worth so much more.

Choosing Courage and Compassion

Speaking openly about your depression, anxiety, OCD, or any other mental illness you’re dealing with can be one of the most difficult things you will ever do. Believe me, I had a lot of anxiety about sharing this post right out of the gate. But being your authentic self and sharing the hard, heartbreaking stuff  is the strongest, most courageous, and most compassionate thing you can do for yourself and others.

Social media is all about everyone’s highlight reels. And these Instagram images, Facebook posts, and Snaps are so far removed from what real life actually is! What if you shared your struggles, too? I’m willing to bet that your peers who are struggling with mental illness wouldn’t feel so alone.

And they would realize that they can make it through.

That everything will be okay.

That you are there for them.

That you want them here.

That they matter.

Choosing to share our authentic selves and showing more compassion could very well save precious lives. Perhaps it could even save your own.

350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, and over 50 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression.

 

We can all help prevent suicide. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for free, confidential support.
1-800-273-8255

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  1. Thank you for being genuine. This was a peek into Natalie’s world, but…. I saw a lot of myself in this blog. I hope to use your encouragement to be kinder to myself. Thanks for sharing!

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