It's Monday, I'm sitting on my couch in my swimmie watching some lame Netflix original movie, because it's a summer Monday... After I pour my heart out to you I plan on tanning and forgetting the social world for the rest of the day. So, keep that in mind when you're responding. Also, just a reminder that tomorrow is Teacher Tidbit Tuesday, I will be sharing all about my first year of teaching! Super excited to share that with y'all, but today I want to focus the mental health crisis that our nation is facing as we speak.
I posted the picture below to my personal and my blogging instagram. Both had funny, sarcastic captions. Both were a ruse to make you believe that I have my life together, spend my summer days adventuring with my super model husband. About 3 hours after posting that picture, I had a panic attack. I sat on our couch for 3 hours crying, feeling trapped, and repeating the phrase "I just need a way out. I just don't want to be here anymore."
Wow, that's heavy, right? My critics will roll their eyes and say I'm just sharing for attention, but I'm more sharing to be real and use my platform to be real about the fact that we're not doing enough. I've hidden my struggles for years, if I just wanted attention, I would run around buck naked and yell profanities in public, because even that would be easier than what I'm about to share.
I have to be honest and say that my mental health (or lack there of...lol) is a mix of genetics and me just being an idiot. From the beginning, I was a chubby girl. I was one of two girls in third grade who weighed over 100 pounds, girls didn't want to be friends with me, boys just thought I was funny, and I pretty much hated who I was starting at age 9. My parents were divorced and despite having a pretty ideal living situation, it still affected me. I watched my step dad leave my mom when I was in 2nd grade for no real reason explained to me. I went to 3 different elementary schools. In 4th grade, I started going to a private college prep school in Addison, Texas. This is where, looking back, I can really start to see where my issues begun. Not only was I the fat girl, but I was also the girl who didn't have as much money as my classmates. I remember only being allowed to invite 10 girls to my 4th grade birthday party. There were 13 in my class, I got in trouble for not inviting every girl... Crap like that piled up. In 8th grade, we took a trip to The Ozark's. We were required to hike from the bus to our campsite (about a mile, if I remember correctly) and at the end of the trip, hike back up to the bus. I was one of 4 people chosen to begin the hike 30 minutes early... along with 3 other overweight students. I remember sitting on the bus waiting for the rest of the grade to show up... totally humiliated. It was then when I began asking my mom to go to public high school. I thought that would help.
Fast forward to my sophomore year of high school. I began dating a boy, we'll call him Toby. (because if you watch The Office... Toby is the WORST.) I was so happy. I really remember being so swooned. (is that a word... we're making it one...) Like most high school, anxiety inducing relationship, this one was as toxic as it got. I gave him EVERYTHING. Then he'd walk away, cheat on me, or tell me I was boring. Then he'd come back... and the cycle repeated for four years. In between cycles, I would date around and flirt with other boys. Especially when I transferred school in 11th grade. My two years at LHS were plagued with crap. 13 Reasons Why crap... Traumatizing crap.
I went off to college, I thought that would help. I was still talking to Toby (while he was dating another girl...) and talking to pretty much any boy that seemed interested. Within my first semester of college, I found myself in two situations where boys locked me into their dorm rooms forcing themselves onto me. January rolled around and I was done. I found myself, for the second time in my life (the first being in high school after my 2nd or 3rd break up with Toby...) not wanting to be alive. I had sworn off boys, started going to church, and had big plans to transfer to a Texas school, because I thought that would help. Cue Colton Fairchild.
*flashback*I remember walking to work on a cold November morning, we were playing Baylor and College GameDay was in town. I saw the cutest boy holding a hilarious sign. I had no idea, two months later he'd be my saving grace. I got to work and was scrolling through twitter when I realized that cute boy followed me! *flashback end*
January 26, 2014 Colton Wesley Fairchild messaged me on twitter asking if I wanted to go to church and I told him no. Paralyzed by anxiety. Not sure why a guy who was so smoking hot would want anything to do with my fat, messed up self. ( I mean... y'all... he had abs.... and that JAWLINE.) Any who, we started dating. I thought that would help. But about 6 months in, the panic attacks started again. Colton was confused, I was confused. But we figured it out together. The rest of my college career was defined by happiness, connectedness, and for the most part, peace.
It wasn't until this year, being back in Texas, starting a new job, being newly married, and a living in a freakishly small apartment, when my anxious tendencies crept their way back in. Perfectionism, crying a lot, going from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds, being a vegetable most weekends, and having absolutely no motivation when it came to anything but work.... I gained 15 pounds and a lot of emotional baggage. I have it all... the perfect job, the perfect husband, near perfect coworkers and friends. My husband and I are so young but making plans to do amazing things. My blog took off in a matter of days. Everything SEEMS great. Everything seemed great with Kate Spade?
The problem with anxiety, depression, mental illness is that it's not a choice. I don't get to choose when I'm happy or sad. Every emotion is felt at 500% and my highs are high while my lows are embarrassingly low. Which brings me to Saturday.
"I don't want to be here. Everything would be better if I could just find a way to leave."
There is a voice inside of me putting those thoughts and feelings into my head. It's so real and if I could just snap out of it, dear Lord, I WOULD. I think sometimes, the only stories we read or hear are are recovery stories... I look forward to the day where I'm able share my story from a recovery perspective and I'm taking the steps necessary to get there. But until then, I'm going to be brave enough to share it from a warrior's perspective.
SO, what do we do?
I've tried several times to open up to people I'm close to about my struggles with Mental Illness. There are about 3 people who took me seriously and sought to understand. Some of my favorite responses when I tried to tell people were as follows:
1. You're just being dramatic, everything will be okay.
2. Are you sure you had a panic attack? Those are really serious...
3. I didn't know you were even capable of being upset! That doesn't seem like you..
4. That's just part of being a teacher! That's just part of life.
I'm here to tell you, no. No you're not crazy, that's not a normal part of life, you're worthy of being here. Thinking that the world would be a better place if you weren't in it, crying and feeling stuck all the time, wishing the rest of your life away, THAT IS NOT JUST A PART OF LIFE. PERIOD. If someone has ever tried to open up to you and your response was similar to those above, I'm afraid to say that you're part of the problem.
One of the worst parts about mental illness is how debilitating it is. You feel like a burden to everyone around you. You purposefully take yourself out of social situations, just because you feel unwanted. SO, if you're one who does not struggle with a mental illness and you notice that someone close to you is withdrawing, talking less, hiding more... you have to say something. Something as simple as, "hey, you've seemed down... everything okay?" BOOM. WOW. AMAZING. And then, after you ask, just listen and try to understand. Understand that it's not their choice to feel trapped. Understand that behind every overreaction there is a long, ass story like the one I shared above. And then, continue to check in and make sure your people are getting the help they need.
I truly think mental illness is not a taboo subject, until it's someone close to us who is struggling. That's the stigma we have to break. We can't just wait until someone we kind of knew commits suicide to pretend to care about other people's mental wellbeing. It STARTS with the people closest to us. This is where I think we're getting it wrong. I purposefully don't talk about my mental illness with specific people because I know they won't take it seriously, some of these people are people who I interact with everyday. But, when I posted to my 7,700 followers on instagram that I was struggling, people reached out left and right. That is so backwards. Why are we so hesitant to love on the people close to us who we know are struggling, but if it's someone we know in passing/ have a minor connection to... we all of the sudden care? We have to be more compassionate as a whole, because people are suffering. Give people the benefit of the doubt, love them relentlessly, and combat the lies in their heads telling them that they don't belong.
Mental illness is not one single persons fault, I wish I could pinpoint the reason or throw the blame on someone or something... but I just can't. I'm done talking, but on Saturday evening, I opened a google form for people to share their stories. The thing that spoke the most to me was what they wanted to say to those who don't struggle with mental illness. I'm going to let them speak for themselves. Thank you for reading this far. I challenge you to reach out, listen to someone else's story today, and then love the crap outta them.
Join me tomorrow for a lighter, way more fun topic: My First Year of Teaching!!!