mental illness

Working with Mental Illness

By Annie Doherty

Working with mental illness is not always easy. Some days it’s all I can do to get out of bed, let alone look presentable and make it into the office where I have to interact with other people. Other times, my anxiety is so high I’m just waiting for some little thing to tip me over the edge into full-fledged panic. What I’ve learned, however, is that I need the structure of a job, going to a workplace, and the forced interaction with people. I recently got a new job and took two weeks off to work on some personal projects and relax before stepping into a new work environment. During those two weeks, the lack of structure was awful. It was incredibly difficult to get motivated to do anything and I began to be afraid to leave the house. 


    Having a job helps keep me strong in my fight against my brain. In one sense, it’s like I’m exercising those mental muscles that I need to help keep me functioning on a normal scale. If I don’t use them, they get weak and don’t always work the way I need them to. I need my brain to be actively diligent, aware of triggers and mood changes so that I can be prepared to react the best way possible. 


    I do have safeguards for when and if I feel the winds shifting in my brain. I have an arsenal of essential oils at my desk and in my purse for when my anxiety starts to spike. Whether or not the oils are really doing anything (because I know people love to argue both sides), the simple act of stopping what I’m doing and pausing to smell and apply them helps shift my brain’s focus. 


I’ve also been lucky to create friendships everywhere I’ve worked with people I’ve felt comfortable enough to share my story. Because of this, I’ve been able to have a support system at work. Simply telling a coworker that I’m high anxiety or struggling with a strong wave of depression can help keep things at bay. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more honest with my bosses.  I’ve been fortunate to work on teams and have bosses that are understanding. I’m also a firm believer in mental health days - because just like when you have a cold, sometimes you need to stay home when you don’t have any strength to get out of bed. 

Stigma

By Annie Doherty

I’ve sought acceptance my entire life - acceptance from my family, my friends, coworkers, strangers, husband, myself. I’ve sought acceptance to such a degree that I allowed myself to become whatever anyone wanted. I shut down every true part of my being to morph into what was desired by those around me. I’ve gone from praying that I would be bipolar to fit in with all the men in my family, to turning off every true feeling and emotion because it was what someone wanted. I never liked who I was in those times, but if it got some semblance of love and acceptance, I would allow it. 

    I no longer turn off all my emotions. I no longer wish to be bipolar. I am, however, someone who struggles with depression. When I finally admitted my struggle, to even just myself, it broke open a dam that I had hardly realized I built. I lived within the walls of my own interior castle; I locked everyone out, even myself.

I often wondered why I could accept the illnesses of others but refused to allow myself to accept my own. The more I think about it, the more I realize it’s because I had been met with so many combative or uninformed opinions regarding mental illness. I fought hard for people to understand bipolar disorder was not something you could just turn on or off. People were uncomfortable hearing about someone being so depressed that they wished to stop waking up. I knew I was depressed, but I didn’t want people to tell me just to be happy or pray more and everything would get better. So, I held everything inside for as long as I could.

I avoided eye contact. I shifted my stance, bent my legs and rubbed my arms. I stumbled over my words. I tried to make it seem like it wasn’t a big deal. I tried to shrug off any level of seriousness. I laughed awkwardly. I felt shame in telling someone that I struggled with depression. I felt shame admitting there lived within me a dark monster that consumed any hope of joy and shattered any desire to face the next day. I felt shame confessing the very truth of my sad soul that I had tried for years to cover up, tried to ignore, tried to bury somewhere so deep within myself that I couldn’t remember where it lived. I didn’t like how they would look at me once they knew I wasn’t normal.

In the summer of 2013, I made a suicide attempt and spent nine days in the psychiatric ward. I was surrounded by people suffering from similar mental states, some better, some far worse. It was the safest I have ever felt in disclosing the truth about how I was doing. I have never been so brutally honest with myself, or others, then when I was in the hospital. There was no judgment, only the truth. There was no stigma. The moment I left the hospital, I felt myself start to hide the truth again. Despite having exposed the depression I had been dealing with for years, I still did not feel comfortable discussing my illness. The first few months out of the hospital, I wanted to go back. I didn’t enjoy the looks I was getting from friends who didn’t understand what was going on with me. 

When I finally was able to be comfortable in my own skin and realize that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, I didn’t feel the desire to go back to the hospital. I no longer put a stigma on myself. I talked, and still talk, openly about things I’ve gone through. I’ve seen how honesty can both help people open up and how it can cause them to shy away from me. 
Now that everything has been exposed to my family and friends, I can’t avoid my darkness anymore. I’ve accepted it. I ache for people around me to understand the complexities of mental illness so that those who have them don’t feel like they need to hide it or feel ashamed. Mental illnesses are real and should not be met with whispers and side looks and shame. Depression may always be a part of my life, but it does not define who I am. These are things that need to be spoken about, written about so that this stigma that has been attached to mental illness can be put away. 

Is This Just A Funk I’m In Or Is It Something More?

By Catherine Lang-Cline

Let me start by stating the obvious, I am not a doctor, nor a professional in the area of mental health, but what I do know, like most people, how great it is to be healthy, both physically and mentally.

When you are an entrepreneur, your mind is a constantly whirling. I swear that when it is really quiet, I can hear it hum in perfectly balanced chaos, but we are people and people develop issues and things occur that break up that normal cadence. Those things can take the shape of stress, depression, and/or substance dependence, to name a few. What do you do?

Some of the things that an entrepreneur can encounter are:

  • Employee issues - a team that doesn’t work together, counter-productive employee, maybe someone is embezzling,

  • Client issues - clients demand more, treat you poorly, leave for a cheaper company,

  • Funding issues - a client won’t pay, a bank won’t loan you money,

  • Personal issues - problems with children or relatives, problems with your home, Illness or death of a loved one.

These issues, on top of what you work with day-to-day, can put you in a tailspin. You find yourself feeling like you are living in a hole, or underwater and hoping to come up for air. You get down on yourself or you are finding yourself angry all of the time. What can you do?

First ask yourself:

  • “Can I solve or work through these problems on my own?”

  • “Can I talk to a mentor about my concerns?”

  • “Do I need to see a professional?”

Most of us deal with challenges and mental fatigue that starts to eat away at our quality of life. It can come on you like a heart attack, either building up over time or it will just hit you hard all at once. You find yourself stressed, crying, or throwing something across the room. It is common and it does not mean that you are weak or flawed. Keeping our minds healthy is as important as keeping our body healthy. You ate well today, what did you do for your mind?

Let’s start with:

Solving your problem on your own:

Can you do something to clear your head? Vigorous exercise, take a walk, meditate, get a massage, or just step away for a bit. Indulge in yourself. Dig more into a passion you might have, something completely different! Sometimes recalibration can be that easy.

Talking to someone else:

Grabbing a drink with your crew can bring relief and talking to a family member or mentor can also help for some quick problem solving, especially the people that have lived through what you are going through right now. I promise you, someone else has had the same struggle as you, find that person.

But if you have tried these things and you are really struggling or the problem seems bigger than you are, make an appointment with a professional. A professional can be anyone that specializes in that finance issue you have to a therapist that can help you unwind your issue. Computers need to be rebooted and so do you. Sometimes getting back to mental health is not just about relaxing, it is about fixing. There is no shame in feeling overwhelmed or in asking for help. You are not always in control of what life throws at you, it is just knowing when you have hit your limit and need to contact the pro.

Just a brief comment about mental illness. Mental illness is vast and wide in its scope and its impact. It needs to be treated like any other issue with the body and not carry a stigma. There are many programs in place to get you or a loved ones help. Still not sure if you need help? Read some of the warning signs listed at the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ website. Need even more help, reach out to the national organization of Mental Health of America. 1 out of 5 Americans have a life-altering mental illness or have experienced a mental crisis. You are not alone. #CureStigma

Of course if you or someone you know is in an emergency situation, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately. Hang in there. Get help. It gets better.

For those of us that just know that we are in a “funk”, don’t neglect any part of you. If a run or bike ride can truly clear your head, do it. Maybe you need as much as a two week vacation? Keep working on fine-tuning you. Not only are you worth it, but your friends, family, and co-workers will thank you.