I posted a question on Facebook to get some ideas for writing material. A friend suggested "starting at the beginning and documenting the first steps about how to find help, what to look for, who to turn to and what signs to look for".
First, I had to understand that what was happening in my mind could be helped. Having suicidal thoughts isn't healthy and it's not something you should hide from the world. I never really understood the first thing about mental health. I didn't know that things like depression and anxiety were real medical conditions that could be treated with therapy and psychiatry. Why wasn't this taught in school? Instead, mental health was ridiculed and stigmatized.
Some of the warning signs?
At one time or another, as early as my pre-teen years I'd fall into emotional turmoil, come down on myself really hard and have thoughts of hurting myself or worse. I would take any kind of criticism as a personal attack. I would blame myself for things that weren't in my control. I would assume everyone around me has the worst intentions imaginable. My self worth, self esteem, confidence, etc. were always in flux, usually sitting at painfully low levels. I spent several recess hours crying on the bench. I cry easily. Sure, I could put on the happy face at times, dig up some charisma and a forced smile to play it off like things are okay...Inevitably, holding in emotions like that result in a bigger meltdown. It's a vicious, painful cycle eventually leaving me in an anxiety ridden depressive breakdown and tons of self loathing.
I never understood why it was so hard to be consistently happy. I thought it was because I was doing something wrong.
It's taken some inspiration, education, some serious love and support, and a little bit of tough love to get my clouded mind to seek help.
Inspiration to look within
I learned of a loved one who had entered inpatient psychiatric care for an untreated disorder they had been struggling with for most of their adult life. This hit me hard. Of course, I began to look within and shed any misunderstandings of mental health I had. I saw their life change for the better, and this was incredibly inspiring. It's sad that it took witnessing a loved one's struggle to inspire me to look within. Not everyone will happen to have a loved on affected by a similar affliction to provide the inspiration to look within. We can all use a little more inspiration. That's the change I'm hoping to see in the world.
Education on the topic
Beginning to understand mental wellness in scientific terms made it real to me. It turned feelings into theories. All of the sudden, anxious and depressed situations could be interpreted in hindsight, like reviewing the results of an experiment. I began to understand certain feelings as symptoms of a medical condition. Personally, one of the hardest parts of this journey has been learning and understanding how my diet, exercise, pleasure levels, surroundings, etc all factor into my overall mental state and consistently maintaining a healthy lifestyle for a healthy mind.
I'm sorry I don't have specific books, blogs, articles to share off the top of my head... I received a lot of material through my therapy sessions and independent research that I should share. That'll be a project for another day.
Love and support
I have relied MOST heavily on my girlfriend at the time - now my fiancée YAY! I have no idea how I got so lucky to have a woman like this by my side. The fact that we'll naturally we see each other or talk to each other on a daily basis means I have nothing to hide. If something is bothering me, she'll know. She keeps me honest with myself, gives me tough love when I need it, and inspires me to the happiest and healthiest partner I can be. This is the kind of loving support that only a best friend can provide, and I really needed a best friend at this time.
I also relied on the loved one who inspired me in the first place. And of course, my parents and the rest of the family. For a while, I kept it to myself and my little network. Then one day I was at work chatting with a co-worker and I mentioned something about depression. Turns out, they had similar medical treatment in the past and are on medication as well. Before I knew it, I was telling them everything and they shared their story as well. Our stories were shockingly similar. This has happened more times that I keep track of at this point.
Point is, don't be afraid to be vulnerable. People will surprise you.
What did I do?
I was at an all time low. I felt hopeless. I knew I needed help but I didn't honestly believe things could ever be different. I knew that I had seen therapy and psychiatry work for at least one person, so maybe it'll work for me. I called my healthcare provider and asked to make an appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist. I didn't understand the difference. They asked me a bunch of questions. She had a soothing voice. I answered everything honestly and they suggested a same-day appointment. I got off the phone feeling peaceful and hopeful. The first therapist I met with rubbed me the wrong way and I ended up shutting down, lying to get out of there, and leaving annoyed, upset and hopeless.
I spent a few more days struggling through depression on my own, feeling like things were only becoming more hopeless and irreversible... it became clear that it was in my best interest to admit myself for inpatient care until my mental state stabilized. After a couple hours at the Therapist's office, then a couple hours in the ER waiting for them to find me a bed, I was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric facility. I was in there for a better part of a week and left with a prescription of Lexapro for depression and a small supply Ambien sleep aid. Following that, I was in group therapy three hours a day, three days a week for a month followed by another group therapy class lasting three weeks. I cut out caffeine, alcohol, and any tried to maintain as healthy of a diet and exercise regiment as possible. I researched meditation, the power of positive thinking, the effects of alcohol and diet on the mind, etc...
By the end of the first 2 months of recovery, I was feeling like I was on top of the world. As life's stressors creep back in, good habits make way for fast food and skipped gym trips, things aren't always sunshine and rainbows. That's life. I am becoming more acutely aware of what affects my mental state and working daily to give my mind the best working environment possible.