Candid stories to help #curestigma and bring awareness to #mentalhealth difficulties.
By, Synergy eTherapy staff writer
A mom struggling with anxiety, a beautiful but overweight woman suffering from depression, and a young woman starving herself to gain control of her life shared their stories of mental health struggle and triumph for this month’s Synergy eTherapy #mentalhealthawareness series in order to #curestigma.
A mental illness, as described by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI www.nami.org) is:
“a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.”
With over 200 classified forms of mental illness, as many as 1 in 5 adults will suffer each year, (or an estimated 54 million Americans according to www.mentalhealthamerica.com) with 1 in 17 suffering from a major disorder such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
That’s a LOT of people!
You are not alone.
And while men experience higher rates of autism, early onset schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder and alcoholism, women are TWICE as likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and phobia disorders. (www.everydayhealth.com)
We spoke to a few of these brave women about their everyday struggles included in the daily life of a mental illness sufferer.
Anita G, age 32, Florida
“A new mom questions EVERYTHING that happens to their new baby, it was not good for someone who already suffers with anxiety.”
Synergy eTherapy: Hi Anita, thank you so much for speaking with us. Can you tell us a little bit about what illness you’ve been suffering from and for how long?
Anita: I have always struggled with anxiety and hormonal fluctuations, but after the birth of my son, things internally started to spiral out of control for me. While motherhood has definitely played a role in my anxiety, I also think it’s partly genetic and the way I grew up. It wasn’t a huge issue while I was pregnant, I was never scared or worried about labor or being a parent. i just felt like it would kind of “work itself out.” But I have always been a high-strung & emotionally driven person. Harry’s traumatic birth experience is what pushed my anxiety over the edge. I wanted a “normal” delivery and it just didn’t turn out that way. I never expected a c-section, didn’t even read that section of the pregnancy books. So when it happened, I was thrown for a serious loop.
Synergy: Ah, yes. When we expect things to happen in a “normal” or “expected” pattern, and something throws it off, it can definitely trigger anxiety or even PTSD. This year alone anxiety disorders affected almost 25% of women in America (adaa.org) so you’re definitely not alone! As you got deeper into motherhood, how did you cope with the anxiety?
Anita: Recovering from a C-section took a huge toll on me – both mentally and physically. I was always worried my body would look less like my pre- pregnancy self because I had to go through that vs. a vaginal birth which amped up my anxiety from the very beginning. Then throw in starting Mommy & Me classes without really knowing anyone, trying to breastfeed a baby with serious reflux & torticollis, trying to get my body back, deciding if I should go back to work, all while experiencing motherhood for the first time, it was all too much for me to handle all at once. A new mom questions EVERYTHING that happens to their new baby, it was not good for someone who already suffers with anxiety.
Synergy: That is a lot for anyone to handle, not just somebody suffering from anxiety. Please tell us, how did you cope?
Anita: I decided I needed to go back to therapy. At first twice a month to help sort out the hormones and anxious feelings – and the struggles of motherhood in general. I tried medication but I never felt “depressed” so I didn’t like how the medication made me feel and with my doctor’s help, too myself off. I tried natural hormone stabilizers like maca powder & ashwagandha. Now I go to therapy once a month and I feel better now – much better. I learned more about my anxiety, what it is and how to “tame” it. Don’t get me wrong, I still get moments where stress can feel like it takes over my day, but I manage it a lot better.
Synergy: That’s great! Therapy along with medications such as prozac, xanax or klonopin have been used with great success in treating anxiety (as well as some forms of depression). But like you said, they aren’t for everyone and should definitely be monitored by a physician or psychiatrist. Thank you for sharing Anita.
For more information on anxiety, as well as postpartum disorders see: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders
Kara K, age 34, Georgia
“As much as I try to eat healthy and keep an active lifestyle…the thoughts are always there in the back of my head..”
Synergy: Hi Kara, please tell us a little about the mental illness you have experienced.
Kara: About 15 years ago, while attending college, I began exhibiting symptoms of Anorexia. Around my junior year, I had been in a really volatile relationship. We would break up and get back together; he would cheat on me, and then come crawling back, and I, being young and insecure would take him back. I HAD to gain some control. One time, during one of our “break ups”, I hadn’t eaten in a few days and I passed out on my way to class. I wound up in the campus health center hooked up to an IV and wouldn’t you know, my boyfriend showed up by my side. That moment was the start of it.
Synergy: I’m so sorry you went through such a tough time. Traumatic life events are linked to the onset of mental illness, along with other elements such as genetic, one’s upbringing/environment, as well as one’s own coping style/personality. (www.nami.org).
Kara: After that, I would go through periods where I’d go days without eating or eating very little. I was losing weight everyday. At my lowest I was 86 pounds at 20 years old. My sorority sisters, as well as my family, were getting concerned commenting on my weight, or asking me if I had eaten. It seems strange, but I liked the attention I was getting. I liked people telling me I lost weight or that I looked skinny. What started as a “protest” of sorts to gain some form of control turned into attention seeking behavior.
Synergy: You’re absolutely correct. In many cases, an eating disorder will at some point be more about the control then about the actual food and weight loss. So how did you overcome this illness?
Kara: Early in my senior year I decided I needed help. I was so weak, had no energy, and couldn’t keep up socially with my friends. I went to therapy 2x a week, and ultimately was prescribed Prozac, since most of my illness was exacerbated by my depression and anxiety. It took awhile, but the final time my boyfriend and I broke up was the turning point for me for the better. I was lucky, a lot of people suffering from eating disorders need more aggressive treatment such as being admitted to treatment facilities. I still struggle occasionally mostly feeling guilty or depressed after I eat a “bad” meal or give into a craving. But as much as I try to eat healthy and keep an active lifestyle…the thoughts are always there in the back of my head.
Synergy: Thank you so much for sharing this deeply personal story. For more information on eating disorders and how to get help visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
Jules F, age 40, New York
“These cycles and my weight have taken a huge toll on my personal life and has led to my suffering from depression for most of my adult life.“
Synergy: Hello, Jules. Thanks for sharing with us today. Can you tell us a little bit about what mental health difficulties you have gone through?
Jules: Happy to share. My weight is something I have struggled with for most of my life. I’ve tried every diet, fad, fitness routine and cleanse around…nothing seems to help. I go through periods of significant weight loss, feeling great, only to weeks later fall “off the wagon” again and return to my “normal” routine. These cycles and my weight have taken a huge toll on my personal life and has led to my suffering from depression for most of my adult life.
Synergy: It seems like you’ve been on a rollercoaster as far as your weight patterns. This can no doubt lead to depression from the instability and loss of control as well as just from feeling badly about yourself and your situation.
Jules: Yes that is what it feels like. I stopped dating because the fear of rejection is too great. I don’t socialize with my friends. I stay home most nights and weekends. I’ve spent the last 10 years attending friends weddings, and then baby showers and 1st birthday parties. My weight gain fuels my depression. And my depression fuels weight gain. It’s a vicious cycle.
Synergy: So what steps have you taken to try and rise above these struggles that seem to be holding you back?
Jules: Just this year, after attending a friends wedding and having a BLAST with my girlfriends, I decided enough is enough. I had to gain control back over my body in order to overcome this depression. For the body I’ve started eating better, attending work out classes, and I joined a weight loss support group so I have peers who can hold me accountable. For the mind I have started attending therapy again. I am making it a point to make plans and stick to them, get out of the house, get back into dating and just trying to take my recovery day by day.
Synergy: It seems like you are on the right track trying to gain control of your emotions and behavior and we hope nothing but the best for you in the future! With one in eight middle-age women in the United States suffering from depression, women ages 40 to 59 have the highest rate of depression (12.3%) of any group based on age and gender in the U.S., according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Synergy eTherapy’s mission is to help increase access to mental health treatment. We are able to reach an entire state so those who can’t or won’t go to a clinic to be seen can receive high-quality care and live a more fulfilling life.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health disorder, please reach out for help. You do not need to suffer and with so many treatment options out there today, one or a combination will work for you.