All throughout my life, the people that have surrounded me and that I loved the most have used the words "mental illness" more times than imaginable. Growing up, I was the happiest child, who loved being the center of attention. I dreamed of going to college on a softball scholarship and even considered going into acting. I wanted all eyes on me at all times.
However, there was always a persistent, familiar feeling that stirred in the back of my mind when I least expected it. The best way that I can explain this feeling is as if the world around me is misshaped, sped up, and my brain can not keep up with the faces around me or the words that are coming out of their mouths. At times, I can look in the mirror and not recognize the person looking back at me. After this feeling would pass as a child, it would not cross my mind until the next time it entered my body.
I remember the day of November 24, 2013, as clear as day. I was in the sixth grade, sitting at my desk in first period. While talking about something probably along the lines of One Direction, chevron print purses, or the outfit we would be wearing to my middle school's football game with one of my friends, the feeling came.
I could not focus on the words she was saying or the world around me. The colors began to mesh together, and my heart pounded so loudly that my eardrums were overwhelmed with its persistent rhythm. This feeling normally passed in seconds, so I put my head on my desk and prepared to wait it out as always. Ten minutes later as class started, my teacher stood from his desk and began our daily warm-up. The words he spoke continued spinning around my head and it sounded foreign. I asked to see the nurse, complaining of a stomach ache. When I arrived, she figured I was just another sixth-grader, having trouble adjusting to the new school, friends, and schedule.
She was about to send me back to class and as soon as my brain wrapped around what she was saying I went into my first ever panic attack. There was no way I could stay. Eventually, my mom came to pick me up, and as soon as I got into her car the feeling got weaker and weaker. After taking a nap, the feeling completely passed.
The next day, I woke up feeling as normal as ever, and as soon as I got out of the car to walk into school, my brain shut off. I was having to talk myself through every step that I took, the spaces in which my eyes gazed, and how high I was swinging my arms. Somehow, I pushed and made it through the day.
I was playing softball for a travel team, as well as my middle school team at the time, and we had a game the next day. I was on the mound pitching (which was my favorite place in the entire world to be) and in one blink of an eye, the whole earth in front of me had changed. I could not understand the words being spoken to me, and could barely move any part of my body. My mother recalls seeing me try to call time out, but I could not even get my arms high enough, nor to touch each other to make the call.
I finally broke down and tried to explain to her the way I had been feeling and the only word that came to mind was the word, "dizzy."
I would be describing this feeling using this word for the next five years. In the near 30 doctors I would see, the "dizziness" would be referred to by them as an ear infection, a sinus infection, vertigo, a problem with my spinal fluid, a hearing dysfunction, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a brain tumor, a neurological disorder, low blood sugar, paranoia, and hypertension. None of these ended up being my one true diagnosis.
The girl everyone once knew and loved, was now gone.
I would not leave my house to go to school, softball, pitching or hitting lessons, or even the grocery store. I vividly remember having a cot set up in my living room next to our TV where I would sit and watch "Percy Jackson." All I wanted to do was live at the camp for the DemiGods, be able to live as myself, and not have to worry about the person I was turning myself into.
I was put on depression medication at the age of 12. I would eventually be diagnosed with PCOS which to this day I fight with. One thing that every doctor I saw failed to mention to me is that PCOS is known to cause extreme anxiety. In seventh grade, I was homebound for around a month or so because I was once again refusing to leave my house. I began to get suicidal and wanted to give up on myself and the life that I once thrived in.
Luckily, I snapped out of it and finally began to feel a bit better, and I even went back to school. I was informed that the medication I had been taking was probably causing the severe depression, which is literally a side effect of pills for (get this) depression. I was then put on a new anxiety/depression medication which I would take for years until a new doctor that I began seeing was shocked that I was taking a form of steroids, which caused me to gain an unholy amount of weight. I pushed through every day, being stuck in this phase of being out of control and not myself.
I battled spells of depression, saw more doctors, and still never received an answer on what caused me to feel like an outsider in my own skin.
All of this changed one night in August of 2018, as I was pitching against a two-time state champion team for my high school. My anxiety got really bad when I played, so I grew to despise the sport that once ruled over my life. Oh yes, there was a new ruler in town — his name was fear. It was the last inning, and all I had to do was get one more out and the game would be over. I don't remember much from that game at all though because, in the midst of getting my final out, I took a nose dive into the dirt of the pitcher's mound, completely unconscious. For the first time in my life, I quit playing the sport that had my heart and soul from the first time I picked up a ball.
I began going to a local therapist and doing yoga with the sweetest women who made me feel normal, and not like the basket case I had become (shoutout to Sea Glass Therapy in Newnan, GA for literally changing my life forever). That was when the term "DP/DR" was first introduced to me. The easiest way I can describe DP/DR is this: when my body gets stressed, the way it copes is to disconnect my brain from reality, causing me to feel like I am stuck in a dream and walk around like a zombie. If my anxiety got bad enough like it did that night that I was pitching, I would pass out due to the overwhelming effect the anxiety had on my physical state. The whole time, I had a severe anxiety disorder and simply did not have the tools to deal with it. I now know the steps to control it and pick new methods up every day. I have a better relationship with my own self and know that mental health is a continuous bumpy road.
That being said, I am now going to tell you the ways that I have learned to deal with my mental illness. The first step for me was admitting that I had an anxiety disorder, and it is something that people around me can not see. I had to come to the realization that it is OK to not be OK, and that I had to work on myself every single day to see results. Next, I had to learn that the foods you put into your body result in not only physical health but mental health as well. Eating sugary foods and caffeine will severely affect anxiety. I also had to learn small ways that help all throughout the day with my disorder. Taking time to reflect on myself through mediation, relaxing, and easing my brain as much as I can all help. I do this through journaling in both art and words, going to therapy, and deep breathing techniques.
Mental illness IS as real as a physical illness. Having someone to talk to about your problems can help so much more than I ever realized. If you are struggling with mental illness, talk to someone, and from the bottom of my heart, I hope that my story helps you in some way.