A History of Mental Illness: A Dark Secret

This is a series exploring the mental illness I have had since a young girl.  Read the introduction to start from the beginning. 

Andrew came into the world much earlier than expected.  The experience was amazing and I rode on a high of newborn happy hormones for the next 6 weeks.  I convinced myself, my doctor, and Ben that I had skipped post-partum depression and could wean myself off the meds.

I was so proud of myself for conquering the silly depression.

After two miscarriages, the ship of denial I’d been sailing on sank.

The time between January 2010 and January 2011 was a dark, dark period that I almost wish to forget but is essential for my personal growth to not only remember, but to document.

From somewhere within rose this hatred toward life.  I could barely stand Ben, the kids, and, most of all, myself.  I was constantly planning on how I could permanently leave life.  I wanted to drive to my mom’s house, drop the kids off, and disappear.  I even made the preliminary step of visiting my mom for a week while Ben was having a particularly busy week and I just could not fathom spending that week at home, with the kids, by myself.  This visit helped me regroup and think my way out of escaping.  But once I returned, the thoughts came back.

Recently, Ben informed me that he was terrified of leaving me with the kids because he wasn’t sure if they were safe with me.  My mom has told me that she and other people discussed my mental state and tried to figure out different ways to intervene.

I really wish I had known.  I thought I was on the journey alone.  Ben’s fears were grounded in reality; I was afraid of myself.  I had horrible thoughts and dreams regarding my children that terrorized me.  The voices in my head would not shut up.

Living with mental illness, especially severe anxiety and depression, is walking a thin line between sanity and insanity.  While I was never full blown schizophrenic – in that I didn’t have delusions – I did have voices.  They weren’t random voices, either, they were people I knew and respected: my mom, Ben, church leaders, friends, siblings, etc.  Some would tell me that I needed to pray more (which I did), others told me I needed to serve more (did that too), and others told me to stop bitching and get over myself (tried that too).

I realized that something was wrong with my thinking.  I couldn’t look at Ben without either crying or fighting a strong urge to punch him. Everything he did irritated me and I would often have fits of violent anger that would surprise us both.  So I tried to change.  I kept a gratitude journal where I’d write 10 things I loved/appreciated/respected about him every night.  I threw myself into my church calling (Relief Society secretary) and worked over-time taking care of various sisters’ needs.  I visited the temple frequently.  I prayed as often as I could.  I listened to church music.  I watched church-related videos.  I kept my diet strictly healthy and free of junk (except for a small handful of chocolate I allowed myself each day).  I worked out, heavily, every day.

Nothing worked.  The voices got stronger, my anger intensified, and thoughts of escaping interfered with living.

I finally broke down and confessed everything to Ben.  Little did I know that he was going through a difficult time as well and could offer little in support.  When I told him I wanted to run away, he said “well, that’s life” and tried to move on.  I finally demanded that he listen and help me.  I went and saw a doctor who initially ignored my symptoms, chalking them up to motherhood, but finally listened to my pleas.  She started me on two types of medication—Zoloft and Buspar—and had me come back for regular check-ups.

By February, I was feeling like a different person.  I was seeing sunlight for the first time in a year and I felt so alive.

Continue on to Part Seven.

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6 Comments

Filed under Month of Instrospection

6 responses to “A History of Mental Illness: A Dark Secret

  1. Emily Hagen

    So glad you shared…mental illness runs deep in my family as well. I have suffered only minor anxiety and depression, but I have 2 sisters who have been hospitalized with issues stemming from this (anorexia & bipolar). I so admire your strength in sharing your experience. Though mental illness doesn’t entirely define you, it is an essential part of your identity and those who love you will embrace every part of you…so know that I embrace you 🙂

  2. So brave!! You’re an inspiration. Xoxo

  3. Gary Turner

    Amber, your honesty is truly a rarity in this day and age. You and I both know that there are hundreds if not thousands of people having the same kinds of episodic nightmares that you experienced but cannot verbalize it or seek help for it, how sad! You are so fortunate that you have, and can talk and write about what you feel. Otherwise, how would you ever deal with it?
    I can tell you from personal experience that life can and does become overwhelming at times. What with children and a household and bills and meals and doctor visits and being pregnant ( your case, not mine!) I really don’t know how women do it?? You are definitely a superior form of our species!
    Everyone needs a break now and then and there isn’t anything wrong with that. You should do it. Often I think. It does wonders for your children and your husband and prepares them for those times when you are not available.
    Vicky and I have always taken opportunities to do things apart from one another and thats a good thing. Very healing both spiritually and personally. Gives you back that piece of your autonomy that you lose when you get married. Strengthens your independence and builds that knowledge that you are not “trapped”. There are reprieves. Too much of anything is not good, period.
    I have always gone on my fishing sabaticals and look forward to the time alone. One common thing occurs from each of these outings. My head clears, the fears subside, and I look forward to getting back to being a husband and father and grandfather more than ever. But I am certain that without that time away I would feel very different.
    There have been episodes in my life where I planned out every last detail. Where I would go. What I would do when I got there. Where I would live and who my friends would be. Sounds crazy I guess but I really don’t think it is. I think it is a very handy relief mechanism built in to each and everyone of us that allows that escape even if only imagined. Without it, I think things could get out of hand.
    I pray for you and Ben all the time. You have such a wonderful family and you two are such wonderful parents. I think you are a wonderful person Amber and you should be admired for your brevity, honesty, parenting skills, writing talent, insight, spousal expertise, and, your drive to pursue an education.
    In my humble opinion, you are far from crazy my dear, you are just a normal parent facing normal parental overload and you shouldn’t feel alone. Never fail to ask for help or a break. You deserve it Amber. As a mother you have responsibilities aplenty. Don’t sell or cut yourself short. Take breaks when your body and head tell you need them. Not when someone else thinks it’s time.
    Ben is a very lucky man to have a wife like you. Thank you for being so brave to write about the things in life that really matter!
    Love to all of you,
    Gary

  4. I know this is never emotionally easy for me to write about, so kudos to you for plowing ahead. Just know you are not alone. This all sounds so familiar, planning how to end it, planning who could take care fo the kids if I didn’t come back, the insane terrifying thoughts of harming my children, the extreme irritation and anger over every part of my life, even the voices. It gets better. Because even when things are at their most stressful, I no longer think about ending my life, or harming my kids. And I no longer hear the voices, I’ve had people tell me that is because Satan no longer has to fight for me, because he already has me, to which I reply, if it really was satan, and he is leaving me alone for the first time in my life because I no longer believe in a god, then I DON’T CARE. I have never been more peaceful and healthy in my life, and I don’t know if that many people can truly understand the power of knowing who you are and living as you are.

  5. Melanie

    Children may be a blessing, but I think our hormonal fluctuations are a curse. I’m so sorry you felt so isolated in your illness!! Busbar seems like a miracle. I know several people who have had to use it and it does wonders for them.

    One little item that you may be able to relate to: Sometimes people feel like they should go off the drugs because they aren’t 100% alert, etc. A feeling like maybe there is a pane of glass between themselves and life….a little disconnected, a little more forgetful possibly. All I can say, is its better to feel THAT way than feel so depressed and anxious that you can hardly live with yourself. It’s harder to live with somebody who is anxious than somebody who is a little disconnected.

    Always Always Always keep in mind that these mental gyrations are temporary. There will come a day when you will look back on these dark days and be so very grateful that you no longer feel that way. Use it like a chant: It does get better, It does get better, It does get better, It does get better, It does get better, It does get better, It does get better, It does get better, It does get better. You are going to have another baby now and you may well go through “it” again….take the meds and do the chant. Call when you need to talk. And just know, you can say ANYTHING to me and I will understand probably more than you will ever know.

  6. Pingback: A History of Mental Illness: An Over Abundance of Tears | Making the Moments Count