As you surfed social media today, you probably noticed a plethora of postings featuring people proudly displaying their super-cool semicolon tats while making the declaration, “My Story Is Not Over” #SemicolonProject416. Well, I am not hip and cool enough to actually get a semicolon inked into my dermis, however this is a cause and movement near and dear to me and my crazy brain.
In case you do not know, Project Semicolon was created in 2013 out of a young woman’s pain and suffering at the loss of her father to suicide. She decided to keep going (hence the symbolism of my beloved semicolon), and forged a movement millions have joined to bring awareness not only to suicide, but all walks of mental illness and those living with it.
My Grammie took her own life when I was five, which nobody told me until I was in my mid-20s. I guess my parents decided it wasn’t appropriate to tell their young child her adored grandmother shot herself in the head because she suffered from chronic pain (inferring from stories there was some severe mental illness along with some opiate abuse in that mix). That knowledge made a lot of puzzle pieces fall into place concerning my estranged grandpa’s spiral into alcoholism and major behavioral shift after her death. One of those tidbits of info that make the therapists perform the old head tilt, audible,”Ahhhh”, along with a quickly jotted addition to”what’s wrong with this girl” onto the notepad (sometimes even a sympathetic face and nod-please don’t! ).
On the other side, my Grannie had a major depressive bout when I was young. I have no recollection of this, but my mum finally shared the story with me after we came into Al-Anon and I was working on my inventory. Grannie was severely depressed, to the point of not leaving the house for an extended length of time. My mum took me out to visit to try and get her “better”, but apparently meds was the route she ended up needing to get living again. I was on vacation at her house last week, and commented on the bottle of Prozac I noticed while she was organizing grandpa’s weekly pill intake. Told her if it went missing, not to look in my suitcase…(kidding, sort of.) She told me, “I’ve taken that forever, and the doctor says to just keep taking it.” Well. Ok then.
I share those brief family histories with nerves in my belly, while also hoping not to embarrass or piss anyone off . It’s a bit scary and daring even to discuss mental illness out in the open. Yet is extremely enlightening and empowering to understand my family’s mental past, why I am the way I am, and work to change the things that are a huge struggle for me. I also have Andy (son extraordinaire) to think about now, and to me, his mental health is a huge part of his well-being.
I have had anxiety for as long as I can remember. I was terrified of everything (EVERYTHING) as a kid. My most vivid memories are of being scared and anxious; anything from doctor visits to the weather. I am serious about the weather. I used to get up to watch the weather report to see if there were storm warnings for the afternoon in the summer because, you guessed it, I was terrified of storms. Stomach aches, wild worries gone awry in my child brain, chewed nails and cuticles; I was a wee ball of frantic energy pretty much all the time.
Depression decided to join the party early on in college. I slept basically my entire Sophomore year, got fat, got skinny again by eating like a mouse and working out three hours a day. I seriously have no idea how I passed classes because I never went, I think it was my hand written thank you notes to each professor (lol). I chalked it up to hating my lame little college and being jealous of my outgoing, track-star boyfriend. I was certain if I had gone to busy school in a big city (or ran off to LA to be famous), I wouldn’t feel so sad. Well, I ran off and did a semester exchange at University of New Orleans Senior year, was even a bartender at the famous Coyote Ugly, and yea…that whole, “Wherever you go, there you are,” is a verrrry wise saying.
Throughout college and into my late 20s, my anxiety and depression liked to take turns torturing me and those around me. I seriously have no idea how Dan (husband extraordinaire, former track-star) stayed with me all those years, I had some ridiculous behavior at times! I had no tools in my sanity toolkit, and was too embarrassed to tell anyone for fear of judgement (plus, I had no feelings), so I just used my incredible acting skills to pretend happy my way through life. I met a few people along the way with similar struggles, took some of their meds here and there to see if they worked for me, but for the most part I simply went about being a whirlwind of chemical imbalance and thinking that was it for me. I’d never truly be happy. I would always worry about everything.
It was when I really became cuckoo co-dependent on Chad that I had to face the reality of my own mental state and health. I turned to therapy when I literally felt like I was going to jump out of my own skin, couldn’t eat or sleep, and truly thought it would be alright not wake up tomorrow because then I wouldn’t have to worry anymore. I secretly wanted her to declare me nuts, write me a script for some happy pills, and zombie out. But damn her. She made me share my shit, gave me strategies, had me read up on mental health, even made me come back every few weeks to talk some more.(Side note: My favorite strategy was to say, “Stop”, every time an irrational thought came along. I still do it to this day. Actually, the other day I accidentally did it out loud in line at Target. Super loud. Then I laughed at myself. Andy laughed too, he gets it.)
I did end up taking medication for about a year, it made me mostly numb to the world. I seriously gave zero f*#ks. I functioned, but it robbed me of my imaginative mind (good when teaching and dancing), took away my alertness, and made me so “normal”. It also made me feel it was acceptable to eat a ton of cheeseburgers and gain 15 pounds. In the end, it was more physical ego that made me stop taking it. I also felt determined I could use the tools I had learned to keep myself in check better than some pill. It has worked out fairly well for me that way. It’s a daily process, I have learned much, and it is worth every bit of the struggle and work.
This entry has ended up being far longer than I intended, so I think I will let it end here. Just for today. I have chosen to keep writing, as my story definitely is not over yet. My wish is that you will choose to keep writing with me, keep hope, and reach out for help rather than end your story.
Be Good, Do Good