mental health for you, me, and everyone.
mental health for you, me, and everyone.
When life is feeling hard, sometimes what you need is some support from someone who has lived experience. Peer support is a give and take relationship that helps lift people up when they are feeling low. Whether it is a shoulder to cry on, someone to vent to, someone to go on a walk with, peer support can make all the difference.
Mental Health Awareness Stories
In honor of mental health awareness, I am sharing the story of my breakdown and subsequent hospitalization six years ago. I am a mother, a wife, a teacher and a friend to many in this community and many who see me on the outside would be shocked to learn that I sometimes suffer inside. That is the point of sharing this. I also want anyone else who is out there who may share my experience, to know that they are not alone. It is easy to feel shame when you suffer a mental health crisis because it is still so hidden and misunderstood in all society. I want to pull back that veil and explain how it happened to me.
Six years ago I was teaching full time which meant six classes daily – three different levels and ages in the secondary school. At the time I was also a relatively new mom in a stable marriage. For anyone who knows about teaching, you know that the job is stressful. Satisfying the demands/ needs of the curriculum, attending to the social emotional wellness of over one hundred twenty students, and upholding the high standards of Crested Butte Community School became overwhelming for me, but I kept going to work every day. I didn’t know how to ask for relief or help. As many of you know, many of our nation’s schools are understaffed and underfunded. We have a chronic shortage of substitute teachers. Planning lessons for multiple classes for a substitute is another stress in and of itself. I didn’t want my colleagues to have to cover my classes for me in the event that no sub could be found. So every day I came to school prepared and ready to teach at 7:45 am, regardless of how I was feeling inside. I hid it well. No one knew how I was feeling and I did not ask for any help. Then I stopped sleeping. At first it was just hard to fall asleep. I knew the alarm would ring at 6:30 a.m., and when I was still tossing and turning at midnight, I only grew more agitated, knowing how tired I would be in the morning. Sometimes after falling asleep, I would wake at three a.m., and toss and turn until morning. Multiple nights of this started to take their toll on my stress and exhaustion, and yet, still, I kept going to work each day. It doesn’t take long before sleep deprivation breaks you into a million pieces and for me, it was after nine consecutive nights. Nine nights of nearly no sleep was my breaking point. It wasn’t just the stress of the job that was keeping me up. I was also grieving the loss of my beloved mother and the subsequent re-marriage of my father just a few weeks later. (After 46 years of marriage to my mom). My grief and anger was hiding inside, pulling my emotions into a tangled knot. I wanted nothing more than to rest: to rest my mind, my heart, my body, but everything inside was betraying me. I had lost control completely. After nine nights of nearly no sleep, I started to have auditory hallucinations, delusional thoughts, and paranoia. I couldn’t control my thoughts and I could no longer separate reality from delusion. I just wanted the torture and exhaustion to stop.
I won’t ever forget the day I finally broke open. It was a Friday and I had spent the school day babbling to my students about grief, God, and who knows what else. They knew that I was off kilter, but thankfully, they were nothing but kind and compassionate. They could see the exhaustion/ delirium etched in my face. They were scared, not of me, but for me. Teaching is so isolating, that virtually no other adults saw me that day. It was just me and my students.
At the end of the school day, my family and I got into the car to drive out of town to visit my dad. I was quiet at first, not sharing anything that was happening inside my head, but before we left Gunnison, I told my husband to take me to the hospital. I told him I was having a panic attack. He later told me that at the time, I was talking nonsensically and hearing things that he did not. He knew I was in trouble. When the emergency room doctor questioned me about suicide, I said that yes, I had been thinking about it. Not because I wanted to end my life, but because it seemed the only way to stop the torture of uncontrolled mania/ anxiety. If I couldn’t control my mind, then what was the point of living? Fortunately for me, I was given a heavy sedative, spent the night in Gunnison hospital and was then taken to the closest psychiatric hospital (Colorado Springs). The minute that you declare you have suicidal thoughts, you become a ward of the state and in the custody of the state. I was no longer with my family. I was driven to the Colorado Springs hospital in the back of a police car. I spent 72 hours in the Colorado Springs hospital surrounded by people much worse off than myself. Many of them were veterans who had attempted suicide, sometimes more than once. It was devastating to see what combat does to our young people, and how little support they seem to have upon return.
Without my family, without the doctors at GVH, I might not be here today. So many people who suffer a manic breakdown like I did, end up alone in the end, exhausted, delirious and just wanting it to end. If I had been alone, with access to alcohol/ drugs etc…. I don’t know what I would have done to end my state of mind.
The hospital in Colorado Springs was just the first step in my recovery. Upon my return home, I attended months of group therapy at the Center for Mental Health, as well as two years of private therapy. I tried several medications until I found something that worked for me at the time. For anyone who has ever hesitated to take psychoactive medications, in my case, they were temporary. Just because I started taking them, didn’t mean I earned a life sentence of pills. I also learned to practice self care and to address the anger/ grief over the loss of my mother and my father’s actions as well as some unresolved conflicts from childhood. I did finish teaching that year, but then took a year off to reduce my stress and anxiety. Resolving the shame I still feel about my break down is something that I continue to work on. In this hyper-competitive town, it is easy to feel inadequate when you see so many who excel in so many dimensions of their lives and never seem to falter. I want anyone who is reading this to know that we all carry our burdens, some just hide them better than others.
I’m a Mom in her thirties who lives and works in the Gunnison Valley. I’m here to say “It’s okay to not be okay.” It’s taken me roughly 25 years to reach a point of happiness I’ve longed for most of my life.
When I was 7, someone very close to me attempted suicide. I will never forget that day. That experience shaped me to feel I needed to help everyone around me feel OK.
But I did very little to ensure I was actually OK. I “faked” being OK for years. I got really good at it. Ignoring my wellbeing wore on me. Seeing my mental health suffer and my alcohol consumption increase, friends in college inspired me to tackle depression and an eating disorder. I made strides but was far better at thinking my pain would magically go away on it’s own.
Sadly, about a decade ago, my mental health plummeted. I’d reached a point I couldn’t hide my troubles anymore. I stopped caring for my basic wellbeing and I disengaged from those I loved most. Some days, I didn’t want to live. I had to chip away at my mental health struggles or I may not survive the pain. I made progress but my attempts at truly helping myself didn’t work. I felt alone, helpless and buried my pain once more, thinking it would magically go away.
Two years ago, battling postpartum anxiety and depression set me back even further. I had suicidal thoughts again. I spiraled. I was scared at what could happen if I didn’t get the help I needed. I was a Mom with far more responsibility than just myself. I needed strength. Strength for myself, and strength for my family. So, I kept chipping away at it. Small steps led to huge wins for my wellbeing.
Finally, after over 25 years struggling, a lot of support, and tons of digging deep within myself to give the world my gifts rather than pick myself apart for my faults, I’m proudly OK. The magic happened! It happened because I finally took care of myself. I couldn’t have done it without those in this incredible community who helped me see all the good I have to offer! The support I got from those within the Gunnison Valley may have saved my life. And, I’m truly grateful to now be OK!
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