I'm just going to start with the stereotypical introduction of, "Hello, I'm Elizabeth **shakes your hand**. I'm the voice you hear all over Direct It." I've always wanted to create a spin-off on my website where I focused solely on mental health, but I knew that the only mental health I'm able to talk about is my own. I don't want to speak for others, so I started this little corner of the internet to give YOU the chance to share your story.
However, I can't expect others to share openly and honestly if I have not yet done it myself. I've shared my story previously on Lizzy's Luggage (my former blog), but I've reworked it into a better *all-encompassing* story.
My first experience with mental illness occurred during my freshman year of undergrad. I started school with a lot of titles I would be losing and changing over the course of two semesters: political science major, sorority pledge, straight-A student, varsity golf team member. I grew up in a tiny town that, even though I didn’t like the size, gave me a sense of predictable comfort.
My first year of undergrad brought a lot of firsts: my first panic attack, my first trip to a counselor’s office, and my first realization that I can’t be everything for everyone. Forgotten were the words ‘outgoing’ and ‘extroverted’, and in came words like ‘introverted’, ‘homebody’, and ‘nervous’. While everyone else was growing in their new college environment, I was learning how utterly scared I was… of everything. My first counselor, who I like to call Counselor Craig, laid the beginning bricks for a change in lifestyle. I made decisions during that first semester that put me at the top of my list: I changed my major, I left the golf team and joined the student newspaper, I allowed myself to leave the sorority, and I let myself feel pride at a couple B’s on my transcript.
Although my mental illness was in no way "cured," my anxiety really didn't affect my life greatly until a few months after my study abroad experience. The laid-back culture in England seemed like paradise, but coming back to the fast-paced US society was a wake-up call. Even though having the knowledge that Counselor Craig gave me made it a little easier to handle, I definitely felt the stress of reverse culture shock.
I started to have more panic attacks. I’d wake up with what felt like an elephant on my chest. Due to my lack of appetite, I lost about 10 pounds in two weeks, a lot for a small person like myself. I started to get in these ‘slumps’ where even my favorite activities didn't cheer me up. I just didn't feel like myself...
And it scared the crap out of me. The thoughts and feelings going through my mind weren’t equal to the happy, 21-year-old I tried to be around other people.
Knowing that something just wasn't right, I was sent back to my campus' counseling services. Bring in a new counselor and I was back on the couch, telling most of my friends that I had ‘meetings for the newspaper’.
It was during one of these sessions that my mental health was defined as an anxiety disorder. Three weeks in, and my ‘little bit of stress’ was a disorder that needed a plan of attack.
This is the period of my life where I stopped feeling embarrassed about my mental health and reached out to friends to keep me accountable. I created a sleep schedule; I figured out how to identify the triggers of my anxiety; and I said no to projects and clubs that I wasn’t passionate about. I created a toolbox to reach into when my anxiety levels heightened.
It's important to understand, however, that this was not the “end” of my anxiety. This is one example of how mental illness is misconstrued throughout society. Just because I have a better understanding of my mental illness doesn’t mean I still don't suffer from it.
I still wake up some mornings with a weight on my chest. I still cancel plans for the mere fact I’m nervous about showing up. I still force myself to eat some kind of meal on days when the anxious feelings ruin my appetite.
I’m not “cured” – but through seeking help and talking about it, I’ve learned how to live a life that my anxiety doesn’t control.
Since my last counselor session, I've made a personal promise to never feel shame in talking about my mental health. It keeps me up at night knowing that people do not feel safe to openly and honestly talk about their mental illness. If I hadn't been honest with my friends, I wouldn't have created this amazing team who keeps me accountable.
As my undergraduate college's Mental Health Club came into creation, I had a front row seat to see just how much of an impact telling your story can have. By talking about mental illness and making it OKAY to talk about it; we started to create an atmosphere where people felt comfortable talking about their personal struggles with mental illness.
The same goes for when anyone brings their story to the public. I'll bring up Jared Padalecki because 1) I love Supernatural and 2) It's his honest advocacy that inspires my honest advocacy. He shared his story and now he's helped create a community of peers all working to break down the stigma that mental illness needs to be kept silent (#SPNFamily). He's also raised thousands of dollars for mental health awareness causes and charities.
His story impacted my life; just like your story can impact another person's life. Don't let society force you to keep quiet -
your story deserves to be told.
Interested in telling your story here? Email Elizabeth today about opportunities on the Direct It blog.