The Creative Mama » inspiring art, encouraging women

On Mental Illness

The Creative Mama welcomes Clair Dickson with today’s guest post.

I have a beautiful grandmother in Heaven that I look forward to getting to know one day. While I did spend time with her before she passed, I didn’t get to know who she really was because mental illness had taken her true spirit years before we met. Unfortunately, when my grandmother began suffering from mental illness in her thirties, the medical field was not capable of treating her illness in the efficient way they could do so today. Not understanding why her mother was so sick and unable to care for her like she used to, my mom took on the household duties of cooking and cleaning as a teenager. Decades later, my mom had her first personal experience with depression and anxiety. While very different from what her own mother suffered, my mom was given the opportunity to empathize with what her mother went through… and also her daughter… me.

At age 24 I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder with a tendency to be Obsessive Compulsive. Looking back on my childhood, I see that this illness was present even then. While in elementary school, I would get a feeling of impending doom when the windows of my classroom revealed dark and stormy weather. On one particular school day, I was extremely worried about my family because my younger brother was being taught not to touch the knobs on the stove. I was certain that my house would end up in flames. Standing in the hallway before school began; I took a deep breath and then raced down a few stairs and out a side door. I was heading for home, determined to thwart any catastrophe.

Later in life, I suffered great anxiety whenever I came to a crossroads. Making monumental decisions about my path in life was nearly impossible to do as my options seemed to swirl tumultuously in my head. My husband light heartedly takes the credit for my eventual diagnosis as his marriage proposal (or more accurately, my inability to celebrate the happy opportunity) sent me to the psychiatrist. The pressure of making such an important life decision was beyond my ability until I received treatment. The psychiatrist prescribed Paxil and after a few weeks I was able to accept the good things that were happening in my life without being suspicious of worst case scenarios.

As those who have sought medical attention can attest, a diagnosis often comes as a relief. Your suffering gets a name and it has a treatment plan. Hope is restored! Having disturbing thoughts was described as part of the illness. Having a thought that was uncharacteristic of my being didn’t make me a bad person or even a “crazy” person. I was a person with an illness. The psychiatrist sited an example of a horrid thought that might come to a new mother who suffered from anxiety. He told me that a woman with OCD may have thoughts of hurting her baby- like snipping off the tops of the baby’s ears! It is hard to even type it, but I was so grateful to hear him voice that such a thought could occur and that if it did, it did not mean that the thought was a desire. It would merely be an unwanted thought—one that frightens the thinker to no end if she doesn’t understand why she is having it. I was so glad to have this conversation before I ever got pregnant, because I knew that if I ever had such thoughts without understanding them, I’d be devastated.

After a few years, I transitioned from Paxil to Prozac which I continue to take today. I’m so grateful that this medication exists and that taking it enables me to be mostly free of the symptoms of Anxiety and OCD. I say mostly because the illness is still there. The medication does not and will not cure me. But, it compensates for a chemical imbalance in my brain, allowing me to function efficiently in life (except for when it comes to laundry,) and I am able to have joy.

It breaks my heart when I learn of women who live in darkness, refusing to seek treatment for mental illness because they believe erroneous ideas like “they just need to snap out of it, they are not praying hard enough, or that taking medication is a sign of moral weakness.” Would you ever tell a person with a broken arm to toughen up and get over it? Please don’t do that to yourself or let anyone convince you not to seek the medical help that will bring a light to your darkness.

I am so grateful that The Creative Mama dedicated an entire week to Post-Partum Depression and Anxiety. It is wonderful that we can discuss mental illness without shame and with a sense of hope. As I read each lovely woman’s article, I knew I had to lend my voice to the discussion and reach out to those whose struggle with depression and/or anxiety do not correlate with a pregnancy. Some cannot close the door and move onto a new chapter, as mental illness is part of a lifelong story.

As part of my lifelong story, I continue to suffer symptoms of anxiety depending on my circumstances and depending on the time of year as I relate very much to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Experience has taught me that there are certain things I can do to feel my personal best— getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, taking my meds, eating right, and getting plenty of sunshine! Writing things down on a piece of paper is my go-to remedy when times are tough. I write my irrational thought/fear in one column and the correlating actual reality in another column. Seeing reality in black and white helps me recognize and believe the truth (which is always better than the fear.)

I am glad to know that I need not suffer in silence, that I can voice my struggles and be understood by wonderful people who have similar trials. Thanks to modern day medicine and faith, I live with hope. I know better than to feel like a lesser person because I have a mental illness. Instead, I have learned that I am strong. And so are you. While I regret that my grandmother didn’t have the advantages we have today, I rejoice for all of us who do. And if one of my daughters ever shares a similar struggle, I will be happy that she is growing up in a world where mental illness is becoming more and more understood and that those with it can go forward in confidence.

Clair Dickson is an Army wife, mother of four, and family portrait photographer. Formerly an art teacher, Clair continues to enjoy being creative through writing, homemaking, and teaching new ideas and skills to others.

 

About Bree


Bree is the founder and writer of BakedBree.com, a recipe site that shares her love of cooking, baking, and entertaining with others. BakedBree.com launched in February of 2010 as a way to merge Bree’s love of photography with her love of food, and share both with friends and family. Currently, Bree lives in the suburbs of Washington DC with her husband and 3 children.

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  • countryatheart

    Thank you thank you for writing this! Less.than a year ago.I.was diagnosed with depression but i know i have had it for a lot longer. It is so wonderful to know I am not alone!

  • Ellersuzanne

    I just felt like I needed to share. Someone asked me one time if I had my life to live all over again (I’m 69) would I change anything? I was born in a time that mental illness was a terrible thing. People were hidden away in insane asylums or in their homes away from the prying eyes of the neighbors for fear that someone might figure out that Aunt Sadie wasn’t just eccentric.

    I was adopted when I was a small child and alot of my behaviors were attributed to the life I had before adoption and of course “bad blood” from my birth parents. I was ‘rebellious” “angry” “belligerent” “uncooperative””moody” and lots of others adjectives I can’t remember. I saw a child psychiatrist when I was fifteen who recognized that I needed help but my parents were more willing to accept me as a “bad” child than a “emotional ill or mentally ill child. It was not their fault. It was the time we lived in and they got way more than they asked for when they adopted me.

    Fast forward to the rest of my life. I had many relationships that never worked out. I had five children all who have been diagnosed with a mental illness which is rare I believe the statistics are 1 in 4. I also have a grandchild that has been diagnosed. I was diagnosed about 15 years ago with bipolar or manic depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder from being in a violent relationship for over 10 years. I raised my children on my own. Held down a 40 hour a week job, kept house, and played with my children after work and on the weekends. I could not have done it if it wasn’t for the mania that I didn’t know I had. My life was like a roller coaster up one day and down the next. The mania I could live with. The depression was terrible and all I wanted to do was die. Children should never have to see their mother like that. I kept the sucide thoughts at bay until they were grown and out of the house. My children never knew what Mommy was coming home from work, whether I would be happy or sad. But I loved my children and took good care of them. I know my illness had to have an affect on them but to this day they tell me how proud they are of me and how they could always count on me to be there for them.

    Today I work with people with mental illness as a peer support specialist. I try to help those who are going through what I went through. If I can make the road to recovery easier for just one person I feel like my journey has been worth what I went through. I would not be who I am today if it wasn’t for my past. Would I want to to born with a mental illness? Of course not! Would I change anything? If this was the only way that I could get to where I am then no I wouldn’t.

    We have come a long way from when I was a child. We now recognize that children can have mental illness just like adults and the sooner they are treated the more normal life they will be able to lead. I thank God that we live in a time that is more accepting of people who have mental health issues. I hate that there is still a stigma out there about mentally ill people being violent. We never hear about the successess only those who hurt others. We are more than likely to be victims of violence than to be violent towards others.

    Through a NAMI(National Alliance of Mental Illness) program called “In Our Own Voice” I go around to different organizations, groups and schools and talk about my experience and the hope for recovery for everyone. Anyone who is interested in having someone come and do a presentation can go on the NAMI web site and get more information.

    Thanks for giving a chance to share. Sue

  • Gina Boswell

    Beautifully written. It was such a relief when I began taking medicine for anxiety and no longer felt anxious every moment of every day. There are still times when the anxiety rushes in and threatens to drown me but now I know how to swim. I have a name for it and I know how to handle it. Anxiety can still manifest but I know how to keep my head above water. For people that can’t relate, it is a feeling of constant dread. Try living with that….never ending, never ceasing dread. I thank God for the medicine that helps me know His love and mercy, as well as helping me be a good mother.

  • Lkd Martin

    It’s so reassuring to read that your not alone, thanks for this story!

  • Ellajespersen

    Wonderfully written article, Clair. I appreciate the info about thoughts not being desires. Although I don’t struggle with mental illness I have had occasional irrational, scary and guilt inducing thoughts. You’re beautiful and very talented!

  • Lifeineden

    Mental illness is something we need to be more open with in all aspects of our lives, for our parents, our partners and our children.

  • PrivatelyPublic

    Thank you for sharing. I like your tip on how making the two column list.