Gabby Barton: The Start of My Mental Health Journey

Disclaimer: This is an incredibly honest and raw account of Gabby’s experience living with a mental health challenge. Some content, including descriptions of suicidal ideation, may not be suitable for everyone. If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

I’ll begin my story at the peak of my depression. I had started keeping a journal that I call my “OCD Journal” and one day I wrote an entry that didn’t hold back. I wrote it in the form of a poem.

Depression

Where were you when I needed you?

When I was alone and hurting.

When I was desperate for help and support,

Where were you?

Not here is where.

Where were you when I was falling apart?

When I wanted to cover my ears and scream,

When I wanted the noise in my head to stop,

Where were you?

Not here is where.

Where were you when I reached out?

When I asked for your ear or company,

When I went out on a limb and asked,

Where were you?

Not here is where.

Where were you when I wanted to share in my pain?

When I wanted to reveal my suicidal thoughts,

When I needed to cry in a safe place,

Where were you?

Not here is where.

Where were you when I needed someone to play

With Leona because I’m down?

When she’s suffering because of me,

When she just needs the joy of being a kid,

Where were you?

Not here is where.

Where were when my guilt consumed me?

When I was swimming in confusion and anger,

When I couldn’t see the right decision,

Where were you?

Not here is where.

Where were you when I couldn’t handle it anymore,

When the burden took me down and out,

When the decision was made,

Where were you?

Not here is where.

Friend, where are you now that I’m gone?

Friend, are you?

Friend, I think not.

(Author’s Notes: this poem was not written with one person in mind. There were a number of groups of people going through my mind as I wrote.)

As I sit and reread this poem I am filled with the emotions that poured out of me onto the page where I originally wrote it. Extreme anger, confusion, debilitating guilt, deep sorrow and misery, and crushing desperation, are just a few ways to describe my depression, anxiety, and OCD. 

The first time I ever thought to myself, “I think I have depression”, was after the birth of my first daughter. At the time, I had a superficial understanding of what postpartum depression meant. Thankfully, that was enough for me to realize I was suffering and that I should seek some sort of help. I participated in a six-week group therapy class that wasn’t quite what I needed, but it enabled me to learn more from other mothers about their struggle with depression and I was thankful for the insight.

Months later, my struggle with depression became a struggle with anxiety. I remember feeling so uneasy that when I would get up in the night to go breastfeed my daughter, my heart would be racing as I crossed the living room of our apartment because I was sure that someone would be sitting there, waiting to commit some sort of evil crime.

My dreams began to absorb my anxiety and manifest horrors in my sleep that would wake me up out of breath and afraid. Over time, much of those things faded and I believed that I was “better”. Life was a little easier and I felt like I could do more in life again. 

If we jump ahead to my pregnancy with my second daughter, we’ll really start to get to the meat of my mental health journey. At this point we had relocated cities and jobs and I felt completely alone. We were experiencing conflict with family and friends and I didn’t have any of my close friends in the state let alone nearby to lean on. I was exhausted from pregnancy and feeling like I was failing my toddler daughter on a daily basis. I was miserable. Let’s pause here.

The problem with having a superficial understanding of mental health is that at this point in life I would beat myself up for feeling miserable and complaining about my situation. We were temporarily living with my parents as they searched for a house to buy for us to lease out, we owned two cars, had food on the table, and we were all physically healthy. Who did I think I was for feeling miserable and wanting out? Let’s continue.

My birth experience was beautiful and everything I ever hoped for and I was sure that life was going to be good again. This time, I knew how hard things would be and I knew that I would likely go through postpartum depression. I was prepared and willing to take it on. My daughter is now two years and two months old. It has been the hardest and darkest two years of my life. We haven’t enjoyed it much. At about 3-4 months postpartum your body goes through a major hormonal shift and this is where many women develop postpartum depression. I was no different, however, I knew that it wouldn’t last forever and I would soon feel “okay”. Well, instead of it going away, it got worse. A lot worse. I was completely over-exhausted from lack of sleep and barely tolerating my oldest daughter as we entered Covid-19 life. 

Once Covid-19 hit, I had a new understanding of what isolation and loneliness meant. Feelings of extreme desperation were becoming a part of my daily life and I wanted someone to “save” us. Thankfully, I’ve always been a go-getter, or someone who takes initiative, and so I sought out a therapist. God blessed me deeply by providing a therapist right from the start that was a perfect fit for me. I began meeting with her virtually on a regular basis and we starting unfolding everything that had brought me to this miserable state.

Through many sessions, we deduced that I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I began to understand that it’s almost nothing like what the general public understands it to be and how it was manifesting as depression and anxiety in my life. I began to understand why my obsessive nature was an accurate self-observation over the years, but that I shouldn’t have just brushed it off as simply obsessive.

I could now understand why I so deeply questioned and doubted every aspect of every deep friendship I’ve ever had and currently have. I understood why I’ve always had such high expectations of these friends. It was a big breakthrough and I was hopeful that things would feel “better” again. But, as 2020 came to a close I found myself deeply hurt from friend conflicts and confused at who I even was anymore. Everything I had ever known myself to be felt wrong and chaotic. I was still miserable and seeking some sort of relief. 

2021 began with fatigue and misery.

As the weeks went by, I began to notice gradually increasing violent and/or aggressive thoughts and feelings. I would see someone in my head and imagine them violently injured or even ponder them killing themselves. My therapist and I delved into the topic of “Intrusive Thoughts” and what this means as someone with OCD. I got to a point where we were discussing my many intrusive thoughts that are of a sexual nature and how that had been tormenting me for years and disrupting my marriage.

If this is your first time hearing the term “intrusive thoughts” please know that they are very graphic and vivid and cause great anxiety and discomfort to the person having them.

Slowly, my pondering of suicide turned inward. If I hit a depressive low, where I was laying in bed for hours unable to move or speak, I started to desire being gone from this world. I never bluntly thought to myself, “I want to kill myself” and I never imagined how I would kill myself. It simply started as extreme desperation to escape the misery that was closing in around me and would surely permanently cripple me. It was a desperation so extreme that some days I didn’t want to get out of bed and feed my children. I couldn’t put enough thoughts together to even think about what to make for dinner that day.

I was desperate to be rescued and it seemed that everyone in my inner circle had deserted me and seeing as I wasn’t able to just pull myself out of it BECAUSE SOMEONE SUFFERING FROM MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES LITERALLY CAN’T DO THAT SO STOP SENDING THAT MESSAGE… my subconscious was preparing me to commit suicide. I became fearful of what would happen, so my therapist and I spent more time talking about these thoughts and feelings. I shared with my husband what was happening, which frightened me because it was extremely difficult for me to say “suicide” out loud. Even to my spouse.

Eventually, one session with my therapist, she interrupted something I was explaining to her and said, “I think we need to discuss the option of medication.” She saw the pattern that I was reluctant to admit and knew that if she didn’t intervene I would definitely end up dead.

And so, my journey with medication begins. I was never anti-medication, but I was fearful of the side effects. I was afraid of not feeling like myself or never wanting to have sex with my husband or it making me even more suicidal. Turns out, medication for mental health issues is a huge blessing from God.

I’ll skip some of the details but I went from barely surviving and thinking about taking my own life to actively living again. Life feels more than doable again and I can start to think about the infinite possibilities the world holds. There are so many things that contribute to mental health issues that I could spend days discussing: financial situation, physical health circumstances, relational issues, lack of community, lack of rest, etc.  

Please know that mental health is a complicated issue. It is never straight forward or easy to figure out. And it is on-going.


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