Disclaimer: This is a personal account of Patricia’s experience living with mental health challenges. 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.
It’s hard to tell your mental health story. It’s hard to know where to start. What details to include or what to neatly summarize. What were early signs and what was inconsequential. I mean let’s be real, it’s a lifetime of thoughts and experiences put into about a thousand and a half words. I’ll do my best.
This is a story about my own mental health struggles. Not the part of my story of the wife to a husband who would eventually be diagnosed with Bipolar Type 1 in our twelfth year of marriage. I’ll write about that at some point but for now I want to focus on my personal journey that would eventually lead to a diagnosis of major depression and severe social anxiety.
I was a nervous child
A thumb sucker until 9 years old, a nail biter, a skin and nose picker. I was told often that I was too sensitive, too whiny, and called a cry baby. In school I was shy, quiet and tried to keep to myself though I had a few close friends. I would cry when someone looked at me sideways, or the teacher told me to throw away my gum. The world felt too big and I was confused while wandering around in it. By high school I was content to do my own thing. I still got bullied and struggled to make sense of friendships. Didn’t date. For the most part I was okay being a loner. It wasn’t until college that I sought relief. I turned to marijuana to escape that whole first couple years of adulthood. I’d avoid class as much as possible. Made lots of mistakes between 2003-05.
Then I met Jared…
At my friends’ party in Coolidge. I was smitten. I didn’t want to spend time with anyone else from then on. It’s pretty wild looking back and seeing how much happened in just one year. After a few months (and a few breakups) We got engaged. Then he led me to Jesus in his childhood bedroom on his bunk bed. I dropped out of school and we got married one year after we’d met.
My memory is pretty fuzzy but somewhere in that year I saw a Psychiatrist by my mom’s push. I remember being put on medication. At some point Jared and I were driving to Casa Grande and got into an argument. I couldn’t handle the confrontation so I yelled, “Pull over!” and didn’t wait for him to stop before opening the door and jumping out of the car. I was okay. We weren’t going very fast. I cold stopped the medication. I didn’t like the way my mind felt and when I complained to the doctor he’d up the dose. This angered me. I chocked my temper up to being young, in love and hormonal and didn’t give the medication or doctor any more thought.
I don’t remember caring much about my temperament, it wasn’t inconvenient to me, it was just me.Then we started attending church together and I found I needed to retreat from the pressure of social interaction. On Sundays I would find an empty dark room, I’d try to calm my senses and even try to sleep while others were in the service or mingling. I’d begun having panic attacks. I felt simply overwhelmed, but I would get through.
We had our first son in 2007. We moved to Picacho, AZ to work as youth leaders in the small First Baptist church off of I-10. It was in our three years there that I really began to feel lonely, afraid and haunted. I thought I was in over my head. I loved Jesus but I didn’t know the first thing about being a mom, wife or even a Christian woman.
These were the hardest years. But there was a silver lining. I learned to read the Bible for myself. To cook and create a home. I was up to the task of being a homemaker. It was hard but rewarding. I would try to ignore the fears and worries that would keep me awake at night and instead focus on my toddler, focus on mentoring the teens in our youth group. I believed God wanted me to pour myself out for others. That he saved me and now it was my duty to say Yes to anything that came my way.
Fast forward to 2016. We now have three boys and live in Tucson. I’m providing childcare out of our home, and active in the church we love. We host a weekly community group. I love everyone around me but I feel off. Trapped. Numb. I noticed that I didn’t laugh the way I saw others laugh. I was bone tired and often would cry uncontrollably. I became ashamed by what I saw as my personal failure. Forgetting to use a coupon for a grocery item, or losing my grocery list would bring me to tears. I felt I wasn’t enough for Jared, for my boys or my friends. I wasn’t cut out for this life. I had become empty and life was frightening.
At this point I knew something was wrong. But I didn’t think it was illness. I thought I wasn’t trying hard enough. Maybe I needed to be more organized. Then I began to feel dirty. My past began to haunt me. I’d have flashbacks of my college years that would cripple me. I started to think that life was too hard. That everyone would be better off without me. That I could never be what I needed to be. I was too broken. One day I had a sort of vision after weeping alone in my bed. A picture in my mind that my blood needed to spill to make things right. My crying settled and as soon as I accepted this thought I had another imagine that my blood was useless, spoiled. Spilling my own could not atone. instead that Jesus’ blood did spill for me. His cleansing and perfect blood was for me. I imagined it pouring over me. Graphic but I was filled with acceptance.
A Healing Journey
I reached out to an older woman in our church and told her how terrible I’d been feeling. She offered to pray for me at her home and asked if she couldn’t invite a friend to join. On her living room couch I weeped under their prayers and felt huge relief. They walked me through my traumas and my deepest fears reminding me that Jesus was there and hurt with me. Their willingness to give me space to speak the hardest parts of myself out loud in safety was life changing. Her friend who joined invited me to attend her twenty-nine week bible study course called The Healing Journey. This was a big commitment and I couldn’t have done it without my mom’s help watching my boys. It became massive for me. It helped me to see my core beliefs that weren’t in line with scripture. Helped me to forgive myself and my abusers. It helped me to put my history into perspective and see God as my Protector, Provider and source of Power. I would no longer play the victim.
But I still struggled. By 2017 I’d been having gastrointestinal episodes for months. Occurring, on average, every 3 weeks, I’d have nights like clockwork that would start with pain radiating down my neck and arm. I’d get chilled to the point that my teeth would chatter, and had racing thoughts and severe abdominal pain. I thought I had developed a food allergy or Crohn’s disease. I joked that it’s like my body is evacuating. EVERYONE OUT! I became exhausted. Lost weight and was so ashamed that I couldn’t get this under control.
I saw a gastroenterologist who did an endoscopy and told me that aside from my hiatal hernia there was nothing here. The episodes were being triggered psychologically. It was coming from my brain.
Um NO. I denied pursuing that kind of help for nearly two years. The vomiting episodes continued regularly. A close friend, and my oldest sister, insisted I look into antidepressants. But I believed medication was the last option. That it would change me. Like a veil I would be separated from life. I believed that I could get a hold of this if I just tried harder.
Finally in 2019 after over two years of this illness. I made the appointment. I was diagnosed with major depression and severe social anxiety and started on multiple medications. An antidepressant, sleep aid and beta-blocker. Within a month or so I saw the gloom lifting. I noticed that I no longer felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. That doom wasn’t waiting around every corner. I met a friend that made me laugh so hard my sides would hurt. I began enjoying my decision to homeschool the boys. Jared’s jokes were actually funny again!
I started talk therapy. I learned to start setting boundaries. My new mantra became “if it’s not a Hell YES then it’s a no”. I was challenged to stop obsessing over my weight.
I learned that late nights, skipping meals on busy days, and coffee are anxiety triggers for me. That my nights of illness are actually panic attacks. If I’m mindful, breathing, and staying in my body I can avoid the panic getting out of control.
Two years later I’m still working on finding ways to manage my symptoms. So far this 2021 I’ve had two episodes. I’m still on medication and may be forever. Or I may have to experiment with different meds if they stop working. I don’t know. I’m in therapy and setting limits for myself. Joined the gym! I’m learning to be gentle with myself and others. Learning that I’m not a machine. I need rest. That my body can be pushed beyond its capacity and it’s my responsibility to respect its limits. I’m okay even if I’m not the mom, wife or Christian of Instagram and Pinterest. I’m learning that I am more sensitive to stimulation than others, I’m empathetic, and crying is necessary sometimes and not a weakness. But there’s hope and light to be found in it all. I have hope. I’m my own advocate. Being a strong Christian and present mom/friend/wife doesn’t mean I have to say YES to every opportunity.
God is with me and can still use me. I desperately want others to know the relief and acceptance I’ve now gotten to know. I couldn’t have found any of this freedom without my faith, close friends, family, and my husband. Who have endured this storm and comforted my rolling mind. And my doctors and therapists who have given me the tools, wisdom and medication.
Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.
I leave you here with some of the scriptures that have been especially helpful to me.
“For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.” Psalm 18:28
“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15b
“Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” Isaiah 30:18
“And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” Isaiah 32:17
“The LORD is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.” Isaiah 33:5-6
“You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:9b-10
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…” 1 Pet 1:8
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