This is the 53rd story of the Mental Illness Recovery Series. Sarah was at the bottom, but little by little with the help of loved ones and determination she has pulled through. This is her story:
Sarah is a Christian from a small town in Alaska and she enjoys many hobbies. She said, “I love reading, running and photography. I ride horses and go running with my dog in the summer, and I go snowmachining in the winter. I like going hunting (for need, not for sport). I love coffee and tea and one of my favorite things is to go to beach bonfires with friends.” Sarah’s goal is to graduate from college with a wildlife biology degree and to have made it without any more self-harm relapses.
Sarah was diagnosed with depression, panic disorder, general and anxiety disorders. She has also struggled with self-harm and eating disorders. But thankfully Sarah has improved a whole lot, she hasn’t had a panic attack in months and her depressive episodes does not occur as often. Even though she is still struggling with her social anxiety, she is able to do things on her own. Not only that, but Sarah said “I’ve only had four self-harm relapses in the last two years, currently at 5 months since the last one.” She believes her disorders are genetically predisposed from both parents and the abuse from her two ex-boyfriends. Sarah said, “I was emotionally, psychologically, and physically abused by an ex-boyfriend and another guy which led into the anxiety. They both were manipulative and played mind games, making me do things I actually didn’t want to do with them physically.” Her eating disorder stem from being made fun of by people at her school and family pointing it out, even though she wasn’t ever very overweight.
Before Sarah saw her therapist, her mother took her to a nurse when she was 15 years old due to panic attacks and was prescribed Zoloft. At the age of 17 Sarah switched to therapy and quit the meds. Sarah recently stopped therapy due to major improvement and her therapist agreed to continue as a ‘needed’ basis.
These are Sarah’s description of the symptoms she felt:
Depression: “I felt extremely sad or numb. I didn’t care about anything, and I felt unable to physically move. I would sit or lie on my bed and just stare at stuff for hours, or I’d sit and cry uncontrollably for absolutely no reason. I was convinced no one liked me or cared. I mostly was an insomniac, but every now and then I’d sleep for 12 or more hours.”
Panic Attack: “Hot and cold flashes, really sweaty, felt like a huge weight was on my chest and I couldn’t breathe, hyperventilating, light headed, intense need to escape and run, uncontrollable crying, my body would shake, and the room would spin. My thoughts would go at super-speed about everything going wrong and questioning everything- “Why did I do this or that, why did I put myself into this situation, this is so stupid, why am I overreacting, what if they notice, what if they make fun of you.””
Anxiety disorders: “Constant worry that I would mess something up, I was extremely self-conscious of how I looked, I felt like I looked fat and gross all the time, and it made me very nervous whenever anyone acknowledged my presence. My thoughts would get uncontrollable and mock me.
Eating disorder: “I could never think of myself as skinny enough. Fortunately, I never went to the degree many do, but I still hated what I looked like. I would hide in large clothes and avoided mirrors because every time I saw one I couldn’t help but think “I’m so fat what’s wrong with me” but then I couldn’t stop looking in mirrors and finding all my flaws.”
All these symptoms affected Sarah’s daily life to the extent that she self-harmed for five years and attempted suicide once, but made herself throw up before it was too late. Sarah said, “I couldn’t leave my dog and horses, or do that to my family because I didn’t want them thinking that I killed myself because of them. I also was terrified of killing myself because I didn’t know what would happen after.”
Even though Sarah is an introvert, she became more distant from her friends. The ones that figured it out made sure she kept in touch. Till this day they are still friends. Her relationship with her parents became affected because Sarah kept making up excuses not to go out, eventually she told her parents about her social anxiety, but they immediately dismissed it. Messing up the relationship for a while. This made Sarah feel mostly sad and trapped. She said, “I felt like I had no control over anything, and like everything I tried doing was just going to end up going wrong and there wasn’t any use in trying to do anything.”
After cutting herself 75 times per day and not eating adequately, Sarah decided to see a therapist for not being able to give a speech in her communication class. Her therapist taught her coping techniques. Sarah kept a record of her triggers, learned to recognize them and prepared herself. She’d talk back to her thoughts in order to control it and instead of self-harming she would call her boyfriend, read the bible, pray, go running or cuddle with her dog. Sarah and her therapist slowly expanded her comfort zone and now Sarah can go to different places. Others helped Sarah by talking through a situation and encouraged her to continue with therapy.
The lesson Sarah learned is that God will bring her peace and that opening up to others will help. Her outlook has also changed, Sarah is positive, self-confident and is careful how she treats others. This is Sarah’s advice for anyone struggling with mental illness:
“WHAT YOU’RE GOING THROUGH IS VALID! Look for someone you know you can trust and tell them what’s going on. Please, please, please don’t look to self-harm as a way of relief. It only makes things worse. I know not everyone thinks therapists are any good- but please at least try them for three or four sessions before quitting on them.”
“There’s always ways to get help, and if you’re going through a mental illness, it isn’t something to brush off and hope it gets better, or self-diagnose. And even if you do get put on meds, it’s always your choice about them, they do help if you let them, and usually you’re not on them for life. It’s to level you out so you can work on how to cope without them. They’re like physical therapists- retraining your brain how it should work.”
Sarah is strong and has come a long way. Help me make a difference by sharing your story.