The Pain Beneath the Smile
As I said in the “About” page on my blog, my heart’s cry is to share my story of mental illness as honestly as I can to spread awareness on this prevalent but often hidden issue and to better enable people to come around those suffering. I want to shed light here. What I write below is hard, but real. I have been doing so much better since I started LENS Neurofeedback treatment with an amazing therapist 8 months ago. My life has changed and I am so grateful and continue to grow and get stronger. It has brought me to the point of now being able to look back over the years with perspective and speak up about my story.
For YEARS, I struggled intensely.
Life was a warzone. My brain was set against me. Darkness was my closest friend. Though I had good days and good months, so much of my life was lived in torment and misery from age 15-23 with challenging struggles even before that. OCD- all forms of it, but especially scrupulosity (religious OCD)- suffocated me. Anxiety and piercing panic coupled with depression left me scrambling on the ground, trying to just keep breathing, to just keep taking one more baby step forward in life each day. I’ve engaged in various kinds of self-harm.
My OCD morphed into acute, severe mood swings that looked like bipolar disorder. For a good couple years, I was “manic” one hour only to dip into deep depression the next hour for no apparent reason, doing impulsive, dangerous actions on both extremes. It got so scary. SO SCARY. I was afraid of what I would do. I didn’t know what to expect each day or each minute. I lived in terror. I’ve had night terrors where panic would shoot through the very center of me, creating this fear that is unlike anything else. I would not wish it on my worst enemy. And with my panic attacks often came this intense fear that God was going to hurt me (part of scrupulosity). There were days I couldn’t eat and days I ate way too much.
People carry invisible burdens, they fight battles that the naked eye can’t see. I’m not the only one. I share my story because I KNOW there are others who suffer or have suffered like me. And we need to talk about this. I battled in silence for too long. Someone who is swept under by this tidal wave doesn’t have the voice to speak up for themselves- they are literally fighting for their life. But it is incredibly hard when so often they have to do it alone because people just don’t understand. Or they can’t see the monster they’re up against. I speak because I can now. And because this cannot go on. It is hard enough for someone bearing up under the weight of this cross, but to have to fight when the war is often invisible to those around them is close to unbearable.
First we need people to SEE.
To learn and have their eyes open to exactly what this suffering is. And then to walk with us through it. I’ve been blessed to have some of the most caring and supportive people with me on my journey. I wouldn’t be here without them. They have understood as best as I could explain it to them, but this illness is still so invisible- it happens in someone’s brain. It’s not like a broken leg. And there’s only so much that support people CAN understand in the midst of it. Though people really cared and at times got clear glimpses of my struggle, I still felt so alone a great deal of the time. Internal screams, invisible tears, mustering up every ounce of strength I had to keep going. The nature of mental illness is still not a very known thing, unlike diabetes or cancer. That’s why I’m passionate about talking about it.
It is hard for me to write this. It is hard to be open about the things that have torn my life apart. It hurts, and it’s scary too. But it hurts, even more, to think about the countless individuals struggling alone right now. We need to come around them. We need to hold them up. Please, just listen. Listen to my experience. Listen to the experience of others who are willing to share. Don’t assume you know someone’s suffering before you’ve heard them out. Open your heart and your mind to what someone might be going through even if they look relatively “normal” on the outside.
Those of us who are up against mental illness are the unsung heroes, in my opinion, the “warriors in the dark.” We fight ‘til we have nothing left. And we keep fighting after that. Life sometimes feels forever out of our reach, yet we keep reaching. Hoping for new realities, believing a better day will come. Give someone a hug who you know battles with anxiety, depression, OCD, an eating disorder, PTSD, bipolar disorder, or any mental health issue. Ask them to share an insight into their story. Love them. Support them in any way you can. And if you are the one struggling, please know I feel your pain. And I see your strength. YOU are fierce and you are gentle in all the right ways. You are the face of hope. Keep fighting. There are always new treatments out there to try. Life will get better. Don’t give up. Hang in there. We need you, and you matter
I found this poem last night in a collection of special papers I’ve saved. I don’t know when I wrote it but it was sometime in the last two years. It depicts the agony I lived in and also the resistance, the refusal to give up, that defines those of us who wage war in this darkness but look it straight in the eye and say, “I am stronger.”
When you’ve got blinders on walking through life
And there is a rock sitting on your brain,
You learn to go by feel and not by sight.
You navigate life with handicaps that no one can see.
To everyone else you look like a normal person.
People don’t see the tragedies you’re walking through,
The physical and mental chains holding you down.
What might they say if they could walk in your shoes for just one day?
Survivors, that’s what we are.
We are the ones with quiet strength.
We whisper at night and say we’ll try again tomorrow,
The lion in us roars and we wake up and rise.
This post was republished with permission from Alexandria Wonser. You can find the original here. Alex has suffered severely with scrupulosity (religious OCD), anxiety, and depression and desires to spread awareness on mental illness while sharing her story. She wants to offer hope and help people better support those afflicted with this suffering.