Disclaimer: I am not yet a licensed professional. This is based purely off my own experience with mental illness and education through my Master’s program. Do not substitute professional help with this article. Please seek out the proper clinicians to ensure the best care possible.
If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, or just needs to talk to someone, please call the suicide prevention lifeline: 1-(800)-273-8255 or text: HOME to 741-741 to talk anonymously to a trained crisis counselor for free.
I’ve had severe major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and OCD since I was 6-years old. I never understood what was happening to me. I always thought that I was the weird kid and never had any self-esteem. Soon after I turned 6, I had my first panic attack. The doctors thought it was asthma and put me on an inhaler. That didn’t work. These mental illnesses affected me throughout my grade school and high school career. After I graduated was when things really took a turn.
From 2011-2016, I experienced more events than most do in their entire life. I hit rock bottom after moving to Georgia, the change was too much for me. I felt like I was worthless, that no one loved me, and that my husband and family would be better off without me here. Then, one of Trent and I’s best friends died by suicide and I saw what it did to his family and all his friends. It destroyed everyone. No one understood why or how to process what had just happened. It was then that I knew that I couldn’t ever do that to my family. That left me feeling even more trapped. I couldn’t handle the pain of living through this disease, but I couldn’t stand the thought of putting my loved ones through that pain.
Instead, I stayed suicidal for a very long time.
I had a therapist who was nothing but horrible for me. She did everything you shouldn’t do as a therapist and made things so much harder. Eventually I decided it was time to go on medication. I kept telling her that I was having weird side effects and thoughts and she told me to keep waiting for another few months before we did anything. The woman was gambling with my life, just so she could get more appointments with me. I ended up going to another therapist and telling her what was going on. She immediately sent me to the hospital and I was placed on the psychiatric ward for a week.
Two weeks later, I was even worse due to the other medication they put me on. I ended up being taken out of my therapist’s office in handcuffs and walked through a waiting room full of people who watched me be forced into the back of a police car just to be involuntarily placed in another psychiatric hospital (totally unethical, by the way. Don’t let this happen to you!).
It was then that I knew things had to change.
I fought my psychiatrist until I was blue in the face to get the medication I really needed, and I finally got it. After I was released from that hospital, my medication set in and ended up being a perfect fit. I was able to spend the next year weening from 14 different vitamins and medications to 4 and was told I didn’t have to attend therapy but once a quarter.
It was amazing! Finding the proper medication combination and mental health team helped me to understand why I was feeling the way I was. They helped me to see that I will never be able to live without this disease or medication but taught me how to overpower the bad thoughts. They have saved my life. I would not be here today if it wasn’t for my mental health team and my support system. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, playing the matching game with medicine and therapists, but it was the greatest thing to ever happen to me.
Being hospitalized saved my life. Being suicidal saved my life.
It helped me to see what was most important. It showed me what mattered and what I needed to let go of. Now that I have learned how to let go of everything I was holding on to, my life has been nothing but bliss. There have been times where I have had little episodes or panic attacks, but never to the extent that they were, and I have since been able to slow them down or even stop them.
Nothing in life is worth dying for. At the end of the day, it gets better. It always gets better. Suicide is something people do when they can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s what depression does though. It masks that light until you can no longer remember what it looks like. You need to know that. You need to keep fighting. That light is still there. That hope is still there. Everything gets better. You would be amazed at how much life can change in one year. I went from being prepared to take my life, to finding my passion in life and true happiness. Now I am able to see what triggers me. I am able to avoid those triggers or stop them in their tracks. Life is too short and too exciting to end it way too young.
The Golden Gate Bridge Study – IMPORTANT! DON’T IGNORE!
I read a study on the suicides committed at the Golden Gate Bridge – the number one place in America for suicide attempts. They interviewed everyone who survived the jump and every single person (500 people) said the second their feet left the bridge, it was an instant regret and they wanted nothing but to keep living. They followed all 500 people for 15 years. At the end of the 15 years, only 1 out of those 500 went on to die by suicide. Everyone else refused to give up and went on to live happy and fulfilled lives. There are many studies done on that. Everyone regrets their decision the second they attempt because your survival instincts kick in and your brain snaps out of the episode. Survival instincts will always beat out mental illness.
Even though this mental illness is something that might stick with you forever, it only takes that worst episode to show you how to live the happiest and healthiest life possible after. Remember that God is always with you. One of our closest friend left us with a note that said, “Don’t let the enemy steal your joy”. That has stuck with me since he died. God will never let you suffer without purpose.
If you were to ask me (and many of you have) what my best advice would be for someone going through this, I could talk to you for days on end about it. Instead, I have written about 28 detailed topics that are important to understand if you have a mental illness.
Understand that this is one of the hardest illnesses to treat – it takes time
Mental illness is one of the hardest diseases in the body to treat. There is so much trial and error to the system, that is why it takes so much time. The psychology field isn’t even 70-years old yet. We hardly know anything compared to the other sciences such as biology or chemistry.
Understand that it takes a while to find the proper combination of medication, therapy, and self-care. You NEED to be patient and not give up. This is not a “quick fix” type of illness.
The most important key to overcoming mental illness is knowledge
You need to study yourself. You need to learn what triggers you, your thought process, and the way your brain is wired. Once you learn these things, you are able to recognize them. By recognizing these traits, you will be able to acknowledge when they are happening and do something to stop them.
Once you start the path to overcoming your mental illness, it’ll become easier and easier to recognize your self-destructive patterns. You’ll be able to understand what is going on, but you won’t be afraid anymore. Learning yourself is the most important thing you could do.
Okay, time for some tough love.
Nothing in the world will be able to fill the void that you feel. That is on you. You may have experienced things in the past that have led you to where you are, but it is your job to overcome them, not wallow in them. You cannot continue to “play the victim” because of how you are feeling. This “woe is me” attitude is what keeps you stuck in your current depressed mindset.
You need to understand that no one is responsible for making you feel better, except you. It is not okay to blame others for what you are going through. Again, it may have had a tremendously important impact on your life, but that is an obstacle you need to learn how to overcome. Just like a troubled marriage, you need to either let it go and move on or fix it and learn how to live with it. What will end up being better for you?
Once you can accept this and understand that only you can make yourself feel better, it’ll be easier to comprehend other things impacting your mental illness.
Whenever you have been started on a new medication, you must normally stay on it for a minimum of 2 weeks before making any decisions. It takes at least that long to fully get into your system. (The exception is suicidal idealizations, hallucinations, or delusions)
Understand that suicidal feelings and worsening depression are side effects of every medication. If you start feeling any of these symptoms during or after those two weeks, it is the medicine!!!!!!!!! Not you!!! I cannot stress that enough. Call your doctor immediately to switch.
Do your research and track your side effects!!! You know your body better than anyone else ever could. You will know what works and what doesn’t. Remember – the proper medication will not make you feel numb. It will give you your life and happiness back.
There are three different categories of medication: SSRI, SNRI, NDRI
SSRI – focuses on serotonin; effective for most people, majority of doctors start here. Understand that after 3 or 4 of these, you might not need an SSRI. You might need another category
SNRI – focuses on serotonin and norepinephrine; second most effective category for people.
NDRI – focuses on norepinephrine and dopamine; least common but must be considered. I am on an NDRI and it has changed my life!!! Every single SSRI or SNRI that I had tried (which was 8 or 9) left me feeling more and more depressed or suicidal because it was overdosing my body with serotonin. Instead, I lack norepinephrine.
When I was in the hospital the second time, I fought my doctor until I was blue in the face. He wanted to place me on another SSRI. We sat in that room for two hours and argued until he finally gave up. He told me later on “I went to my team after we finished talking and said “Damn, that girl knows her stuff. Don’t fight her.” Since I “knew my stuff”, I have been on that same NDRI for almost two years now and have never EVER felt better!!!
Understand though – even if you find the right medication, it takes a little while to get the dosage correct as well. I am on the highest level of medication for my depression, anxiety, and OCD. I probably will be for the rest of my life. I’m okay with that though because I finally know who I really am. I don’t want to be medication free if it means I have to be the old Sarah.
Therapists are not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal! There are good therapists and there are corrupted therapists. I have had seven different therapists between Georgia and Illinois. I had therapists that would make me come in twice a week and purposely bring up what made me feel the worst and let me leave feeling more depressed than when I came in, just so they could bill my insurance more. I’ve also had amazing therapists who do everything in their power to help.
It takes a while to find your perfect therapist – my therapist now is a gift from God. She actually wants to see her patients get better and she will do whatever it takes to make sure that they get where they need to be. She doesn’t do anything to make you feel bad, and she helps you to look at things in a different light.
If you leave your therapist’s office feeling worse than when you came in more often than not, you need to switch. It isn’t a proper match for you. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad therapist, it just means that you two aren’t a good fit for each other. Don’t worry about offending them, this happens all the time!
Also, many therapists are drawn towards different types of therapy. Not all types are going to work for you. Understand what helps you most when you are in a session (worksheets, breaking down issues, more hands-on, etc.).
This is HUGE and something that not many people understand. I went to the doctor to get help for my depression and they drew my blood to test my thyroid, as thyroid issues run in my family. Instead, my doctor noticed that my vitamin D levels were extremely low, so low that it caused me to go into a major depressive episode that lasted two years.
I took vitamins on a daily basis to help boosts those levels and actually saw a difference.
Check to make sure your basic needs are met
Piggy backing off the item above, one of the first things they taught us in my MSW program is that to diagnose a person, you must start by looking at the most basic of needs.
What do I mean by this? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating and exercising properly? Have you had your thyroid or estrogen levels tested? Are you going through menopause? Do you have an autoimmune disorder? You must first check and see if your mental illness is being caused by a biological issue going on inside of you.
If there is no biological issues, then you move to safety needs. Do you have a roof over your head? Do you feel safe with your significant other? Are you struggling financially?
Your mental illness could be a possible combination of physical survival needs, social needs, and need for self esteem. Your combination will depend on your situation.Your needs are going to fall somewhere within this chart though. You must start from the bottom and work your way to the top to determine them.
Relationship with God
Lifehouse’s Everything Skit – Watch this from start to finish. God placed this video on my heart the morning I wanted to end my life. 3:48 is the moment that saved my life and changed me forever. I was taken to the hospital that afternoon.
Ever since this, my relationship with God has gotten so much stronger. He has placed me on a path that I never could’ve dreamed possible for my life. That morning I threw my hands up and said “God, I can’t take this anymore. Please save me.” and the second I finished that sentence, the will to live came back. I can’t make that up. I’ve never felt anything so powerful in my life.
I believe that God blesses us with these burdens so we can see how much we really need him. Life has been so much better since I started following God and have gotten in the habit of turning to him first when things start going wrong.
Self-care is not optional
Get up, get in the shower, pay your bills, take care of yourself!! Whether it’s a hobby and something you enjoy doing, or basic self-care tasks such as eating right and showering.
Take time to take care of yourself. Depression, anxiety, and any other mental illness is the same as a physical illness. Your brain needs just as much time to heal as every other part of your body does, if not longer.
It is amazing how different everyone is. By taking this test, you will be able to find out what personality type fits you best. This test will tell you your strengths, weaknesses, etc. By understanding your personality type, strengths, stressors, and weaknesses you will be able to look at how these impact your mental health and see how it affects your personality type. By understanding this, you will be able to use your specific strengths to overcome your stressors that are causing your issues.
I have spent the last three semesters researching the concept of using your personality types to combat mental illness. It has been proven to be very effective thus far. So much so, that it has been submitted for publication. I say this for credibility, not to boast. This is something you really need to learn about yourself even if you don’t suffer from mental illness.
Change your diet
It’s true when they say you are what you eat! By putting the right foods into your body, you will fuel it properly. By putting a bunch of junk and processed foods into your body, those chemicals are going to alter your brain chemistry causing your mental health to worsen.
Understand these different types of distorted thinking styles and recognize which you use. This will help you to notice them and react to them when they happen.
By writing out how you feel, you release the same energy as you would by talking about it with someone. If you are able to get the words out of your head, in any way, then your body will release the ruminations and make it easier for you to move on.
The only proven way to help all people with mental illness. By exercising, you release the feel good chemicals in your brain. 30 minutes a day, minimum 3x/week. Even if it’s just a long walk around the block, that will suffice.
Who do you want on your school bus?
When I left the hospital for the second time, my therapist left me with this thought. She asked me to think about the people in my life. Do they make me feel good? Do they want the best for me? Or do they have a more negative impact on your life? If the second is true, kick them off your school bus! You don’t need their toxic behaviors riding along with you.
Have there been major changes?
Have you had any major changes going on lately? Did you just move back home for summer break? Are you going through a break-up? Did you lose a job? Major changes are extremely hard for some people to adjust to. I have an extremely difficult time with change. I know that when school gets out that I will have more free time. The switch from having a full plate to it immediately being wiped cleaned, is hard. The same for starting back up at school and struggling with being overloaded on homework and practicum. I have since recognized that I will have roughly a ten day period of where I have some issues with my anxiety and depression whenever a major change occurs. Learn your body and how it reacts.
It’s scary to give up your depression
Depression has a funny way of altering your mind. It makes it so that you have no idea who you were before you started experiencing your mental health. It’s a very scary feeling to give up what is your security blanket. You don’t know what to expect if you were to not have depression anymore, so in a way the depression makes you feel safe. Understanding this makes it a little easier to take the next step in moving on.
You can’t get better until you’re ready to
The next step is not being able to get better unless you’re absolutely ready to. Just like anything else in life, you’re not going to make the change unless you’ve had absolutely all you can take and don’t want to live that way anymore. It took me six years of therapy before I realized I was ready to let go and move on. When you’ve made the decision for yourself that you’re ready, it’ll be easier to move on and let go.
Don’t use that as an excuse to not try though. You must try to better yourself and keep your mind busy every single day.
Being hospitalized – best thing to ever happen to me
Don’t be afraid of the hospital, it’s not what the movies portray it to be. Being in the hospital helped me to see that I wasn’t alone. For the first time in my life, I was able to be myself and not worry about anyone judging me because we were all there for the same reason. I could be depressed and focus solely on myself – it really helped to make me ready to give up my depression. It was the most freeing feeling to be able to spend two weeks as my real self. I didn’t have to cover it up or worry about other life tasks in that moment.
Give yourself a purpose for the day
Small tasks! Give yourself a to-do list. Have two tasks on there that you want to accomplish for the day. If you give yourself a task, you are able to check it off and feel good about yourself for being productive. By feeling productive, you are encouraged to keep on going. By accomplishing something, it releases feel good chemicals.
Do not overwhelm yourself though! The tasks can be as small as fold the laundry or make the bed.
If you have a large task to complete, break it up into smaller goals. Look at the large task as the finish line and each goal is a checkpoint to where you can stop and take a break for a minute. By breaking it up and looking at it that way, it is easier to not get overwhelmed or down on yourself.
Force yourself to go just one more day
If you just absolutely cannot go on anymore, force yourself to go one more day. Then if you wake up still feel the same way, force yourself to go just one more day again. Do this over and over again until you don’t want to end it anymore. It’ll get easier and easier to keep going and eventually one day, you’re going to wake up and be content with who you are.
Create a life worth living
If you have lost the will to live with this life you have currently, make yourself a new life. Go to school for something different, cut off old friends and make new ones, find different hobbies. This is the best time to develop a lifestyle you always wanted.
Learn your triggers
By understanding what causes your mental illness to get worse, you will be able to be aware of what’s going on when things start to feel like they’re going downhill. When you realize that ___________ causes ___________ and makes you feel __________, then you are able to either confront or avoid that trigger. This will allow you to overcome it and know when it’s time to preoccupy yourself.
Find a support group
Make sure you have a great support system – mom, dad, best friend, siblings, cousin, etc. Also, check out actual support groups for people going through something similar to what you are going through.
By having these people who you know that you can lean on whenever wherever, you can talk freely without worrying about “bothering” them (even though you’re not). They really love you and want to be there for you. Let them do that. They are worried about you, letting them help will help the both of you to feel better.
Many loved ones who haven’t experienced mental illness are of the mindset that they are doing something wrong. Let them in, please. It’s difficult, but makes everything much better in the end. Don’t let them go on with this unwarranted guilt. Talking to them is nothing but beneficial for the both of you.
Understand that this will come in waves throughout your life – episodes come and go
For your entire life, there has been a marble making a negative and anxious groove in your brain so deeply engraved that whenever you start thinking, the marble automatically rolls down that groove. It’s difficult, but you must understand that with enough work, you will be able to make a new and more positive groove and roll the marble down that one instead. It takes a conscious effort to do that on a daily basis in the beginning, as your brain is automatically going to roll down the first groove.
For the entirety of your life, know that when stress happens or times get tough, your brain will automatically try to roll the marble down the first groove and make it easier for you to fall into an episode. This is just how your brain is wired, so you will need to understand that your brain is not set to be able to be on a naturally happy track.
It’s going to take work, but that’s okay. It’s worth the work. When you understand that your brain is wired this way, you will be able to use more logic to comprehend what’s going on.
Take this test with your friends and loved ones so they can see what your love languages are. By showing them your results, they will be able to better understand how to show you the affection and attention that you need to feel appreciated. By doing this, it helps to build your confidence and helps them to show you how much they love you.
Understand that the life you thought you wanted may not be the life you need/are meant to have
Have you had the “picture perfect” life? Popular kid in high school/college, sports team/popular crowd, great lifestyle, never wanted for anything, etc. If so, maybe you are living the life that you think you’ve been programmed to live through the influence of others. Are you not happy with your major in college? Do you not have motivation to go to the activities you’re involved in? Do you have the constant desire that you aren’t doing what you feel you need to succeed in life?
If you answered yes to any of the above, it may be time for a change. Maybe take a year off school, end friendships and start new ones, go on a vacation to clear your mind, drop out of that activity that you are a part of. Remember, you don’t have to live the life that you think has been laid out in front of you. If you aren’t happy, you have every right to change whatever you want to make sure that happens.
Your support system is a great thing to have during times like this. They will be able to help encourage you to go in the direction that you need to go in. It’s your life and you’re the one who has to live it. At the end of the day, no one else in your support system will be in your head or heart.
Understand that you can’t address this logically at first
You cannot start out addressing mental illness with logic. This is an emotional type thing and people who address it with logic seem to really struggle. Why? Because there is no logical answer to mental illness. The more in touch you are with your emotions, the easier it will be to understand why you’re feeling what you’re feeling.
Once you are able to understand what’s going on emotionally, you will eventually be able to bring logic back into the equation. This is called the wise mind. Everyone should strive to have a wise mind.
What are ways that you have learned to overcome your mental illness? How has your journey been throughout this process for you? I’d love to hear more about your story in the comments below.
Disclaimer: Again I am not yet a licensed professional. This is based purely off my own experience and education through my Master’s program. Do not substitute professional help with this article. Please seek out the proper clinicians to ensure the best care possible.
If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, or just needs to talk to someone, please call the suicide prevention lifeline: 1-(800)-273-8255 or text: HOME to 741-741 to talk anonymously to a trained crisis counselor for free.