By Rebecca Subkis-Fox
Physical health, an interesting topic, has been very present in the news lately, but how often is mental health mentioned? Not often, because those of us with mental illnesses are, to a degree, still stigmatized. The words depression and compulsion are daily dialog slang, but few people know what either word really means. Therefore, the general population still ostracizes us even though mental illness is a disease in the same sense as a heart condition or other serious physical ailment.
I have post-traumatic stress disorder with associated depression. While we might be more likely to acquire this illness genetically, environment is the main cause: we have encountered some form of profound human tragedy. Most people are aware that many soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by their battle traumas.
In my case, I endured two tragedies. First, beginning in my early childhood, I was molested and raped many times by different individuals.
Secondly, I spent several adolescent years as a street kid. Homelessness led to more sexual molestation and rape. Additionally, since I had no stable food source or a place to sleep, I survived by hyper-violence.
Vigilance was necessary then, but became problematic as I struggled to find a residence, an education, and a stable family. Therefore, I didn’t know that was sick until I continued my street behavior when no longer necessary. Sleeping with one eye open, so to speak, was a perfect response when I might have been attacked any moment. I knew I had a very serious problem when I still felt endangered after my street life ended.
My catalyst for change was pregnancy with my first child, a son. More than anything, I wanted his life to be the complete opposite of mine. I got serious about school and holding down a job. My husband and I rented an apartment and painted every wall bright blue and stenciled butterflies on the kitchen wall. We wanted our son to arrive into a happy, peaceful family who felt only unconditional love for him.
My pregnancy was splendid, probably because of all the ambitions and the hormones rushing through my brain and body; the first year followed suit. Each of his little triumphs in life caused much celebration: he ate with a spoon, spoke a word, took a step, and so on. Then, in November 2007, I stopped breast feeding and the bottom literally fell out of my world.
I had no idea why, but I felt like I had gone totally insane. I had! This is how the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder manifest themselves into a mental disease. Luckily, I had no thoughts of harming my child, but I do sympathize with, rather than demonize, women with such impulses. My symptoms were just as irrational. I wept often and unexplainably. I concluded that the world was unsafe; how could I have ever brought someone I loved so dearly into such a disaster? I couldn’t sleep because I feared that someone would break into our apartment to rape me and steal my baby. I was convinced that the neighbors walking above or creaking pipes were the perpetrator. I just knew that he was waiting for me to fall asleep so he could attack. Repeatedly, I sent my husband to check the doors, windows, and yard. When I managed to doze off, always with the lights and television on, I had terribly vivid nightmares. I was constantly uneasy and jumpy.
One day, the baby and I were sitting in the car at a department store, and I became convinced that a man standing near the entrance was watching because he was after us. I stayed home and stopped attending classes because I thought everyone was staring at me. I believed that they knew my secrets or sensed my inner shame.
I became psychotic from lack of sleep and began to hear and see things. Flashbacks finally led me to seek help.
I knew that I was very sick, but I refused to be locked up, and I did not trust doctors! I consulted my team of midwives, the only medical professionals with whom I felt safe. I am forever in their debt. After I told them everything they found someone I could see the next day. They gave me a strong sedative; I went home and slept uninterrupted for an entire night. They referred me to a woman whom I have been seeing for six years because she listened to me!
After she got to know me, we began the long process of finding peace for me.
I am writing this for women with similar symptoms; I want them to know that our illness is life long, but that our symptoms are treatable.
First, find a life coach, a term I use instead of psychologist because a life coach is a particular type of therapist. Next, seek financial resources if you cannot afford treatment and do not qualify for Medicaid.
Talk therapy is just one piece in our healing process because each woman must discover what works for her. Perhaps my treatment plan can be an example. Because I distrusted all men, and the prescribing psychiatrist was male, I initially resisted medication. Now, I take three: one for depression, one daily for anxiety, and one as needed for panic attacks. I avoid my triggers, circumstances that I know will increase my uneasiness, especially television shows including sexual violence and even certain parts of town. I have found acupuncture, meditation, and the Emotional Freedom Technique treatment very helpful. Productivity, which decreases depression and keeps my mind occupied, is essential. Also, working out at least three times a week decreases my depression, makes me feel stronger, and elicits positive thoughts about my body. The most important thing for women like me to know is that even though we were out of control at times, we can gain control over our psyches and lives.
There are three phases in recovering from trauma. The first is establishing safety. I have spent six years in this phase because trauma fragments us, and there is a child inside us screaming that we are unsafe. We must learn to comfort that child because we are now adults with that power. Mourning is the second phase. I have just moved into this phase and learned that I am still okay when I feel angry, sad, and confused, that I am safe and free to deal with my loss. Third, we assimilate, put ourselves back together, by bringing order to the conference room in our minds so that no one voice dominates. With treatment, we can be sad, listen to the executive functioning of our logic, comfort our wounded child, and learn when to appropriately wield the warrior. I have addressed only one form of mental illness, but the time has come to banish the shame associated with every form.
We must be self-determined and permitted to live without stigma! I ask readers fortunate enough to be free of all mental ailments to examine yourselves for prejudice and to help us fight for justice and equality. I ask readers with mental illness to seek help and cast off your bonds of shame.
Remember, mental illness is a disease and you deserve treatment and serenity!
I live in Mars Hill, North Carolina, with my husband and two children. I have a Bachelor’s of Arts and a Bachelor’s of Psychology. Aspiring to help others like me, I hope to attend graduate school.