My struggles with mental illness &the reason I stopped blogging.
Life got too real. Too intense. After years of putting up a wall of privacy between me, and my blog ( I never got too personal publicly) I felt that I would worry people if I started talking about these things, I didn’t know how to ask for help. I never ask for help. with. anything. – so I hid away. I’m not sharing this because I want pity. I’m sharing this because this is my story, this is my honest truth. I’m no longer ashamed, and I refuse to remain quiet about it.
Three years ago, I ended an incredibly toxic relationship. A relationship that sucked the life out of me mentally and physically. It was really difficult for me to see anything different when I felt so stuck. I gave up my life, everyone, and everything familiar to be with this person. After several breakdowns, I started to question what if things were different. I started feeling so alone, so terribly alone. I started imagining my life differently, without this person. And it had an incredible response within myself.
For almost all of my life, I have battled with mental illness. I felt it was time to be honest, to come clean. Hopefully, this could help someone. Depression ( and anxiety) has been my constant companion. For as long as I can remember. However, I remember one afternoon from my childhood as my first memory of these feelings.
I was in 3rd grade, my mother had just lost her youngest sister, Mary (who was only 26 years old). On one particular morning, my mother begged me to stay home from school to help her take care of my little brother. She was almost comatose with grief, hadn’t showered in days. Even as a young child I knew that something was wrong, and knew that I had to stay home from school. I remember feeling so afraid for her. So I did. I fed my brother, gave him a bath and put him down for a nap. After I cleaned up, I went to check on my mother. She had fallen asleep on her bed. As I came in the room she called out for me. She grabbed me, hugged me tightly, and sobbed on my shoulder. She was saying incoherent things, crying, mumbling and stroking my hair. Now looking back, this memory makes me sick to my stomach. She didn’t have anyone. She was alone. I remember thinking, “If I could only make her better, make her pain go away.” as a child the only pain I knew of was physical pain, I had zero comprehension of mental pain.
I did, however, persuade her to let me play doctor, something she always did when any of us kids were sick. She always loved having her hair brushed, so I did that. I also remember that day turning my Barbie box that held outfits and other accessories into “Hayley’s Doctor Kit” – I even wrote that on the front of it. Inside I kept a hairbrush, candy, and a big, pink, rubber eraser from school. The most painful memory from that day was that I told my mother that I had something that would help. I took out the eraser, told her I was going to erase all her bad memories and feelings, and I started rubbing the eraser on her forehead. She laid back, with tears running down her face. This moment haunts me. I was so focused on this being the secret weapon against her depression and grief, but I was too young to know what was going on. I thought I could fix her, erase her pain physically. Like she so magically did every time I was unwell. After she was calm enough to fall asleep again. I left her room, with my brother still sleeping, I curled up on the sofa and started crying, rocking myself. I remember turning on cartoons, trying to distract myself but I just sat there crying. I didn’t know what was going on. I was too young, but from this moment on I was forever haunted by the idea of my mother dying, or something happening to her. It was like our roles reversed that day. I started taking care of her like I was her mother. I often think of this memory, this entire year as the turning point in my life; the end of my childhood.
To this day, the memories of this day still haunt me. I can only imagine how she was feeling. She hadn’t really been the same after having my little brother. I now can see that she was suffering from postpartum depression and grief. My step-father was not the best husband. All she had was us, kids. It was at this stage in my life that I started taking care of my mentally ill mother even though I was unaware what was going on. I was all she had, and I believe it really, truly pained her to put such responsibility on me. She never truly recovered. She was just incredibly talented at hiding her struggles. However, I could see through them. I also learned this talent of hiding my emotions from her.
I do believe that mental illness is something that needs to be openly discussed and talked about. I hid behind my own struggles. I, like my mother, did not have a safe haven in my last relationship, a place I could go or someone I could talk to. This idea that I was becoming my mother really tore at me mentally. My ex was incredibly unavailable emotionally. He was not open-minded or compassionate about it. In fact, he saw my anxiety, depression, and mania as a weakness or a flaw. I had to hide my “weakness” from him. I can’t even tell you how many times he called me “crazy”. He was not capable of handling it. In fact, any argument we’d get into he’d blame my illness. I became so closed off, emotionally. Nothing affected me, I forced myself to shut down.
With this, he created a void in our relationship that made me find emotional support elsewhere. And I did. I found it from friends who supported me. However, it always came down to each of those friends questioning my being in this relationship, still. It took me nine years to pull myself up by my own bootstraps and end it. Nine years. When you’re so worn out and beaten down emotionally it’s hard to find anything to hold on to. Or to even see a way out.
I had never been truly alone in my adult life. After the breakup, I was truly on my own. Honestly, I didn’t feel any different. We had begun living separate lives before I ended things. So it made the absolute end of things easy. At least it was for me. I was so emotionally checked out and removed from him. Being on my own was really and truly when I started learning about myself. I cut ties with everyone and everything toxic in my life. It was hard. It was never about him. His absence was never the difficult part. It was that I didn’t even know myself, how to care for myself. I lost every single piece of myself in that horrid relationship. Actually, it was more difficult than anything I have ever done. I fell into a darkness that seemed to bury me from anything and everything I ever loved or cared for. Even writing this, it makes me nauseous thinking about it. I don’t know how I survived. I barely did.
After being in a shitty relationship for nine years, trust me, I swore off relationships at the end of my last one. I was really enjoying being single. But on a complete whim, I went out with Brenton one evening. And the rest is history. He made me feel alive in spite of rising waters. I was still reeling from one the darkest periods of my life, my depression was so incredibly heavy at that point I swore people could see it on me physically. It was starting to take a toll on my body. And no it wasn’t because this was the first date I went on after breaking up. I went out on some seriously horrible dates. Brenton just has an energy, more like a calmness, a sincerity that I was really attracted to straight away, within moments. He calmed me, he brought me back to earth, he centered me.
I had given up on Seattle and all the attachments I had with my ex. But Brenton made me see a whole other side to this city and has made me love being here. I’m really enjoying creating a life here, a life with him. At the beginning of my relationship with Brenton, I put all my cards on the table. I vowed to always speak my feelings if I feel necessary.
Of course, it’s still early days, but I really believe in being open to experiences. My heart has now weathered many storms, and I have to believe that it wasn’t all for nothing. I look back at the past three years and I am more proud of my overcoming this dark chapter than I am for any other achievement of mine. And of course, mainly because I am alive to share this.
Thank you for reading.