Daily Life With Mental Illness (Well…High-Functioning Mental Illnesses)

Daily Life With Mental Illness Vanessa Kingson

Bell Let’s Talk Day and My Updated Story On Living With Mental Illnesses

Today is Bell Canada’s #bellletstalk day, which as many Canadians know, goes to support Mental Health initiatives across the country for people of all ages. On #bellletstalk day last year, I shared a deeply personal story about my own Mental Health struggles. Without going into detail it in this post, it was a lot that I finally put out into the universe.

To share my story about being bullied as a child, being diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Major Depressive Disorder, and how I dealt with it throughout high school and university, and even sharing my battle suicidal thoughts, was something that I never intended on sharing publically. But the response was tremendous and by sharing my story, I helped others who felt like they could not talk about their own struggles or even admit to having a mental illness. Being able to share our mental illness stories and coping methods is part of what makes #bellletstalk day stick out as a very important day for me.

So when thinking about what to tell you all this year, I knew I couldn’t retell the same story as last year. Instead, I want to share with you what daily life is like for someone living with a mental illness…namely, myself. I’m someone that is classified as having high-functioning mental illnesses.

Be definition, this means that I do suffer from mental illnesses, but I typically can go along through the day by powering through or patching up my weak spots. While it may not seem like it, I still have all my anxious, depressive and obsessive thoughts, but I’ve managed to work them into my daily life and still go on with my day. Most people are still surprised when I say I struggle with mental illness because they see me take on my days just like the rest of the world. But when you take a closer look at what actually goes on in the day-to-day life of someone like me who is high-functioning, it’s a real eye-opener.

Starting The Day: I Can’t Get Out Of Bed And It’s Not Because My Bed Is Cozy)

When waking up in the mornings, it’s really difficult to gauge how “normal” my day is going to be. I’m putting normal in quotes because, really, what IS normal?

By society’s standards, normal is waking up, having a well rounded breakfast, getting ready for work, doing the daily commute, working away for 8 hours, coming home, eating dinner, watching some TV, a few household chores, and going to bed, only to repeat it all again the next day. It seems really basic and like ANYONE could do it. But the truth is, when you’re living with mental illness, the day can throw a lot of curveballs right from the start.

For me, waking up is one of the hardest parts of the day. I’d say that half the time I wake up, I find myself instantly becoming anxious about the day ahead. Monday through Friday and sometimes on the weekends, I wake up and find myself already worrying about my day. It goes along the lines of this narrative:

How will my drive to work be? Will I have a good day at work? Will I be able to concentrate at work? Will I be criticized at work? Will I have a stomachache at work? Will I look alright today? Will I be able to relax in the evening? Will I be making any last-minute plans with friends.

Yes. All of those thoughts run through my head as my alarm goes off and my eyes barely open.

That’s why getting out of bed usually takes half an hour for me. I have to talk myself into it with a little positive self-talk to counteract the anxious thoughts going on. Not to say that my positive talk is all that spectacular either. It goes something like:

If you get yourself out of the house, you can get Starbucks on the way to work. Or, if you get the day started, you have more hours to try and tire yourself so you can sleep. Or, the usual one…If you get up and shower, you won’t be all sweaty from sleeping—because, fun fact, I have cold sweats when I sleep. Usually from nightmares, but sometimes it’s just a side effect of the anti-depressants I’m still using

Which leads me to another thing: Part of starting my day means that I need to take medication to keep me functioning.

So Let’s Have A Talk About Medications…

Although I’m taking far less than what I took as a teenager, I still have to take two anti-depressants in the morning. This is a routine that I’ve been in for the past 10 years, so it mostly comes as second nature. But there are times where I’m in a rush and forget to take them. To me, it’s not overly noticeable on the day that I forget to take them, but if I forget them for two days, my moods are a little unpredictable.

Do I think I need medication still? Like I said, I’ve been taking anti-depressants for around 10 years. Back when I was 15 or 16, I was taking the maximum dose for my medications. Now at 24, I’ve cut back a significant amount, but yes, I am still on them. I often wonder what I would be like completely off of the medication, but in order to do that, I have to cut back on the pills gradually and in accordance to how stabilized my moods are.

This means, that yes, I do still make frequent trips to the psychiatrist to talk about my moods, my habits and my medications. I absolutely dread going to the psychiatrist because it reminds me that they are evaluating what’s going on in my brain and it makes me a little nervous (good ol’anxiety about anxiety).

What’s a Psychiatric Visit Like? (It’s not sitting on a couch and talking like its portrayed)

I don’t know if I’ve ever had the greatest experiences with Psychiatrists. I can remember visiting he first Psychiatrist like it was yesterday. In Kitchener, we’re lucky enough to have an Adolescents Mental Health Unit at the Grand River Hospital. I was referred to this unit and was able to see a psychiatrist there within 2 months or so of being referred.

That day was probably one of the worst days. I can still feel that sinking feeling in my stomach as I slumped really far down in one of the chairs in her office while my parents took the other chairs. I can still remember the sound of their voices, and I’ve never heard them be so concerned over my wellbeing. The four of us sat there discussing my day-to-day life before she asked my parents to sit outside so she could have a talk with me.

She had me sit alone in the room and started asking me a lot of questions about school, my personal life, my friends, my family, and my thoughts. Admitting to a complete stranger that you feel awful about yourself and that you feel so low everyday isn’t easy, and I felt like I was being interrogated. I’m not going to give you all the details about it, but I remember feeling anxious and like she was judging me—which is Social Anxiety in a nutshell. I also remember being so angry about having mental illnesses. Like I said in my post last year, I didn’t ask for them and I just wanted to be society’s idea of “normal”.

As years went on, I continued to see this psychiatrist and I eventually came to really like her approach to my mental health. Once I was able to see that she was trying to help me with her recommendations and with the medication, I was able to open up more. But then it came to the point where I was no longer an adolescent and it would be up to my family doctor to continue prescribing the medication levels I was on, and for me to continue with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as recommended by the Psychiatrist.

Around the age of 22, I decided that I wanted to change my medication—actually, I wanted to get off the medication entirely. Family doctor’s aren’t able to change psychiatric medications, so I was referred again to a Psychiatrist. It’s far less nervewracking to do the whole “Hi, I’m your Psychiatrist, tell me all about your life”, thing for a second time around, but it’s still not a comfortable experience. However, I’ve learned to accept that it’s just another part of my life that I need to do to keep my mental illnesses in my control.

I’m still seeing the same Psychiatrist today and I’m not entirely sure I’m satisfied with how he handles my mental illness. Although we have worked together to lessen my medication, I don’t know if he fully cares about all his patients, or he’s just in it for the money. In future months, I will be attempting to make a switch, because at the end of the day, you want to have a Psychiatrist that will listen to you, try to understand your situation, and help you with recommendations. They’re not just someone who should be pushing medications.

I eventually would like to completely be off anti-depressants. I am curious to know how my brain functions as an adult and if the chemical levels have changed through my behavioral therapy, being out of puberty, and with new coping mechanisms. I would like to live life without using medications to get me through the day.

So What Does the Rest of the Day Look Like Once I Get Out Of Bed?….This, my friends, is a mixed bag.

Some days can go really smoothly, and I can almost forget I have any mental illnesses. It’s days where getting out of bed isn’t an ordeal in itself. It’s days where I can get through without having the anxious voice in my head nagging all day long. It’s days where I can actually stay 5 hours at work before needing to leave. It’s days where I eat on a consistent schedule and don’t have acid reflux as a result of stress. It’s days when I can turn off my mind for a few minutes and fall asleep at night.

Luckily, I’ve found a lot of workarounds on days that don’t go as smoothly. With my job, there are opportunities to work from home, and I have a close group of family and friends who I can tell that I’m having a bad day, and they won’t judge me for it.

But when you have a bad day with a mental illness, it looks a lot different from a bad day when you don’t have mental illness. It’s days where I almost can’t function.

How Bad Do Bad Days Actually Get with Mental Illness?

Bad days are the ones that set me back tremendously because I usually am so high-functioning. They are days when my head is filled with every anxious and negative thought about myself.

It’s days when I can’t get out of bed because I can’t bring myself to be positive. It’s days where I sleep all day because I am depressed and it’s the only thing that I feel like doing. It’s days where I forget about all my friends and family because I feel like they have their own lives and shouldn’t be bothered with mine.

It’s days where I get so depressed and anxious that I feel like nothing will ever go right. It’s days when I still get suicidal thoughts that I have to fight back.

What exactly triggers these bad days is hard to say. Sometimes it can be a really petty fight with a family member or my boyfriend. Other times, it can be how I’m treated at work. And let’s not forget every girl’s favourite monthly friend. Because I’ll be the first to admit, my period and my PMS are outrageous—which I think should be another post in itself because my period greatly my mental health too.

But sometimes, it’s also a matter of doing too many things and overwhelming myself. And sometimes, it’s occasions that people find completely normal and fun—like Christmas. Christmas, brings out the worst in me. Actually, all special occasions or out of routine things do.

The Moodiness with Special Occasions and Basic Events (like dinner with friends)

Anything that has a lot of build up or extra emotions surrounding it brings my moods way down. Christmas especially triggers this off because I get so overwhelmed by the amount of things that go on in the build up for Christmas, and the notion that everyone is happy at Christmastime, that I just break down. It’s not that anything traumatic has ever happened to me with Christmas, but I just find it an overwhelming season and while I can keep my moods up for a while, I have a huge comedown by the time Christmas comes and the New Year Settles in. A lot of depression, anger and anxiety tend to be sparked because of the fuss and expectations over these holidays, like New Year New Me, and Christmas gift-giving.

This year was no exception, and I’m not ashamed to admit that! It’s taken me years to realize that I have months where I’m fine, and months where I need a lot more help to get through from friends and family.

Even with smaller, more casual things like going to dinner with friends or going to a new place for the weekend, sometimes makes me moody. I think it’s because I don’t know what to expect and I get nervous being out of my comfort zone. Although it’s not as bad as it used to be, I still can get socially drained fast and I sometimes need to step back from these events or let my inner circle know that I’m not 100% in the mindset to be there.

How to Live Day-To-Day Life With Mental Illnesses: There’s Not One-Size-Fits-All Answer

So as you can see, it’s not all straightforward when you live with mental illness. Every day is a thing in itself—it’s a day that either feels bearable or feels unbearable, with a few days in between where you’re just kinda in the grey zone of feeling.

By sharing what I know about my every day life I hope it can shed some light on how some people with mental illnesses live. We may not LOOK like we’re dealing with a lot, but there’s a lot that goes on inside the mind that affects what we choose to do, what we can’t do and what we always need to work on. And also, keep in mind that not everyone deals with mental illnesses the same. What one person deals with and how they cope, can be completely different from the next.

If you or someone you know is coping with a mental illness, try to understand that what may seem easy for you, can feel like a huge uphill trek for them. For people like me with high-functioning mental illness, we can, for the most part, hide it in our daily routines and it’s not obvious to most. But there are definitely people out there who are more transparent about it in their every day life—whether or not it’s by choice. Be sure to take the time to check in with them to see what their daily life is like and how much of their life mental illness consumes. You may be surprised at how different the lens is when you live with mental illness.

As always, if you or someone you know needs help for mental illness, please reach out and seek the help. There are resources available across Canada to help you live with your mental illness. It’s not easy to talk about, nor is it easy to admit, but it does make a difference in how you live your life.

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