Mental health is just as important as physical health

Mental health is physical health.

I preach that a lot on my social media because, simply put, it’s true.

At the risk of sounding educational and writing this like a school paper, I want to inform you of just a few things.

  1. Mental health is physical health. I said this already. Got it. But knowing this could help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. There are still so many people that believe depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc. are all made up and that people with those illnesses are crazy. And that’s another thing: stop calling people crazy that battle with mental illness. It’s not appropriate nor is it even remotely accurate.
  2. Mental illnesses are not only mental, they are physical as well. Ask anyone with an anxiety disorder. I’ll use myself as an example. I battle with pretty bad social anxiety. It keeps me from having a job like any other “normal” person. When I go out in public, I feel physical symptoms. It’s not just “Oh man I’m so nervous!” It’s also sweating, racing heart, and dizziness. That doesn’t even include the symptoms from a panic attack I may have.
  3. Depression can be fatal, just like any other physical illness. Yes for real. Suicide is not just something people do to “get out,” “get bailed out,” or do just for “attention.” I can promise you if someone dies by suicide, they suffered… bad. Suicide is the final symptom of depression, and some people never reach that final symptom, but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen on social media, even on my friends list on Facebook, that people still believe that suicide is selfish and that the person that passed away “took the easy way out.” Come on. That’s not fair and it’s undermining the battle that the person fought literally on a daily basis.
  4. “You’re making it up to get out of doing (this) or (that). Just smile!” Okay… first, that’s just not that easy and you know it. Second… don’t you think if we could “just smile” and everything would be fine that we would have done it a long time ago? Depression takes away your energy. You have to make yourself do anything. So no… we’re not just “making it up” to get out of anything.

Think of it like this.

There are people in the hospital with cancer and they of course are getting the help they need. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking ANYTHING away from anyone and their battle with cancer and chemo. But just like you can see cancer on an MRI or PET scan, you can also see depression in an fMRI or PET scan. The scan can pick up abnormalities or different brain activity in someone with depression compared to someone without depression.

princ_rm_pet_scan_of_depressed_brain

People with cancer go to the hospital to get treated, and so do people with broken bones. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, to the person battling with it, it’s big to them (Again, I know cancer is a major problem compared to a broken bone, I’m just using a broken bone for the example). Just because depression is “invisible” to other people (because as we know, depression shows physical symptoms as well), does not mean you don’t deserve the help, whether it be with therapy, medication, or even ecotherapy. Broken bones heal and they’re good to go after a month or two. But unfortunately, mental illness is an ongoing disease.

Please stop thinking depression or any other mental illness is not as important as physical health, but it is physical health. The brain and the body should not be categorized into two totally separate types of healthcare. Mental health is physical health and physical health is healthcare. Healthcare is healthcare.

The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

There is no health without mental health.

 

February 2020 Contributor: Kayla McKern

Trigger warning: self harm, suicide, substance abuse, panic attacks, bullying

This is really hard for me to write because people only know part of my story, and I was terrified to share it. But I was given the opportunity to share my story thanks to Ali! I also wanted to share my story in hopes of maybe helping at least one person out there struggling.

For the sake of saving time, I will not go into full detail about my life and the things that happened, but this is my story.

I grew up like any other kid in the 90s for the most part, but I was shy. I always felt like nobody wanted to be my friend. I would try my hardest to fit in and it just wouldn’t work. I never hung out with kids my own age, but I would try my very best to get along with them. I’ve been told that I have an “old soul.”

I would draw and paint, and I loved music. I was bullied a lot in school; I wore super thick glasses because I have very bad vision due to having meningitis when I was four months old. I was called “four eyes.” I started to gain weight and I was constantly bullied for it. I cannot express how many times I came home crying because of people making fun of me. They would call me “stupid” because I had a learning disability and I would have to be pulled out of class during a test or just to get help in my classes.

I would try my very best to “fit in” and to make friends, but it just wouldn’t happen. In 2001, my family and I moved out of my Grandpa’s trailer and moved to our current residence. Again, I tried my very best to make friends in my new school, but I was the new kid in school and I was shy. I would have a few acquaintances, but they all had friends of their own and it wasn’t until 2004 that I had a real best friend. I was 14 years old.

In grade school, sixth grade was the absolute worst for me. Kids would make fun of me because I had glasses, short hair with bad highlights, and I was overweight. That’s probably the first time that I discovered self harming. I felt like I was ugly and that I deserved to feel the pain. Sixth grade was the worst for me, but I worked hard at passing all of my classes, because all I wanted to do was get out of that place.

I started junior high, and things were still bad. I remember on the first day of school I was made fun of and then going home and self harming. In the next few weeks, I met my best friend Ali (who created this blog) through a mutual friend, and we instantly clicked because we were both in band and we loved music.

My best friend and music were the only things that made junior high tolerable. Then Ali had to leave for high school, as she was a grade year higher than me. Eighth grade was the worst because I didn’t really have any friends, just acquaintances. They would say hi to me and walk off to their own friends. I didn’t fit in with any group.

I hated middle school so much that I would purposely miss the bus, pretend I was sick, or hide behind the shed. My mom would have to work from 6pm to 6am and she would be too tired to bring me to school. My dad would already be at work. To be honest, I don’t know how my parents and I didn’t get in trouble for truancy or how I passed school.

I managed to get through eighth grade with my grades; I was determined to get out. Soon after, I was in high school and reunited with Ali again. She made school bearable and so did band class. We were both in marching band and concert band. Once she graduated, senior year was hell for me. I was alone and I didn’t have any real friends; they were all come and go. I struggled hard in school with trying to pass everything and preparing myself for college, but not knowing what I wanted to go to college for.

I, once again, focused on graduating high school. I graduated, and I worked hard for my diploma that I’m still proud of to this day. Then I started college, and it was easier, because I learned that I didn’t have to fit in and it wasn’t anything like public school. I could truly be myself and there were others who didn’t care about how I looked or the way I acted.

I started off as an English major, but after a semester and a half, I found out that I hated writing papers and it just wasn’t for me. I wanted to be an English major so that I could write for the papers, magazines, and even writing my own novels. I changed to a graphic design major. In 2011, I joined the Spirit of Northwestern marching band. Art and music were the only things that I was decent at. I’m not really good at anything else. I loved being an art major.

In 2012 is probably when my mental illness “unofficially” started. Things were getting rough for me and depression was creeping in on me, and the old demons from middle school came back telling me that I wasn’t good enough and that I was a failure. I went to the doctor and I was put on different depression meds, but not a single one worked for me.

I took a job handing out samples in a wholesale store in 2012. It was my decision to work for this company. At first, it was okay; my bosses were nice for the most part. As the months rolled by, things only got worse at the job. I was made fun of behind my back and in front. I was bullied by adults twenty years older than me. That’s when the self harm and the self hatred got worse. I would come home from work and I would cry my eyes out and self harm.

Then, I discovered sleeping pills, and they were the catalyst for my addictions. I would take them; anything to make me go to sleep and forget about what happened that day, but I became addicted to them. I became addicted to sleeping and not being awake just to be away from the pain for a little while. I then started mixing them with alcohol and became addicted to that.

In 2014, I tried to end my life. I wasn’t thinking about anybody or anything; the only thing I was thinking about was ending my life, to end the pain, and to just end it all and not exist in this world anymore. I took a handful of sleeping pills and laid in my bed waiting for my eyes to close forever. My mom came in to see me, but she didn’t know what happened, and I never told her. I was in and out of consciousness and somehow, I made it out alive.

To this day, I don’t know how I lived after that incident, and as I think about it today, there’s some unknown reason for me to be alive. The drinking got worse; I would drink until I passed out. Just about every day I would show up to school or work hungover. Nobody said anything, so I continued on my destructive path. I eventually quit my job and I tried to find work, but nobody was calling me for interviews and my depression was getting worse. I eventually got a job as a cashier at a grocery store and I hated it, but I pushed through and now I’ve been at the job for about six years. I found a therapist, and it was what I needed. I needed to speak with a professional about my mental illness and the demons that reside in my mind. Everything seemed okay at first, but things were only getting worse.

I was becoming a monster and I was harming those around me. I indirectly verbally harassed people that I loved, making horrible, nasty posts about them and called them names. I was turning into the one thing that had messed with me since I was a kid. I became a bully.

On April 28, 2015, I had to go to the hospital. I took some sleeping pills and drank. I felt like I was dying; my heart was pounding, I was shaking, and my body went cold. I honestly thought I was dying, but I later found out I was hyperventilating. I’ve had panic attacks before, but this was by far the worst one I’d ever had. It got to the point where I had to go to the emergency room.

It all came crashing down in that hospital room. I admitted to everything. I admitted to the day I tried to kill myself with the pills, the suicidal thoughts, the self harm, and the demons that reside in my mind from the past. It was all exposed like a nerve. I was placed under a close watch so that I wouldn’t do anything to myself or others or that I wouldn’t walk out. I didn’t know that admitting all of it would cause me to be put in a mental hospital.

I won’t go into full detail about the hospital stay, but it’s what I needed. I was diagnosed with bipolar depression, borderline personality disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. Maybe this is why none of the antidepressants I was on weren’t working for me. I was released from the hospital, and as soon as I got out, I literally kissed the ground.

As soon as I got home, I had to adjust to life at home, work, and school. It was hard and my addictions and old ways of thinking were creeping back into my mind, but with therapy, I would banish those thoughts. In mid-2016, my therapist gave up on me. He told me to never come back. I was out of therapy for a while, but I started seeing a new therapist and I loved her. Eventually, my insurance costs were getting to the point where I couldn’t afford it anymore. A few months later I got new insurance, a new psychiatrist, and a new therapist. I absolutely loved them, but in 2018, I was admitted into another mental facility because things were getting to be too much for me. I had school, work, and my family life to deal with. All of it was taking a toll on my mental health. Luckily I was smart enough to sit in my advisor’s office and confess to him what was really going on.

I’m still very thankful to this day that he helped me out. He took me to my school’s on-campus therapist. I told them everything that was going on. They eventually deemed me unsafe to be by myself and I would later be admitted to another hospital. To this day, my advisor still checks in on me and asks me if I’m okay mentally.

In 2019, I discovered opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. I would take them from family members who were seeing pain management doctors. I would mix these with alcohol. In June, I went on a cruise. My great aunt had oxycodone and I took at least 20 pills from her to feed my addiction. When we came back to the states, my Grandma and I had a huge fight. I called my therapist at the time and told her that I was starting to have suicidal thoughts. She said that she was on her way, but while she was driving, I did the unthinkable and I self harmed. It was the only thing I knew how to cope with everything going on.

As soon as my therapist arrived, she wanted me to go to the emergency room. From there, I was admitted into another hospital for my mental health and for rehab for opioids. I stayed a week to detox and to work on my emotional wellbeing. I was then released from there, and that’s when I would start going to NA meetings and meeting up with my sponsor.

As you are all reading this, on February 13, 2020, I will be seven months clean from alcohol and drugs and in July, hopefully, I will be one year sober from opioids and alcohol. Every day is still a struggle, and my mind wants me to go back to my old ways, but I know in my heart that I can’t do that. I can’t go back to my old ways and I have to keep pushing forward.

As I conclude this, I really hope that in some way, my story has inspired you in some way to seek help and to get the help that you or a loved one deserves. I want to thank Ali for giving me the opportunity to share my story.

If you are struggling, please seek help.

Thank you for reading my story!

Kayla McKern

2018/2019… let’s do this

(Trigger warning)

2018 was a big year for me, physically and mentally. I can’t say it was all good, as I lost 6 people within my family and friend circle. I don’t think I’ve ever lost that many people in one year. It’s been a heartbreaking year, an eye-opening year, and a victorious year. I can’t believe how much I’ve accomplished. I went into 2018 with a different mindset that I had never had before. I honestly still have no clue where the motivation came from, other than working my butt off in therapy. I didn’t realize my mindset was changing until it hit me like a brick wall.

The year didn’t start off great; my uncle passed away on January 1. I wasn’t as close to him as I had been in my younger years since we lived a state away, but it was still a challenging time. My mother lost her brother, my cousins lost their father. We are now upon the first anniversary of his passing and I know it’s not easier for anyone. In July, I also lost my great uncle. It’s been a rough year for my family.

In previous years, my “new year’s resolution” always included losing weight, but it never worked out because, well, I never worked out. I would work out or diet for maybe a week, maybe two, then go back to my old habits. This year, that would change. I couldn’t lose weight on my own, so I talked to my doctor and she recommended weight loss surgery. I went for it and made an appointment with a bariatric surgeon. After 3 months of preparation, dieting, and exercise, I had the surgery in August. I haven’t lost weight at the pace I would have liked, but I’ve still lost weight and I’m okay with that. I still have a long journey ahead of me, but I’m still motivated to get the weight off.

As for the people I’ve lost this year, it was rough. I lost a few close friends and two family members. One of them, though, hit me like nothing has ever hit before.

I started my mental health journey in 2014, and I won’t get into details with that, because I’ve talked about it in previous posts. I was checked into a mental hospital and then immediately started group therapy after I was discharged. The first person that talked to me when I walked up to the door was named Katy, and she ended up becoming one of the most important people I’d ever meet in my life.

There were times during therapy and even outside of therapy that she would talk me through it and help me through it. I remember one day in therapy that I was called on to speak, and I ended up crying… hard. I couldn’t get through what I was trying to say. Katy sat next to me every day, and on this particular day, she looked at me and said, “I promise you that nobody here is going to judge you, and everybody here loves you, including me. I’m right here. Just talk to me.” Those words helped me get through the duration of my time in group therapy.

I learned that she had a lung disease when I would talk to her everyday, but I didn’t know how bad it was. She passed away this year, in June. The bad thing for me is that I didn’t find out until July. I missed her funeral, I didn’t get to say goodbye, and I didn’t get to tell her how much she meant to me. It was heartbreaking. I still think about her and cry. I have never grieved over anyone else as hard as I have grieved over her.

As much as her passing affected me, I didn’t let it slow me down. I couldn’t. I know she would want me to keep working hard on my mental health, so I have. I have progressed, I think, a lot in therapy. I’m working my butt off daily to stay alive. Everybody has bad days, including me, but I get through them. Finn (my dog) is definitely a huge help with that. I’ve accomplished so much mentally, but also physically. I made a lot of progress in school. I’ve been getting out of the house more, but one of the main goals I have for myself is to get out even more. I’ve got so much planned; hiking, dog park visits, walking trails, yard work, and even just sitting outside getting more fresh air.

Health wise, I am going to continue to take care of myself. For so many years, I put my health on the back burner because I hated myself that much. I wanted to die so bad that my life didn’t matter that much. But now, I feel like I need to stay alive, and I want to stay alive. Some days are very difficult, and I still have suicidal thoughts from time to time, but I don’t feel as if I would act upon them now. It’s even kind of crazy to think about because I got so used to thinking I would be better off dead.

Another goal is to blog more! I’ve had to take a few months off from blogging, but I’m back at it. I felt like if I had writer’s block, then it was going to happen whether I wanted it to happen or not, and I didn’t try to force anything.

With all of that being said, I want to know how your year was and how you want 2019 to be. If you had a bad year, it’s okay. Not everyone is going to have a good year. And its okay to have bad days! Even if you have perfect mental health (and no one does), everyone has bad days. Try your hardest to bounce back the next day. I know it’s easier said than done, trust me. Depression is no joke at all. But stay strong for me, for your family, for your friends, your pets, your spouse, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, but most of all, stay strong for yourself. Because you’re worth staying strong for. You’re worth the life that the universe gave you. You matter.

Happy new year, and let’s have a great 2019.

Stop Spreading The Stigma!

I saw a post on Facebook recently that showed a picture of nature with the title “This is an antidepressant” and next to it was a photo of antidepressants with the title “This is a lifelong addiction.”

I can’t tell you how wrong this is in one blog post.

Because of ignorant people making this, posting it, and other ignorant people sharing it, the stigma of antidepressants remains strong. People, like myself, who take antidepressants are already embarrassed or ashamed that they have to take them, much less get called out on something like this. I don’t speak for all people; some may not be ashamed, and that’s great. But for those who are, posts like the one I am talking about make us feel so much more insecure about our mental illness.

Yes, I agree that nature is a natural antidepressant. But some people can’t go outside because of other disabilities, so antidepressants are the right solution for them. Is there anything wrong with that, or is it just that some people are so ignorant that if that person has to take a pill for their mental illness, that they are going to be lifelong addicts? Do you see how stupid that sounds? If it helps that person, what difference does it make to you? Why go around stigmatizing the thing that helps millions of people?

I’m not saying nature doesn’t help, because it does. We all know that serotonin levels rise when in the sun and outside and in nature. But what if it doesn’t help someone as much as another person? What if the antidepressant helps them more? Does that make them an addict? A crazy person? No, it doesn’t.

Some (actually, most) people who suffer with clinical depression can’t just “get up and go outside” like others think they can. It’s not easy at all. If you haven’t suffered from depression, you have absolutely no say in how someone takes care of themselves during a depressive episode. You don’t know what it feels like to hate yourself so much that you want to die. You don’t know what it feels like to hate yourself so much, you don’t feel as if you’re worth even getting out of bed. That feeling, that empty, worthless feeling, is real. “Getting up and going outside” is not easy, and people need to stop saying it as if it is.

Stop making people feel bad for what works for them. If a pill is what makes them feel normal, then so be it. Antidepressants are designed to help people feel like getting out of bed and trying to live normal lives. Antidepressants are not a “lifelong addiction,” so stop spreading those lies to people that will believe you. Nature is not an automatic fix for depression, but it helps a lot. I can speak for it. But it may not be an automatic fix for other people, so stop making them feel bad about it.

What works for you may not work for others. Stop judging people for it. Millions of people in the world take antidepressants, but people who spread the horrible stigma surrounding them and mental health as a whole truly are scum of the earth.