A Glimpse into the Mental Illness Memory Vault

“Sometimes I feel like being me takes up too much energy.” – me, 20 years ago.

In 2001, I started documenting my journey with what we then called “manic depressive illness,” after being unable to return to college with my friends due to my instability and frequent med changes. I forgot about the following journal pages, but they are so telling. I struggled with intense lows, wanting to leave this earth and end my pain, then I would experience shooting and soaring highs where I wanted to conquer every goal in a day.

Here are some of the entries:

8/27/01: “All I want to do is cry. I haven’t told my friends that I’m not coming back this quarter… What kind of trick are you playing on me, God? What lesson am I going to learn from this?

9/5/01: “Sometimes I really do wonder if I should just end it all. I really do. Even when I’m stable, taking my 600 mg of Lithium, 100 mg of Topomax, and 25 mg and counting down of Zoloft (I’m hopeful that one day soon I’ll end this vicious charade with Zoloft).

What good am I doing here? What help am I to myself? Honestly? Why must I keep keeping on? Isn’t it ironic that the most inspiring thing I heard the other day came from the stupidest move, Joe Dirt. The main character, who lives a life of utter hopelessness, keeps quoting, ‘Life is a garden – dig it!’ I thought, that’s pretty inspiring. Unfortunately, I feel like any garden I’d be digging would only end up looking like weeds.

9/?/01 (post 9/11, which triggered me – as it did for all of us): “My thoughts are running together now, but I refuse to categorize them. Manic…depressive…neither. I don’t care.

I’d really like to kill myself. No. Not myself. Yes, maybe maybe myself. My body. I hate it. The ugly bumps. The red ones (med side effect). Hideous. My mind is going now. Going going gone. Like an auction. The auction of my brain. That’s how it feels sometimes. The pieces of it being pulled away from me until I don’t recognize the emptiness… because it’s empty.

If I did kill myself, would I see any of the victims of the terrorists attack in heaven? Maybe I could take care of the babies. That would be a good reason to kill myself. I could start the orphanage up there for that. I wonder what the name would be.”

The meds I was prescribed made things extra confusing, either making symptoms worse or numbing me completely.

10/22/01: “CRASH. I’ve been steady for a month. My weight has finally made a giant leap down without any help on my part, and everything has been going great. But last Wednesday night, I found myself despeerately searching for the number of my ex-boyfriend, as I recklessly drove down country roads, smoking Marlboro Lights I bought on impulse and listening to Ella Fitzgerald.

Every manic phase is different. This one was clearly mania, but clearly not like any other ones Iused to have. I didn’t DO anything destructive like I wanted to. I wanted to put the end of my cigarette out on my arm because I was so mad I hadn’t sptted the signs sooner. Of course, they were there. I dreamed heavy dreams the week before, and I had trouble falling asleep. But when I’m manic, even mini-manic, I think the scariest thing is that my mind is not my own. That I’m not even controlling my thoughts.

11/13/01: “Sometimes I feel like being me takes up too much energy. There are too many sies to cover up, too many extremes to variate from and I get sick of it all. Right now I feel so weary.

3/5/02: “I haven’t had a spell for two months now. I’m so excited. I’m almost like a normal person. School is kicking my butt. I started with semester at UT Tyler, and I’m taking 4 of the hardest English classes I’ve ever been in. I’m working with the junior high youth group at church and I looooove it. The kids are so much fun, and I like to be a part of their lives. Right now, my biggest challenge is getting through midterms week. Lately I’ve been trying to eat healthy, with limited carbs ad stuff, but I ruined it today by eating 3 pieces of greasy pizza and some chocolate.

3/25/02: “I can always recognize the sadness of a depression apart from any other kind of sadness because it takes over my whole body. It affects not only my mental functioning state, but my physical state as well. My whole body feels heavy, as if weighed down by a powerful pressure. My face feels especially drawn, like the eyes are constantly being teased by the presence of tears. It’s like I want to take a nap, but if I tried, sleep would elude me.

Life – and the continuance of it – the prospect of days to come – seems like one endless tiresome drama. My future looks bleak, and my past is an embarrassment. Nothing excites me. Not even the cute little puppy who keeps playing with my pen so that I can’t write straight.”

I was deeply hurting, afraid of my own madness, but in every picture from that time period, I have a smile on my face. My greatest joy was in babysitting, volunteering with younger kids and junior high students at my church, and being in my English classes. Everything else was too weighty, and I struggled to know how to live.

It’s hard for me to look back at my journey. Sometimes looking back throws me into a depression, mourning for that young woman who couldn’t come up for air.

These were dark days, not knowing when my mood would go up or down, what triggered it, and if my medication was even working the way it was supposed to. I was plagued by so many side effects: weight gain, inability to find joy, skin rashes, acne, hallucinations, and even partial paralysis of my face.

I wish I could go back in time and ask this young woman to push for more lab testing, look into gut imbalances, do some neurofeedback or yoga, give her supplements, and make her food that is tasty and nourishing for her brain.

I wish someone had looked at my diagnosis of mononucleosis and first episode of mania AT THE SAME TIME and considered that maybe there was something else going on, causing the symptoms and mood swings. I wish they were talking about the gut/immune system/brain connection in the early 2000s.

But I wouldn’t be where I am now, passionate about sharing these other tools, if I hadn’t experienced all that pain.

Instead, I’m sharing this because I want anyone who is struggling with mental health issues to know that you are NOT crazy. What you are experiencing is real. It isn’t just “chemicals in your brain.” And if you are not getting better, even with all the interventions you are trying, there are probably more tools you aren’t being told about. Start digging. Ask more questions; get a second opinion.

Reach out to me, I would love to help you dig deeper to get the help you need for wholeness.

They told me that I would struggle with this for the rest of my life. They were wrong.

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