My Battle with Mental Illness
I saw my psychiatrist for the first time in 2001. Stress from work was extremely overwhelming. I was working approximately 15 hours, sometimes more, a day, every day, plus going into the office on the weekends. My direct manager was very abusive toward me, in private and public. Even other workers commented to me about the way I was treated. They could hear her yelling at me. I had no time to look for another job, so I tried to put up with the bullying, until I was too physically and mentally exhausted. Eventually, I had a breakdown, and my family physician sent me to see a psychiatrist at a hospital.
My psychiatrist diagnosed me with Adjustment Disorder with Depression and Anxiety, and I was put on various medications. I took a few months off to attend the group therapy program at the hospital. We have a good health care system where I live, outside of Toronto, Ontario.
The group therapy focused on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I learned some coping methods, such as relaxation, and analyzing my anxious thoughts. For example, if I have an anxious thought, I try to be objective and ask myself: How realistic is my thought? Are there other possibilities that might be true? What are the consequences of thinking that way? How much do those consequences matter?
For the first year, I had a lot of trouble applying my newly acquired knowledge. A few times, my psychiatrist asked me what I learned in the program. He even asked me if I needed to go through it again. I declined.
Attending group sessions in a ‘stable’ mind was not always easy. For some reason, I was extremely fragile one Friday. Bad thoughts were running around in my head. I knew I needed to get some help, so I asked my therapist if I could see her after the morning session, and that it was important. At first she said no, but after a look on my face, she changed her mind.
After the session, I went to her office. I had trouble telling her exactly what was wrong. She asked me what I would do if I left. I told her I would cry in my car and maybe drive my car into a wall. At this point, she knew how bad I was. She tried to find my psychiatrist, but he was gone for the day, so she took me to the ER, and they put me into a room that was well padded. I sat on the couch and waited. A social worker came in to talk to me, then he left. I stayed there and waited. Finally, the ER psychiatrist came in, and by that time, I was so tired, all I wanted to do was sleep. The doctor released me. I was in that room for over an hour.
Throughout my first year of therapy, I had legal issues with the company that I worked for, and the stress of that hindered my recovery. The issues were eventually closed at the end of 2001. I won, but I became unemployed. My self-esteem was very low, and every available job that I saw seemed to be beyond my scope of abilities. I was more than discouraged.
While I was job-hunting, I still saw my psychiatrist. Somehow he knew there were some other issues that were buried deep down inside. I’ve always been shy and quiet, so it took a lot of patience on his part to wait for me to talk. Slowly, bit by bit, I told him.
As a child, my father physically, emotionally, and psychologically abused me. He would use a stick and hit anywhere he could, except my head. As I got older, he would slap me, and slam me against the wall. His fingers would leave bruises where he held my arms. One day, while being beaten up, I learned how to dissociate. I learned how to ‘disappear’ in my head. While I was ‘away’ in my head, I could not feel the pain, the yelling, and I could not respond. I was a ragged doll. I got very good at ‘disappearing’.
While I was getting beaten up at home, a classmate at school could not keep his hands to himself. He followed my friend and me around. We told him to stop, but he wouldn’t. In those days, telling a teacher would hurt us more socially, and life at school would be worse, as I was already a ‘misfit’ there.
I eventually got into university, and I thought everything would change. I was wrong. In my first year, someone I thought was a friend sexually assaulted me. I told no one, because I thought it was my fault. A couple of years later in a library, someone made sexual advances on me, even touching me. I was talking on the phone with a friend, and she heard everything.
I believed it was my fault, all of it. Why else would so many people make sexual advances on me? They didn’t know each other. Somehow I was giving out signals. That was the only thing that made sense. I was afraid of being touched by a male, and soon, I was afraid of socializing, afraid of people, male and female.
I knew people in general like ‘happy’ and sociable people. With a lot of practice, I got good at pretending to be happy. While I would smile on the outside, I was really crying. Same thing when it came to being sociable. I could talk and interact nicely with people, but I was shaking like a leaf inside and wishing there was a closet I could hide in.
As my psychiatrist explained, the way I was brought up, and all the things that happened to me shaped me to be what I am today. As my ‘life events’ came out, I was diagnosed with Social Phobia, Avoidant Personality Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. I always knew I was a complicated person, I just didn’t know how complicated.
My support system at the time consisted of my doctors, the people in the therapy group, my lawyer, friends, and my family. By this time, my father had mellowed out and stopped the abuse. My family was very understanding, but only to a certain point. It was only after the problems with the company that I worked for that I realized the truth. My family could understand that someone could be depressed if something very stressful happened, but they could not understand that a person can be mentally ill without having a big trigger. They believed that if someone had mental illness, then it was their own doing. I was a little surprised at that because one of my cousins committed suicide when he was living with us.
My sister-in-law found a job for me in her company. It was a good job, good money, and good benefits. I was anxious to make sure that I did my job well, and every day, I would have a candy, or two, on the drive home. Having a candy was my way of dealing with stress. Although my managers and co-workers liked me, I was let go a couple of months after my probation period, due to ‘not fitting in’ with the company culture.
I was crying for days, not knowing what I did wrong, whom I offended. Being told that I did not ‘fit in’ was not a kind of reason that I could understand when I was well liked. What I found out was that they had to downsize another department and one of the people there had higher seniority than me, so that person got ‘transferred’ to my job.
Knowing why I got terminated did not help. I felt that no matter how hard I tried, I wouldn’t be able to keep a job. My depression and anxiety came right back. I was very discouraged, to say the least. I was a loser.
Story, P. (2020). My Battle with Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 3, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/my-battle-with-mental-illness/