At no point in one’s life do they ask to be strapped into the front seat of the bizarre and troublesome roller coaster car that is mental illness. Often no matter how many times in how many different ways we try to get the trip to stop, it doesn’t. Have you ever asked yourself how and when you boarded this ride in the first place?

For me it was essentially a sleeper agent explosive device that built up through childhood trauma that I didn’t know how to or couldn’t cope with, and had no outlet for. When I was 19, about to graduate high school, it quickly began to activate when I had my first panic attack in class.

The only mechanism I had in life to deal was to shove it down, stop feeling feelings, and forge on. Then when I couldn’t bear it anymore I would cry and cry in my room alone just to get some sort of release. It wasn’t enough. I had the weight of the world on my teenaged bird shoulders. But I also didn’t know any different, it was just always my norm. I was a sad, angry, hurt little girl inside who wanted nothing but the opposite of all that, yet had no real means and no idea how to make that a reality.

So by the time my senior project was coming due which my graduation was dependent upon, I was waiting tables part time, had a full load of classes I was struggling with due to unrecognized ADHD, my unwanted immediate college future ahead of me, and a completely dysfunctional family household to deal with, it all came crashing down on me when I wasn’t liking the painting I was working on in art class. I told my teacher I couldn’t do it, and she looked at me and said “Maybe you can’t”. We both knew better, but it was the incident that finally broke me and I could never look back after that.

My face flushed, I felt my whole body get hot and start to shake. My eyes welled up with tears as my breathing turned to hyperventilation. I felt like I was about to lose control and explode, I got scared. I tried so hard to hide it but as my teacher made that comment and began to walk away, she looked back and immediately recognized what was going on. Thank god she did, I had no idea. She took me outside for some fresh air and I told her I didn’t understand what was happening. She empathetically exclaimed it was just all the pressure getting to me, and to go walk it off and come back when I was ready.

Oh…so THAT’S what was happening every time something would trigger me and I’d break down at home alone in my room. I’d always taken pride in my control of myself in public that when I lost it in class it crossed my mind that I was losing my mind. That was only the beginning.

I moved out of my parents house at 20 with my college boyfriend. I absolutely had to get out from the oppression I was living under at home. I was making strides by leaving, but I didn’t realize I was moving from one dysfunctional home to another. He was consistently triggering me, too. Because I was always so hard on myself, everything always fell on me, and I had no concept of triggers and their subsequent repercussions, I blamed it all on myself.

I continued to go more inward as my illness continued to move outward and make its presence known in my life. The few times I was able to put my ego aside and reach out to a loved one for help explaining I really felt like I needed professional help I was told “No you don’t, it’s in your head”, or “Sorry, don’t know what to tell you”. I began self-medicating with alcohol and prescription drugs. I made a lot of really bad, scary, and dangerous decisions. I went through a few more dysfunctional relationships, and with my family situation ever loomimg over my head I decided I had to get out of Dodge. I had to go away if I was ever going to be able to heal and grow.

I moved from Northern California to Southern California at 22 where it all came to a head. Finally my emotional metal robot armor began flying off as these major fundamental changes in my life began triggering me constantly, seriously degrading my quality of life. I would try to talk about it with peers here and there as I literally felt and thought I was losing my mind and spinning out of control. Every aspect of life suffered and so began the myriad of times I would be told to “Get over it and move on”, or beseeched “What do you have to be depressed about?”. I wasn’t having it. I finally made my first therapy appointment. The rest is another blog post or 5.

So, when you consider that my entry onto the rollercoaster ride began with the seeds being quietly planted at a very young age, and flowering in my teens and early 20’s, let’s looks at some numbers regarding onset and development of mental illness…

Unlike most disabling physical diseases, mental illness begins very early in life. Half of all lifetime cases begin by age 14; three quarters have begun by age 24. Thus, mental disorders are really the chronic diseases of the young. For example, anxiety disorders often begin in late childhood, mood disorders in late adolescence, and substance abuse in the early 20’s. Unlike heart disease or most cancers, young people with mental disorders suffer disability when they are in the prime of life, when they would normally be the most productive…despite effective treatments, there are long delays — sometimes decades — between first onset of symptoms and when people seek and receive treatment. The study also reveals that an untreated mental disorder can lead to a more severe, more difficult to treat illness, and to the development of co-occurring mental illnesses (National Institute of Mental Health)

The first time I ever read the above I felt mad, sad, and glad all at the same time. There was so much truth and reality to be had out of this one bit of information and it hit me so hard. How then, do you begin to disembark one of the craziest rides you’ve ever involuntarily boarded? GET HELP. GET HELP NOW. NOW IS THE TIME. STOP WASTING YOUR LIFE. There IS help out there. Yes it can be hard to acquire, navigate, and stick with it. But that’s what I’m here to help with. That’s what The City Project is about. There is no cure for mental illness, only solid care and management of it so that you can return to a full life. It is possible. Don’t ever give up on yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are worth it!

Peace, love, and wellness.

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