World Mental Health Day: A Story

I am writing this post because I can’t just go through today pretending like it isn’t one of the most important days of the year for me.

Today, October 10th, is World Mental Health Day.

This day has a special space in my heart, because I personally suffer from two mental illnesses and many people I care about also suffer from at least one. Mental illness is pervasive throughout the world. 1 in 4 adults suffer from a mental illness. That means if you randomly put any 4 adults in a room together, it is likely one will have a mental illness.

But I think you deserve more than just another statistic being thrown in your face today. I think you deserve to hear stories about this reality people live with, because stories are what make us human and allow us to connect.

Here’s my story:

In October 2014 I began experiencing my first ever anxiety attacks. It was not until later I got diagnosed with an actual anxiety disorder that was triggered by my father’s death.

However, one of my first and worst anxiety attacks happened at Disneyland. Sorry, not even the happiest place on earth can keep away a mental illness, folks.

My boyfriend, Keith, and I were there for Mickey’s Halloween Party late one Thursday evening. I was having a good time, even though I was slightly on edge for reasons I did not have words for at the time.

Finally, we got around to waiting in line for Space Mountain. This ride had become my favorite in the summer of 2013 when I went to Disneyland with my family. That year I conquered my nerves surrounding the ride and fell in love.

So, flash forward to October 2014, and Keith and I are in line for Space Mountain. The minute we started waiting in line I felt panicked, but Keith kept encouraging me that I could do it. He knew I loved this ride, but I was not positive I did.

I was shaky and sweaty.

When we reached the front of the line we were placed in the front seat of the rollercoaster. I was nearly crying as Keith tried to switch with the two women behind us, but they were afraid of the front too.

It all happened so quickly.

I was strapped in and we were already moving. There was no bailing out of this situation. I was stuck.

I began deteriorating.

I remember it happening in slow motion. We were clicking up the vortex of lights that led to the lightning fast rollercoaster of twists and turns. It was Halloween themed; haunted by ghosts in the galaxy. But my eyes were squeezed shut.

My body was shaking uncontrollably, my skin felt like it was on fire, and my heart was in my throat.

All I could hear were the panicked voices in my head and my own heart trying to escape my body. I did not realize I was crying my eyes out, bawling, until the ride was over. My cheeks soaked in tears. I was miserable as we got off the ride.

I got about 6 steps away from the exit and collapsed. Keith tried to catch me but I fell down to my knees anyway. Crying again. Breathing heavily. Gasping. Shaking. My mind was convinced I was dying or that something was trying to kill me.

I know he was embarrassed. I know he was worried and had no idea what to do. But neither did I. This was not normal for me. I was supposed to love Space Mountain. A year ago I had ridden it over and over again.

Once I was back on my feet we took a break. We tried to isolate ourselves from the crowd as I collected myself. But we were pretty much done for the night. I think the only other ride we got on was the carousel. We left hours earlier than I intended. I was drained. I was done.

Personally, I have not seen enough people talk about the after effects of an anxiety attack. An anxiety attack is one of the most exhausting things I have ever been through. It makes you sleepy, grouchy, weak. You never want to talk about it immediately after. You just want to rest, to be quiet, and to be around someone you love. You want to be in a protective bubble away from any possible trigger or stress factor. After an anxiety attack all I want to do is crawl into bed with Keith and my dog and sleep.

A few weeks later I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and since then it has barely gotten any easier to handle. But there is always hope. Each day I learn new techniques that help me manage an anxiety attack and I learn triggers to avoid. I am on medication now that makes it less severe and soon I will be in therapy, too.

Today is World Mental Health Day. One of the best things a person can do for someone with a mental illness is listen. Just listen. Just be there. No answers, no advice. Just an open mind and ears.

Take the time out to listen today.

 

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