I remember as a kid singing this Sharon, Lois, and Bram song over and over. At the time, this song about slowly going crazy and losing your mind was on repeat in my house. Not because I felt crazy but because it was fun to laugh about losing your mind. Oh, to be a child of the 80s again…
Somewhere along the line, something switched. It wasn’t that I moved from counting forwards to backwards as the song goes, but more so that my mindset changed. As an adult in an environment where talking about mental health is more common, the idea of slowly going crazy has taken on a brand new meaning. I know there are times when we all feel like we’re a little crazy. The word itself is fraught with negative connotations. Being called crazy implies a lack of control, and an inability to regulate. And yet, there is this incredible juxtaposition happening. It has become more socially acceptable to talk about your feelings and inability to cope 100% of the time. More and more, we see campaigns, social media posts, and books all about self-care and the importance of mental health. I am grateful for the increasing openness around this topic. When we think of mental health struggles, we think less about a person chained in a psych ward and more about a regular human.
I am here to continue the discussion and be as open and honest about my own struggles, in hopes that it opens the door for someone else. I have always been somewhat of an anxious person, striving for perfection academically. I don’t know whether I was able to manage it better when I was younger or the stressors were simply smaller, but it was never really an issue. It was just a way of life. As an adult, and more so as a mother, I felt my anxiety spin further out of control. Again, I felt that I was able to manage it. Maybe I was, or maybe I wasn’t. I will never know if it wasn’t as difficult for me or it was less socially acceptable to discuss. What I do know, is I was definitely not as aware of the importance of my mental health as I am now.
The irony of all this, of course, is that my own undergraduate degree is in psychology. I loved learning about how the brain works in the university and in particular adored my abnormal psychology classes. At one time thinking I might pursue a career in school psychology, how the brain works fascinated me. How we deal with trauma, conflict, and aversion was my main focus in school. But there is there a reason they say doctors make the worst patients. Not to say that I am a doctor, but the analogy still rings true.
I have a distinct memory of a few years back when I knew I was out of control. I can feel it like it was yesterday, although I couldn’t tell you the specific dates. I can close my eyes and I am back in that place. I had been experiencing panic attacks, and for the most part, I was able to keep it to myself. I knew that something wasn’t right but I tried to power through it. One day, I was driving and had a panic attack so severe I had to pull over. It scared me because it was the first time I felt truly out of control. I was by myself in the car but could only think about what might happen if I wasn’t. I sat in the parking lot as my hands and feet tingled from my shallow breathing and knew I needed help. I went to see my doctor the next day and a combination of medications and therapy ensued. Neither could work independently, they needed to work in tandem with one another.
Today things are better but I am most certainly a work in progress. If I can take anything from this journey, it is that it is a marathon not a sprint… but all without a finish line. I have days where I feel incredibly in control. I feel like a superhero who can handle anything thrown at me. Other days, I feel triggered by the smallest thing. I can feel the tightness in my chest and the clenching of my fists.
Having a support system, as cliche as it sounds, is integral. There is something very normalizing and reassuring about being open about your struggles. Our failsafe is to reject what we don’t understand or make us uncomfortable, or to humourize it. Even now I often refer to my medication as my “anti-crazy pills”. I know that isn’t what they are, but for some reason making light of the situation makes it feel more manageable.
And this is what I have come to terms with – the new normal. It the normal that things don’t have to be perfect. The normal that mental health needs to take priority. The normal that needing help and asking for it doesn’t make you weak – it actually makes you stronger. And the normal that keeping things inside is as unhealthy as any other physical ailment.
This is life. Love, mom.