My story starts at age 9. Both my parents were depressed and my family moved a lot. As the oldest of four children, I carried a lot of responsibility, even at such a young age. When I started missing school often, my mom took me to the doctor, and I was diagnosed with depression and prescribed Prozac, which I took until I was 20.
It was then, in my last year of college, that I had what some might call a “nervous breakdown.” My mental health slowly declined until I could no longer function. I dropped out of school, quit my job, and stopped volunteering. I lived at home with my parents and slept all day and was awake all night. Eventually, a doctor suggested a change in medication; I started taking Zoloft, and my mental health steadily improved. I returned to school, got engaged, and got a part-time job. Things were looking up!
After our marriage the following year, things declined again. I was unable to be intimate with my husband and was having extreme flashbacks about things I didn’t understand. I wasn’t abused as a child! Thinking it was all just a physical problem, I went to a gynecologist and had a hymenectomy. When that made no difference, I finally decided to go to a therapist. I was almost 23 when I finally let myself give in to the flashbacks, and then I realized that I had in fact been sexually abused as a child. I spent six years in therapy with the same therapist working through the abuse, telling my family, and trying to be intimate with my husband.
Some background here: When I was 6 years old, my paternal grandparents were divorced. My grandfather had been cheating on my grandmother with my mother’s cousin and several other women. He was the one who had abused me when I was between the ages of 3 and 6, as far as I can recall. Then, when I was 12, I lost my maternal grandfather to a car accident. This, too, was traumatic for me and scarred me so much that I didn’t want to learn to drive, especially as his accident was caused by a 16-year-old girl. Also, I was raised Mormon and left my religion at age 25, which was very traumatic. But that’s a different story.
When I was 29 and it was my seventh wedding anniversary, my therapist passed away suddenly. He was 54 years old. I was heartbroken and felt lost, but eventually started seeing his female intern, even though I didn’t feel as close a connection to her, because I felt I hadn’t completely resolved the underlying abuse issues. We progressed slowly, using the developmental needs meeting strategy (DNMS) therapy, similar to eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which was too intense for me at the time.
Four months later, my husband was arrested in our home at midnight, charged with felony accounts of enticing a minor online. I went into shock and didn’t know what to do or what to think. I supported him through the court experience but knew he had given the authorities the excuse that he wasn’t able to be intimate with his wife. He spent a few months in jail, and afterwards we divorced. I struggled with trust, with the manner of crime he committed, and with feeling somewhat responsible. He lost his job as a university school counselor, we lost our home and our security, and I couldn’t stay married to him.
I continued in therapy throughout this ordeal, began dating a man I had known previously, and we ended up marrying less than a year after my divorce was finalized. He had no supportive family, no job, not even a driver’s license! For whatever reason, I felt it was my responsibility to “save” him and as a people-pleaser, I just couldn’t say no. My therapist was as supportive as possible while also trying to get me to see the truth. But I didn’t listen to her. In fact, I stopped seeing her altogether before we had finished the DNMS program because I felt like I didn’t need therapy anymore. I was able to be physically intimate with my new husband, and I took that as a sign that all was well.
Work, by the way, was social work. That’s right. I was later diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression, posttraumatic stress (PTSD), dissociative disorder NOS, and bipolar, and I worked as a social worker for ten years while I processed my own abuse issues and experienced new traumas. It got to be too much. I was missing work more than I was attending and I was isolating from everyone. When I was 32, I overdosed on my medications by accident but was still hospitalized for a suicide attempt. After this, I knew I needed to make a change.
Just before my hospitalization, my grandmother went through congestive heart failure, and I knew she would require assisted living. I discussed this with my family, and we all decided it would be good for both me and my grandmother if I quit my job and went to live with her. This happened just three months ago. I hoped it would be a healing time for both of us and in a lot of ways it has been. But we both continue to struggle with depression and anxiety. Not to mention just getting used to having someone else to live with. I haven’t continued in therapy since moving in with my grandmother, but have been on psychiatric medications. I’ve taken so many over the years, and many of them at the same time. I don’t believe being on several different meds at once is healthy or helpful, so I’ve been slowly weaning off the medications and introducing vitamins, with the guidance of a nutritionist and an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).
So far, after moving in with my grandmother, weaning off meds, and trying to make positive lifestyle changes such as more exercise, I have been doing okay. I have my days of feeling completely hopeless, but they aren’t lasting as long as they used to. I’m learning ways to love myself and be okay with who I am, which I think is a big part of mental health. The relationships I have in my life are key to my well-being, so for them I am hugely grateful. I don’t have a lot of energy and it’s a daily struggle to survive, but it could be worse. I know because I’ve been there and come out the other end. I’m still not where I want to be, but I know I will be someday.
This week I have an appointment to see my DNMS therapist. She has her own private practice now and I happened to see her at my APRN’s office. She offered me free therapy for life, which is incredible to me. I don’t know that I’ll need that or that I’ll even be able to take her up on it, but the fact that she offered is amazing and makes me feel so blessed and special. I’m looking forward to seeing her and updating her on my life.
I’ve also been writing a blog about mental health, which was inspired by this website, GoodTherapy.org, and by a man I worked with who challenged me to write about my experiences. I’m still trying to be brave and get more personal and in-depth—I’ll get there eventually. I know that mental health, when it’s not at its best, is one of the worst pains in the world. I hope that we can all help each other and be more tolerant of each other, less judgmental. I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the cause by sharing my story.
© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.