I’ve written in the past about my lifelong struggle with mental illness. Since I posted Parts One and Two last July about my panic attack during this past ALA Annual, I suffered two major bouts of depression – one that I’m still in the process of working through. Writing about these experiences reminds me that while I have really bad lows, I usually manage to crawl my way out of them through medication, therapy, exercise, and sharing.
My current episode of depression began in mid-December when I realized, “Oh. I’ve majorly overextended myself.” I procrastinated, misjudged deadlines, made promises that I thought I could deliver on, and more. I’ve told myself over and over again to back off and slow down. Once this spring semester began, I knew I was in trouble but still thought maybe I could manage. It would be some sort of point for bragging on social media among academics that I see all the time, right? “I’m so busy. I have so much work to do. I’m so committed to my profession.” and on and on.
But no. My body rebelled from the extreme stress and chronic anxiety over my professional and personal lives in ways it hasn’t since I was a teenager. I suffered persistent insomnia and stomach pains (“nervous stomach”, my mom called it) throughout middle and high school. This go-around kicked off in January with a lingering bad cold, nausea, dizziness spells, migraines, fatigue, cold sores, and cystic acne. Part way into my conferencing for the Association of Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) and ALA Midwinter earlier this month, my brain stopped recognizing hunger signals and lived for the most part on coffee and nerves. I didn’t sleep or rest much and felt disoriented at times. All the mental health planning I had done with my therapist in a session right before the conference escaped me.
By the time I got back to Utah late at night on February 12, I was exhausted and overwhelmed by emails, promises, deadlines, and life in general. A trip to the doctor showed that I had also developed an infection and my blood pressure was dangerously high. I finally realized (how did it take this long??) that no, I really can’t do this. Not anymore. My body and mind have been saying this for awhile, but I refused to listen.
Thankfully, I had scheduled a therapy session for right after I got back home (I always schedule one after a conference). My therapist expressed her concern that I would end up hospitalized if I didn’t do something soon. This scared me enough to actually change my situation. I made several painful decisions that I never thought I would have to make. Since these decisions affect a few people, I won’t go into them. But mostly I backed away from some promises. I had to say, “No. I can’t do this right now.” I opened up and cried. I had to put my mental and physical health first. I felt selfish and cruel for doing these things. I still do at times.
This all happened last week. The weekend was painful and so were Monday and Tuesday of this week; but it’s getting better. I have wonderful friends in town who let me hang out over the weekend when I couldn’t be alone. I cuddled with their pups. I had other friends to call and help work through my fears, depression, and anxiety.
Right now I’m actively working on healing. For me, healing is helped by finding activities and adventures to plan. I have a trip planned for later this semester to a city I love (HI CHICAGO!!!), exciting research projects to dig into, marathon training to figure out, way too many books to read, and long thinking drives into the mountains.
One reason I wanted to write this post is because it’s the perfect week to share what I’ve been dealing with this winter. But I mainly wrote this because I needed to do my tiny part in normalizing (not sure that’s the right word) mental illness. I identify as a person who is mentally ill. I live and struggle with mental illness, and I’ve done so for a long time. But as I live with Bipolar II disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, and more, I also live a fulfilling and meaningful life. I have good days and bad days. I enjoy my work. I have a family and friends. I love traveling and wandering around big cities for hours. I run for long distances (not very fast but I run). I get really excited about random things and say, “Yay!” a lot. I’m a person.
Mental illness shouldn’t be something shameful and hidden. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it for fear of losing our jobs, family, or friends. But that’s still what’s happening. The stigma, associated fear, and loneliness is real. I don’t know how to end this post except to say this is all very hard and frustrating and confusing, but I’m there too. And so many others. You are not alone.