Mental Health Awareness Month

It’s May and that means it’s Mental Health Awareness Month. I never used to be someone that had to deal with mental health issues until I was officially diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (also known as GAD) two years ago. I probably had GAD well before then due to the unexpected passing of my mom and then reliving those memories when my dad passed in November.

There is a lot of stigma around mental health illnesses and I know a lot of people tend to think that everyone has anxiety and to just get over things. However, with GAD there’s so much more to it than that. Anything can set it off and it can send you into a panic attack. I’ve hit some pretty low lows in my life over the last few years and have had panic attacks that have started one day and continue into the next. Part of what got me diagnosed with GAD was a work situation I was in. There was so much stress and everyday I went in I felt like I was walking on egg shells. During this time I was helping to not only cover different shifts when needed, but also taking care of my dad who had some life threatening illnesses during that time as well.

I know some people that deal with mental illness like to keep it to themselves, but society has created such a stigma around mental illness and I don’t think it’s right. Just because I have a mental illness like so many other’s doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person or that I’m going to go and do something crazy. I am lucky that I do have access to healthcare, medication, and a doctor who is supportive. I know a lot of people don’t have that and it makes me sad. I’m also not ashamed that I need medication to help my symptoms. I was much worse off before we found medication that worked for me. I’m on one medication daily, and then another as needed, mainly at night to help me sleep when I can’t get my brain to wind down to sleep.

I’m wanting to help end the stigma surround mental illness, so this month I will be sharing more about GAD, my experiences with it, and how I cope. Mental illness shouldn’t be viewed as scary. We have so many medical conditions out there that are a lot scarier than mental illness and there isn’t the stigma around them that there is around mental illness. If you would like to learn more about mental illness in general, you can check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness.


The toll being a caregiver takes

When you are thrown into the world of being a caregiver, you never imagine the toll it can take on your own body. It’s like all of your senses are heightened and you are always ready to jump up incase the person you are taking care of needs something. This is how my life was over the last six and a half years.

When I really started to have to put my dad and his needs above mine happened around the same time that I was in a bad work situation. The department I had been working in and loved most of the time, started to take a toll on me. I was being talked to about things that weren’t at all related to me doing my job and hitting all of my job related performance stats. It was during this time that I visited my family doctor and was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder from work related stress. I know this evolved into my anxiety being just as bad because of everything my dad was going through as well. I was out on medication that at first I thought was working, but when I realized it wasn’t, I went back to my doctor and I was put on something different that has helped. In total I’m on two anxiety medications, one daily and one as needed.

When I first started this journey as a caregiver I was pretty healthy. I was slightly overweight for my height around 160. There were times this would be higher and lower depending on how active I was while also trying to take care of all of my dad’s needs. Over the course of time that I was his caregiver, I began to let myself go even more. I really put myself at the bottom of the list and made sure he was always taken care of. By the time my dad passed on 11/29/17 I had hit a number on the scale I never wanted to see. I was, and still am currently over 200 pounds. Over the course of the last almost year I had put on almost 35 pounds.

It isn’t just about the physical weight I put on, but also the emotional weight too. Being a caregiver feels like you are carrying around an incredibly heavy backpack all of the time. Your body is always in this alert mode and your stress levels are so high. When I wasn’t home with my dad to know he was okay it was even worse. I was always so drained, but still managed to keep going at the same time. Even when my dad was in the hospital, depending on the situation and knowing he was in the best possible place he could be if something happened, I was still so stressed.

I could really see the toll this took on me by looking at pictures before truly becoming a caregiver to after. My smile in pictures didn’t look as genuine, I looked run down and tired. And because of all of the stress I started to get gray hair in my mid twenties. It’s so crazy the way stress can affect a body in so many different ways.

This Wednesday will mark six weeks since my dad passed. There are still times that I can’t sleep at night, like tonight, or should I say this morning. I’ve been up since about 3am. My cats Socks and Shadow are still trying to adjust and Socks is having a harder time. I know I’m still adjusting too, but I feel like I’m so much better adjusted than I was after losing my mom. I credit a large part of that to the fact that my dad and I had many conversations about end of life and his wishes. I’ve gotten myself back to a normal routine for the most part and in part of trying to take better care of myself I get up in the morning to make breakfast and lunch so I’m not tempted to stop at a drive thru or order out. I’ve been cooking more dinners and I’m getting back to the gym. I still miss my dad terribly and I know that I always will, however, it’s nice to also be getting my life back.

A huge chunk of my twenties was spent with dealing with the sudden loss of my mom at 23 and then my dad’s declining health. Getting to live my life for myself again is liberating. I’m looking forward to seeing where this year takes me. It feels like I have a world of possibilities now that I didn’t have before. Don’t get me wrong, I would do everything all over again with taking care of my dad. There’s no question about that, but for the first time in my life I’m truly on my own and I’m excited for the adventures that lie ahead. The two photos below are how I’m looking at this year. A week in and I’m still excited about all of the things to come. There are new incentives at work for making extra money, I’m doing the ShapeGoal40 with Shape and Jen Widerstrom, I’m planning my friend (sister from another mister) Katie’s baby shower, I’m going roller skating with Bri Tuesday nights, I’m planning on doing the Shape Half Marathon even if I have to power walk the whole thing, I’ll be going on Jen’s 2018 retreat, and am going to try to make it to Shape’s Body Shop this summer. This is the year I regain myself and my happiness.