Hi my name is Laura and I am in my mid 50’s and have been living with a mental illness for over 30 years. When I was in high school, I was a straight A student, scholar athlete who won awards in Tennis, Basketball, Soccer, and Track, and I was very outgoing. I rode my skateboard around town and hung out with the girls from the various sports teams. I had only one boyfriend when I was just turning 16 but by the time I was a senior in high school he was gone. I dated a couple guys in college and got married when I was in my 20’s. I had dated my soon to be husband for 5 years, but after we tied the knot, I developed anorexia. While hospitalized, my husband went to court and got an annulment. I got out of the hospital after 6 months of intense therapy and force feeding weighing 82 pounds at 5’7”.
From there my life was a downward spiral. I became self-abusive, I began hearing voices and became severely mentally ill. I spent many days in and out of hospital settings and had Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), which use to be called shock treatment, for 5 years. It damaged my memory and thought process significantly. I have been misdiagnosed several times. Borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder, Dysthymia, variety of mood disorders, the list goes on and on. My doctors never thought I would live long enough to reach my 40th birthday. But I did and I am in recovery. There was no ‘one’ event that lead to my recovery. My recovery came from a series of tools I gathered through constant therapy, through free classes offer by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (also known as NAMI), through researching my diagnoses, and a lot of support from professionals. The support and tools are what helped me turn the corner from disfunction towards the road to recovery. Recovery to me does not mean I am “all better” and free of mental illness. Recovery for me means I have the coping skills, tools, and support I need to live a fulfilled, productive life. Sure, I have my bad days…we all do. Sure, I sometime take a few steps into negativity or past behaviors, but I now have the skills needed to recover. Recovery is an on-going process and a journey. Not a destination.
No one wakes up saying “today I think I will develop cancer,” and I did not wake up one day and say hmmm today I think I will develop a mental illness. And I did not anticipate being severely ill. But the fact is, mental illnesses are medical conditions. And I had a predisposition due to my genetic make-up and environmental triggers that caused me to develop a variety of mental illnesses.
My childhood was tough, and my sister was severely mentally ill from a very young age. I was the youngest of three girls and I am the only one left in my family. Both my parents died of cancer and both my sisters took their own lives. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54 in 2017.
I attempted to take my life a few times before I had the life tools needed to keep safe. With COVID, recovery is more difficult to maintain. I know I am not alone in my feelings of
Increased stress, anxiety, fear, sadness and loneliness. COVID not only affects my mental state but has worsened some of my physical health problems. I am combatting COVID the same way I combat my mental illness. Afterall, COVID and mental illness have many things in common. Three examples are. 1. They are both illnesses. 2. They both have caused social isolation for me and 3. They both are full of uncertainty. So, what am I doing to stay in recovery?
First, I am taking care of my physical health by getting enough sleep, trying to eat regularly and more healthy foods, and moving around a little so I am not in front of the computer screen constantly.
Secondly, I am practicing mindfulness, and putting a little time into managing my emotions by recognizing them and accepting them.
And thirdly, I am reducing the stress I can control by limiting the amount of news I watch, setting priorities and making a list so I can cross off accomplishments, keeping busy, and supporting my friends who support me. Also, I am trying to relax and do something enjoyable every day. Usually, the enjoyment is connecting with others via text, Zoom or email. And most importantly I am realizing that some problems are beyond my control and that sometimes I can’t control all the stress in my life. But I can use the tools I have to cope and stay in recovery.
If you are wondering what I am currently being treated for…well it is called D I D or Dissociative Identity Disorder or Multiple Personality Disorder, PTSD, and Depression. DID is a severe form of dissociation, a mental process which produces a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or sense of identity. Dissociative Identity Disorder is thought to stem from a combination of factors that may include trauma. Unfortunately, there is no medication for DID but I do take medication for symptoms from other disorders.
While in recovery I am able to work part-time as a consultant, teach others photography, speak for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), be on the Sacramento County Mental Health Board, facilitate peer run mental health support groups, give talks like these, and volunteer in the community. I keep busy so I don’t get stuck in my head. I also have been in individual therapy for 30 years, take medication for depression, hallucinations, and mood swings along with medication for physical problems. Medication is just a small but important factor in keeping me stable. I see a doctor about once a week and once a week I meet, with social distancing, my good friend and retired pastor.
Recovery for me is possible as long as I use my coping skills, use my support team, take my medication, and never give up HOPE.