Fighting shifting shadows (or what mental illness feels like)

For as long as I can remember, I have fought the darkness. I used to hope someday I'd grow out of it like other kids "grew out" of allergies, old sports equipment or acid-washed jeans. Or maybe it was like a headache--temporary. Easily fixed with an Advil.

I'm 37 now. The darkness isn't going away. It's not like a headache. There's no "growing out of" this. It's in me.

Sometimes the darkness fades to light and I walk in sunshine for a bit. But the shadows always come back. It's not a matter of if. Just when.

The only question: in the end, will the darkness win or will the light?

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For the past couple of years, we've been trying to figure out "what's wrong" with me. Generalized anxiety? ADD? PTSD? Bipolar II? Or a mixed bag of lingering effects from long-term childhood abuse coupled with triggering life stressors?

There are no easy answers.

It takes a lot of work to untangle the strands. I've been to rehab and therapy and 12-step programs. I've done the work. Sometimes I just feel like: why the fuck do I keep fighting? It's only going to come back again later. Maybe worse.

But then I remember something funny my kids said. Or see a new bird on my bird feeder. My dogs romping happily on the beach. This novel I wanted to's the little things that keep me going.

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Sometimes I wish I had terminal cancer. I know, I know. I don't know what I'm wishing for. But my point is: then I would at least be fighting something tangible. Not these shifting shadows.

Then there would be a "good reason" for why I'm occasionally taken down by this illness, confined to bed and barely able to move.

If I had terminal cancer, then I'd be almost done. I wouldn't have to fight anymore. At least I would know there would be an End Point.

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As a mother, it's particularly difficult for me to admit I have this sickness. It's not the disease I would have chosen--I mean, if there WAS such a thing. This is not the problem I wanted.

I don't want other people to know I have Mental Illness. I've spent a lot of years hiding it, masking it, claiming I'm "just tired." I've spent a lot of energy trying to control my illness.

Two years ago I started getting proactive about it because, well, I was sick of living like this. I wanted answers.

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My mental illness looks like this: I'm chugging along quite normally--not really high or low, just calm and peaceful. Then something happens: a PTSD event, a triggering incident, a flashback, a group setting that reminds me too much of my past.

I have an anxiety attack followed by a terrible, deep low.

Something SWITCHES in my brain and I'm falling off a cliff. Fuzzy-brained. Panicked. Nightmares. And soooooooo tiiiireeeddddd.

I never know how far DOWN I'm gonna go. How long will I fall? So, I go to bed and fall asleep. I could sleep for days. Getting out of bed feels like a Herculean task. The lows usually last three days and then I'm ok again.

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What sucks about mental illness is that you have to fight to fight it. You have to fight your insurance for coverage. Fight for a different doctor. Fight for a new doctor. Fight to switch medications. Fight the pharmacy to yes-this-is-supposed-to-be-an-auto-refill. All the while you're fighting your brain which seems determined to sabotage your every action because all your brain wants to do is sleep. And sleep. And sleep.

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There are very few psychiatrists who actually take the TIME to figure you out. Truth is, I probably can't afford the psychiatrists who DO take the time. Ha. I've got HMO insurance which means I get the guys who barely look you in the eye while dashing off a new Rx before you've finished explaining your first symptom.

I don't blame them, really. Mainly, I'm just tired because I've had to do a lot of the footwork and research myself.

I've read books, filled out questionnaires read up on the Internet. So, I bring my sheaf of papers and highlighted books and questionnaires and I'm all: "See? I scored a 20 on this test which means I probably have Bipolar 2, but last year I thought it was just ADHD followed by regular depression but then there's this PTSD element that seems to pop up frequently and-I'm-not-an-expert-can-you-please-help-me?"

And even when I bring in all my research, I get the same sort of blank-eyed-stare which translates to: "You have HMO insurance which means even 3 minutes of my time is a profit-loss."

Maybe I'm being paranoid. Maybe they're not thinking that at all.

Maybe my psych is just having gas or something.

Either way, I'm not the expert and all I want is a little professional help.

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So, this is my reality. Right now, I'm OK. I had a triggering event two weeks ago: I unwittingly walked into a craft store which turned out to be the business side of a religious cult. I had the biggest anxiety attack I've had all year, followed by a week-long super-low. But I'm out of it now.

I went to my psych to talk about what happened. And to talk about the stupid 35 lbs. I've gained in the last year (turns out the medication I'm on causes "significant weight gain" arrrrgh). So, we're switching medications again.

But I still don't feel confident we really know what's going on. We're just kicking at the darkness. Throwing various combinations of dosages at my brain to see what helps. We're guessing.

Is it ok for me to admit I'm tired of fighting shadows?

But I won't give up, dammit.

I've come so far, survived so much. I won't give up now.

I want a happy life so badly I can taste it.....