This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Mental illness is often invisible, but it is very real. Unlike cancer, we cannot see its extreme toll on our bodies. Its invisibility makes it seem less frequent and less urgent of a problem, but that is not true. Everyone at some point of their life will struggle with their mental health.
You cannot see it in these pictures. From the outside, it appeared like I had it together. I had a beautiful family, a law degree, and a job I loved. I was accomplishing tasks, life goals even. I was functioning in the world, and from to outside looking in I appeared to be doing it well.
That was not reality. I was struggling. I was having problems adjusting to being a mother of two under two. I was severely sleep deprived and would continue to be so until my daughter’s first birthday. I became hypervigilant and extremely irritable. I could not concentrate, and fatigue would often overtake me. My thoughts would often race. Most often these thoughts were about my children and I would be paralyzed by a reoccurring thought that at any moment my children could/would die. Eventually, all of this became too much, and I started having panic attacks. I did not tell anyone.
I have struggled with anxiety since childhood, but something had changed. I had always been able to control it to some extent, but my old coping mechanisms were no longer working. At first, I was embarrassed and thought I could handle it myself. I kept thinking “why can’t I get it together?!” “I used to be able to do this!” “What is wrong with me?!” I did not know it then, but I was suffering from untreated postpartum anxiety. Eventually, I decided to tell my husband and a few friends who encouraged me to get the help I needed. I started therapy and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
It has been five years since I started therapy, and even though my postpartum anxiety has resolved, I still occasionally go to therapy for my anxiety. I will struggle with anxiety for the rest of my life. Even though it is difficult, I know I can handle it because I have the care and support I need.
You may be wondering why I am telling you this. I am sharing my story to spread awareness of how prevalent mental health conditions and postpartum anxiety/depression is. I want you to know you are not alone. I want you to know help is available and that you do not have to continue to suffer in silence.
We need to break down the wall of silence surrounding mental health. Mental health conditions are on the rise in our communities. Suicide is on the rise in our communities. Mental health conditions among children are on the rise in our communities. This needs to be addressed.
We need more access to affordable mental health care. We need an incentive program to recruit mental health care providers to our rural communities. We need more treatment options in our area. We need to start teaching our children about the importance of mental health in our schools. We need qualified counselors, social workers, and/or psychologists in schools. We need more education and awareness regarding mental health in rural communities. This is one of the reasons I am running for office. I might not be able to break down the wall of silence myself, but I can put a crack in it. I can encourage our legislature and others to do the same, until the whole wall falls.