Editor’s Note: This article is one in a series of personal essays exploring the impact of mental health on people’s lives. To see the full project, visit www.mlive.com/mentalhealthessays
Mental illness is present in my family. When I was growing up I often felt depressed and struggled with things like OCD and weight issues that I would later discover on the mental illness spectrum.
There is such a stigma around mental illness as a society, but also in my family, that even though terms like depression and anxiety were thrown out, there was no real discussion of what it meant. , what it looked like or how to get help. for these things.
Fast forward to a few years ago, now in my early forties, facing some of the most emotionally difficult times of my life. My father was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. I didn’t know what to expect as he fought for his life and learned that grief is another topic we don’t often talk about as a society. The emotional roller coaster and the change in family dynamics made me feel so lost and sad. I was also doing an incredibly stressful job as an executive in a company that I hadn’t been in for a very long time, putting enormous pressure on myself to be great at work and be a good mom at home. I was working hard trying to deal with the anxious and depressed feelings I was having and lost 100 pounds in about a year and wasn’t even trying. The relationships in my life were all hurting as I got lower and lower in my feelings for myself. I became a great actress pretending that everything was fine at home and at work. I didn’t want to burden anyone with my problems, and I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I was not well. I wanted to be that strong woman who could manage her career, motherhood, family responsibilities, relationships, money and grief without wasting time. I went to a therapist one day a week for an hour and it wasn’t helping.
There were days when I felt I couldn’t function. I just wanted to keep the thoughts in my head from whirling around like a washing machine and I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. I found myself calling the Suicide Prevention Line because I didn’t know where to turn. They put me on hold. I couldn’t believe I was finally looking for help and was put on hold. I hung up.
I started to research what other help was there for me. I found that the options for someone who had reached the breaking point, recognized it, and was willing to get help are extremely limited. Unless I hurt myself in some way and was taken to the hospital or declared that I was harming myself or others, I simply couldn’t be admitted to hospital for help. I called Michigan inpatient programs and was finally told that I was not eligible for the help they were giving me. I investigated “retreats” that I could attend for a week or two, but they weren’t covered by insurance and I couldn’t afford to pay for them myself. Then I heard about a residential home in California that had programs that matched what I was looking for. I spoke to them on the phone and not only did they welcome me to the program, they told me it would be covered by insurance. At work, I had to hide the fact that I was going to seek help for fear that if I showed a flaw, a weakness, it would have an impact on my future in the company and my career path as a leadership would think that I couldn’t handle the stress so I had to take a vacation.
The days included journal homework, individual and group counseling, education on various topics including mental illness, group activities and meditation while my basic needs were taken care of and that no electronic device was present, removing my daily worries. For the first time in a very long time, I slept. I let my guard down and felt safe. And I finally understood better what was going on with me, I learned to cope and I realized that I was not alone.
I have never been so grateful for an experience than I have been for this. I immediately felt that such help should be available to everyone. This option could help so many people who know they’ve reached their limit but don’t know where to turn. Perhaps it would help change the stigma and provide more preventative care, as we do today for physical illnesses, before it is too late. I really hope that in my lifetime I can see people get the help they need, understand what they are going through and have the time they need to move on to another day without the demons. do not win.
Monica Synowiec, 42, lives in Canton