living with and thriving through mental illness // the brave ones with mary england

The Brave Ones is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to share the real, personal stories of real people, in the hopes of showing that we're not alone in the struggles we face.  I believe that the more we listen to the real experiences of other people, the more we come to understand each other and approach one another with compassion.  Today’s guest post is by Mary England who blogs at Uncustomary.

was 8-years-old when I started noticing that I had to scrunch my face up every time I blinked. Eventually, my blinks were very hard, lasting almost a second each. I started squeaking, extending my neck in an exaggerated way, and rolling my eyes down and to the side. I told my classmates that I "had allergies", and I heard my parents talk to their friends and my teachers, saying I was going through "a phase". At my worst I had eight motor and two vocal tics. It was more than a phase.

When I was about 14, I flipped to the back of one of the many teen magazines my mother insisted on subscribing me to. I cut words and photos out of them, after reading the one serious article towards the end of each of them. That day, the article was about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. As I read, I realized that I did all the things she was describing. All these things were part of my every day life, but here she was saying it was a problem that had to be treated.

Less than a year later, I started getting really depressed and got into self-mutilation. A lot of it had to do with the fact that I was dealing with symptoms of OCD and Tourette's Sydrome without treatment or any real knowledge about how to cope. I was late for things because I would get caught up in rituals before leaving the house. I had to repeat, count, and collect things. There were certain numbers associated with everything I did. I tapped surfaces, needed to touch almost everything, and re-checked doors and electrical devices to ensure they were off. I saw extremely graphic imagery of my friends in very violent scenarios. Everything from bathing to turning out the light at bedtime was an ordeal, but I never told anyone.

Things got pretty bad, and I asked my parents if I could go to therapy. That led to seeing a psychiatrist and getting prescribed my first dose of psychotropic medication. For years I took a couple meds every day, and it was enough to take things down a notch so I could function, but the root of the problem was much deeper, and when I was 22 I decided more had to be done, so I signed up for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

CBT for my OCD was basically exposure therapy. Like how if you're afraid of snakes, first you look at a snake, then you stand in the same room as a snake, and eventually you hold a snake. It was the same thing, except with my anxiety. I would have homework assignments every week that may sound really easy and mundane to anyone else, but sitting in front of open drawers for 45 minutes every day was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. There was a lot of sweat and tears involved, but six months later I "graduated".

Since then, I've done a lot to work on loving myself. I quit my day job (at a psychiatric rehabilitation center) to turn my hobbies into my career, and spend my days doing things I love. I make note of the wonderful thing around me, and embrace what makes me happy even if it's weird or childish. I honestly feel that with the journey I've been on, I can provide insight and help to other people who are at different milestones on their path.

At this point, I've gone from taking the highest dosage of four different medications to the lowest doses of only two. I don't go to therapy anymore, and I'm able to cope with symptoms that arise on my own. I still have four disorders on my official psychiatric face sheet (Panic Disorder and Mood Disorder NOS in addition to the aforementioned two), but sometimes I wonder at what point do I still suffer from these things? If you don't actively receive treatment for something, is it still a thing? It's a loaded question that I don't have the answer to.

What I can tell you, is nothing is impossible. I've overcome things I didn't think were manageable, and I've seen clients, with way more severe mental illnesses than me, make incredible progress at my old job. You can do it, I believe in you.

Thanks so much for sharing, Mary.  If you want to follow Mary, head over to her blog and instagramWant to share your story?  Here's how to participate:

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