Mental health โ€ฆ No more Fear or Stigmas!

Mental health โ€ฆ No more Fear or Stigmas!

Growing up in a low-come project out of Athens, GA I seen, heard, and experienced a lot before I was even thirteen years of age. I did not know much about mental illness as a child, but now that I am an adult I understand and know I have been around mental illness since I was a young child. At the young age of ten years old I witnessed more than one close family member dealing with mental illness and I only heard people during that time say, โ€œso and so is crazy, do not pay them any attentionโ€. Crazy?? I would wonder to myself what that meant but really had no knowledge and was too young to understand, and growing up in a black family like mines, you did not ask questions!

My first experience with mental illness I was 21 years old. At the time I did know that I had experienced mental illness in my teenage years but was unaware. As a teenager I was sexually abused by more than one close family member, and my motherโ€™s then boyfriend as well. I got my first menstrual cycle, and a little time after that is when the abuse started. From the age of 12 years old until around 16 years of age I was often sad, and I hated myself inside and out. The hatred for myself surfaced from feeling as if I had no power or control over the things that were happening to me. The people who were hurting me were all in proximity and that bothered me on a regular basis. What was happening to me was a secret at this time, and I had no one I felt I could trust or tell what was happening to me. During this time, I thought of just wanting to disappear and I felt a deep sadness inside that led to me being a rebellious and angry teenager. I was unaware then, but I was experiencing depression and reactions to trauma when I was a teenager. The sexual abuse led to self-hate, confusion, and depression and that is where my battle with mental illness first started.

At the young at of 21 I was unhappily married, and I had just experienced my first experience with childbirth. My birthing story is a scary one. Long story, shortโ€ฆ I attempted natural childbirth and lacked the support that I needed from my spouse at that time. My first born and I both experienced a traumatic birthing experience. Our son was born 8lbs 15oz and my small frame could not fully birth him which led to us both losing oxygen and an emergency c-section after 14 hours of labor. Immediately after the birth I did not feel like myself at all. Did I love my son? Yes, I loved him, but in all honesty, there was no connection between him and I. About a week after his birth is when I first started to experience somethings mentally that I did not understand. My son was a colic baby, and he often cried for long periods of time. I remember not getting much sleep, not having support from my spouse, healing from a major abdominal surgery, and crying all day. One night it was about 3-4 in the morning and I started to hear theses small voices that were saying โ€œmake him quietโ€ โ€ฆI knew that hearing these voices were not okay, and I also understood that it was wrong if I acted on them. In all honesty I attempted to ignore those voices, but it seemed to get stronger. Being in fear, and not understanding why I was feeling or thinking this way, I picked up the phone and called my mother and told her what was happening. My doctor at the time was supportive and explained to me that I was experiencing postpartum depression and I had never in life heard of that word before. The doctor explained to me that she could prescribe me something for the thoughts and that it would get better. I was prescribed an anti-depressant and within 2-3 weeks I started to feel like myself again.

After experiencing postpartum depression, I still needed help because although I was not sad everyday like before there were still times, I experienced bouts of depression. Depression was my second mental illness diagnoses after postpartum depression. If you read The Pearl Blog, then you know what I was experiencing in my marriage and on -top of that I had a commitment to the United States Army. During this time, I was in college, a new mom, new wife, and a soldier with the weight of the world on my shoulders. My next child was born 3 years after out first son, and I did not experience postpartum depression at all. After the birth of my second son, I had obtained my first degree, was going through the sadness of my grandma experiencing breast cancer, and training/preparing for my first deployment to Bagram, Afghanistan. Right before I was set to leave for deployment is when my grandma passed from breast cancer. While I had not fully grieved my grandma, I was headed on a plane to a combat zone physically strong, but mentally weak. I had no business at all being in a Combat Zone in the mental state I was in at the time.

Afghanistan was mentally and emotionally exhausting. Imagine being in place where you are in the middle of enemy territory. Imagine being in a place where at any moment you are under attack. Imagine being in a place where you constantly experienced people losing their lives on a regular basis. Imagine all this on top of being mentally unprepared, away from family, grieving, and deeply depressed. Afghanistan is when the suicidal ideations became super strong. Afghanistan was the first time I in fact told myself this is it and I no longer had a purpose or reason to live since I was hurting so bad internally. TRIGGER WARNINGโ€ฆ (STOP HERE IF THIS IS A SENSITIVE TOPIC FOR YOU) No one close to me knows what really happened June 2014 in Afghanistan except the doctors and therapist who treated me in Ramstein, Germany and my therapist and psychologist here in the states. I remember every detail of the day I decided I was done living. I woke up that morning completely numb. Numb was a new emotion that I experienced while deployed. Once I became numb to what was happening around me, I proceeded to the Combat Stress team there in Bagram and talked with a officer who was supposedly โ€œa mental health advocateโ€ he told me that I was in a combat zone and what did I expect to happen! The officer I turned to for help turned me away, that day I attended church there on Bagram Air force Base and after church service I decided it would be the day I ended it all. I had some opioids, which were easy to obtain. I do not know how many I took, but I do know I was MEDAVACED (Medically Evacuated) to Ramstein, Germany.

Attempting suicide was the best thing I could have ever done, clichรฉโ€ฆ I know! But it was in Ramstein, Germany after speaking to my kids and my family that I realized I had a purpose here on earth. God had saved me for a reason. I was not sure then what my purpose was, but I knew from the first day I woke up in that Ramstein hospital that I wanted to live my life to the fullest. After my recovery I was sent to Walter Reed in D.C and then headed for my final duty station in the US where I was assigned to The Warrior Transition Battalion. The Warrior Transition Battalion was a battalion for soldiers wounded physically, mentally, or emotionally. It was at this Battalion where the Army or your branch of service decided to keep you, or medically retire you based off their evaluation of your physical and mental health. The Warrior Transition Battalion assisted me tremendously because I was mentally and physically damaged. I was unaware how broken I was and how much help I really needed until I was assigned a team of people to help me. While in transition from solider to civilian life I realized I had lived my life in secrets for years, I had covered my wounds so well that everyone around me thought I was so strong and healthy. Internally I had been broken for years, and Afghanistan was the straw that broke the camelโ€™s back. I was diagnosed with PTSD, Depression, Anxiety, OCD while at the Warrior Transition Battalion. My physically injuries were at least a page long, but in all honesty, I preferred physical injuries over the mental wounds that I had received. It took me over a year to get on track with my physical and mental health journey and I have continued that journey since 2014. Have I fell of the wagon a few timesโ€ฆYes, of course! The difference now is that I have a support team and the best mental health professionals and advocates around me.

All my mental health experiences were issues I had never experienced before, so I did not know I needed help. What I can say today is that I appreciate all my trauma because it led me here to The Pearl Blog. The Pearl Blog is like an open journal for me. I come here to share my life and experiences because when I was facing this trauma I had nowhere to turn, and I felt completely alone. The Pearl Blog reminds the readers that you are not alone in your struggles, and life is hard, but it gets better with time. There are so many stigmas on mental health. Mental Health is something that is unspoken. Mental Health is something that some are ashamed of. Before PTSD I enjoyed fireworks, gatherings, concerts, and just living my life freely. Now I shy away from the fourth of July because the sound of fireworks drives me insane and puts me back in Afghanistan in that bunker. I no longer like concerts because large crowds cause super high vigilance and anxiety. Can you believe I was once a social butterfly, but mental illness and trauma changed my life in so many ways? Therefore, I support mental health awareness because I know how hard it can be, but I also know with help you can live again. Do not allow the stigmas or fear of getting help stop you from your purpose. You have a purpose here on earth, and you may not know it yet but if you are living it is never too late. It is my hope that you continue your healing and growing process. I have a mental health forum on The Pearl Blog Facebook page, I also spread my mental health awareness and advocacy on my Instagram page @healingandgrowing_. If this blog resonates with you, I also suggest you read the following blogs as well:

The unseen โ€œBattleโ€.
Aligning with my Purposeโค
Join The Pearl Blog Mental Health Forum on Facebook!

Thanks, Toni