I was diagnosed with a mental illness when I was thirteen years old. It felt like all of my motivation, hope, and desire to live were hijacked overnight and replaced with the daunting task of making it through the day. 

It felt like someone pulled the rug out from underneath me, and it became a chore to breathe. Those feelings made everything more difficult, and surviving became harder and harder.

It was exhausting.

My parents became concerned after I voiced feeling like I wanted “…to fall asleep and not wake up.” I didn’t have the energy to think about killing myself; I just wanted to be gone.

I was sent to a psychiatrist and put on medications that didn’t work. This started a very long stretch of what I like to call “pharmaceutical guinea-pigging.” Up that one, lower that one, add a few more – and let’s see what happens.

The problem with most anti-depressants is their inability to provide instant relief.

I had to force myself to take pills every day for weeks – pills that caused immediate and disgusting side effects – before it could be determined that they weren’t working against my desire to die.

When I was fifteen, I found the solution to all of my problems – alcohol.

Drinking enabled me to feel “normal,” for the first time ever, and interact with people in a way that didn’t have me crawling out of my skin or wishing I was invisible. I quickly found my sense of humor, and became “the funny girl.”

After being teased most of my life by both kids at school and at home, humor served me very well. It helped me make light of my feelings of inadequacy and uselessness. I made jokes about being chubby and having acne before you did, and I learned that if we laughed together it hurt a lot less.

I medicated myself with alcohol until I was 22, because it stopped working. The voices kept getting louder and more hateful when I drank. Playing the role of Drunky McDrunkerson lost its flare, and it became clear to everyone around me how much I hated myself.

At some point alcohol had turned on me, and the previously colorful veil it had provided me, grew dark. I could not find comfort anywhere; not even in humor.

When I awoke the next day only half dead, I made the decision that it was time to get sober. Okay, I didn’t actually make the decision. The emergency room physician who referred my ass to a locked ward did. But it was there that I realized, and said out loud for the first time that I was drinking to escape.

I have been sober since that second day of May in 2000.

The desire to escape didn’t leave me right away, but lessened over time with help and support. I can’t remember the last time I thought alcohol would make anything in my life better. It’s just no longer an option.

Sometimes I lose time and entire conversations, which can be frustrating and disappointing to those I love.

Here’s the thing – I don’t want to be drunk anymore, I just want to be okay. Getting sober didn’t do that for me, and I had to change basically everything about the way I related to the world. I found out that being is achievable without a substance in my body.

Since then, I have soberly fumbled through many difficult situations. I have found peace in places I would never have imagined while drinking. I recovered from alcoholism. The depression, however, never went away.

Years ago, after seeking help to process an experience that had me all fucked up, I stumbled upon a therapist specializing in trauma.

It was determined that, for most of my life, my depression has actually been a symptom of something greater – part of a cycle that stems from all of the trauma in my past. I had to get sober to deal with the wreckage I created, in order to discover the roots that so many of my issues stem from.

I have a dissociative personality disorder.

No matter how long I stayed sober, or how much I changed – no matter how many different therapists I went to, it was always there.

At some points this has been quite difficult to manage. Over time, I have identified many of my triggers – things that cause me extreme anxiety, irrational or intensified fear, and/or what is called “flight or fight response” (ie. do I punch you in the throat or run away screaming?)

Understanding these things really has been half the battle, and gaining insight into why I’m such a basket case has been invaluable to my healing process. It has not, however, necessarily solved the problems they still create in my life.

Living with this kind of diagnosis sucks more often than not, and brings back the feeling of just trying to survive the day – a feeling I don’t enjoy or appreciate as a mother.

Bad days aren’t always just bad days for me. Sometimes they turn into catastrophic days, where I find myself questioning every decision I’ve ever made, and wondering if my life is a mistake. I get easily overwhelmed by mundane things, and when I do, that old familiar feeling of just wanting to go to sleep and not wake up creeps in.

I get irritable, sometimes child-like, and it becomes extremely difficult to focus on being a good wife and mother. I start to wonder what my husband could possibly see in me that’s lovable, and worry that I’m causing irreparable damage to my children.

Sometimes I lose time and entire conversations; which can be frustrating and disappointing to people I love.

If I manage to string a few “bad” days together, the depression kicks in resulting in hibernation via my good friend Agoraphobia.

It has become vital to my pseudo-sanity that I laugh at some of this. I’m afraid if I don’t, I will completely lose my mind. I haven’t needed inpatient hospitalization in over ten years, but if I focus too much energy on how fucked up and damaged I am, time in a psych ward starts to sound like a vacation. The people closest to me, who must adjust themselves to accommodate some of my broken pieces, don’t always see the humor.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not always a Hefty bag of crazy. I also have really great days…I think. Just kidding, I do. But there seems always to be an ominous, hovering fear that happiness and contentment is temporary.

I have an incredible husband, children, and friends who love me. I have an amazing life that I would love to feel connected to every single day. I have made many wonderful memories I wish I could hold onto longer. Writing has helped me tremendously.

Some days are harder than others, and there are times when I struggle to find humor. I hate struggling, and I really hate feeling like I can’t control my feelings and/or thoughts. I have too much love in my life and too many tools to feel hopeless; yet there are days I still do. I’m trying to keep my focus on all of the wonderful things I have in my life, and most days I’m successful.

So I laugh. I make jokes so you’ll laugh with me, and sometimes…it hurts a lot less.

photo credit: virtualwayfarer via photopincc
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9 years ago

I'm not sure what to say, but you have my support. I can identify with much of this and have experienced many of the same things, though not to the same degree you have.

9 years ago

WHAT?!? Your blog is gone? Where did it go??? How did I miss this?

Thank you for your comment, I will use your email address. 🙂 DITTO 😉

9 years ago

Thank you, Scott. <3 XOXO

9 years ago

I love you double. December can DEFINITELY suck it.

9 years ago

HA! Well I'm glad that my brand of crazy makes you feel a little better about yours. 😉 I do what I can.

9 years ago

Thank you, Lisa. This time of year is definitely not easy. Stay close, and we'll weather this shitstorm together, k? XOXO

9 years ago

I'm grateful too. Welcome!! XOXO

9 years ago

Thanks, Dr. Margaret!! XOXO

[…] Related Post: I Laugh at Mental Illness […]

9 years ago

Julie, you know I am your people and I love you. You make me laugh and I admire how hard you work to help other women feel less traumatized by this jackass addiction. I will still look forward to your funny but you have to do what you have to do. This post is brave and honest and, quite likely, necessary. Hang in there, write like this again and again if you have to. I'll be here. My blog might be gone but I'm not and you have my email address. Use it.

There is so much I would like to say Julie. I have never read your work until now – saw it retweeted. You have done so much that is admirable – getting sober, trying to manage what was going on with at least some sense of humor. I hate that you didn't get good treatment. Or that you saw practitioners that plied you with meds, didn't think outside of some box they think within. DID is tough. I don't have to tell you that. The trauma I am sure was even tougher. Thank you for writing – I will try to keep up with you.

Lisa Burleson
9 years ago

I got the er to the hospital vacation in Feb 2012. Sometimes I wish I was successful. This time of year is really bad. The more jolly everyone is, the more worthless I feel. I was diagnosed with dependent personality disorder and I take it really hard if someone is mad at me. I am pretty independent though, so I don't know. All I know is if someone is mad at me I stopfunctioning. Anyway, what i mean is I get what you're saying. Great post as always.

9 years ago

I can relate to some of what you're going through. Reading your post has made me feel more "normal" about my crazy. Everybody is crazy, you know. Thanks for having the balls to share this. I hope you're having a good day today!

9 years ago

I'm glad you do what you can – you write honestly and eloquently. People like me, who tend to feel isolated, benefit immensely from your words. Keep up the good work! I have yet to "come out" about my brand of crazy, although I recently let go of my anonymity in the world of recovery. It feels so empowering to own my shit and just be out with it. Thanks for the inspiration.

9 years ago

Thank YOU for the inspiration. These are the comments that make the fear of hitting "Publish" and anxiety of having my shit "out there" TOTALLY worth it. XOXO

Christine Steendam
9 years ago

Thank you for sharing your story. I deal with depression and anxiety, and although I'm in a good place now thanks to medication (which I was so fortunate worked without much experimentation), December is always tough and I fear relapse all the time. You have my support and prayers during this month.

9 years ago

Found you via your broken marriage post on Scary Mommy. I too have had, and still have struggles with depression, anxiety, and the resulting anger. It's a shitty ol' world we live in. My meds help, my husband helps, my faith helps, but sometimes I still want to go to sleep and not wake up so that I can just rest. The thing that actually helps me reset — more than a date night, or even a good day, is having space to myself a couple hours even– preferably once a week. Either my partner takes our son away for a couple hours, or I take a walk to the nearest coffee shop. Knowing that, even for a moment, I'm only responsible for myself and can do whatever I want to do, is incredibly freeing. I also find the writing of Addie Zierman to be quite cathartic. You might enjoy her as well. http://addiezierman.com/

9 years ago

I am so grateful to have found this blog and to read this…..I am crying.

9 years ago

I am so grateful to have found this blog and to read this…..I am crying.

9 years ago

Except for the husband part, this is me: "have an incredible husband, children, and friends who love me. I have an amazing life that I would love to feel connected to every single day. I have made many wonderful memories I wish I could hold onto longer. Writing has helped me tremendously."

Depression sucks so bad. There are times I would give anything to have it go away. The worst part is seeing it passed onto my children. 🙁 2 out of the 3 deal with, thanks to me, their dad, their grandfather, uncle, etc and our crappy genetics. The only benefit is, we were able to identify it quickly – the familiar I just want to sleep and never wake up feeling (or they 'i don't want to kill myself but I sure wish I was dead' feeling) – and help them find ways to deal with and manage it. Because as of right now, there is no cure. I hope one day there is.

Thank you for writing honestly about it. I do feel bad for, as Kathy Mattea says, those who need to love me.

9 years ago

Depression DOES suck. It's no fun, and I too wish it would leave town and never return. It's not easy with the kids and passing it on. My daughter had a hellish transition in her teens with depression and it was terrifying. All we can do is our best.

Thanks for being here. XOXO Julie