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Your are not alone in this fight

Spread the word! "You are not alone in this fight" when it comes to mental illness.

Our goal is to raise $300,000 by Dec. 31, 2012. Your donations help NAMI provide free education and support programs, publish reports and provide resources for people in need.

This year we're asking you to share your story to inspire hope and break down stigma everywhere.

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Debra's Story

Sometimes the best you can give others during the holidays, or any other time of the year, is the gift of your experiences in life. So, I thought it appropriate to share one of mine in hopes that it may help someone else. In my early 20's, I started having extreme anxiety and panic attacks. Actually, the anxiety started before this but I just assumed everyone worried like I did. During this time, I ended up seeing a young resident at WVU who more or less diagnosed anxiety. It would be nice if this were then end of the story but it isn't. There is a gene in our family called the "worry" gene passed down from generation to generation. Not until the last few years has this gene been professionally diagnosed for any of us. The genetic gene defect is basically a chemical imbalance in the brain that is clinically diagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). If you really want to understand what GAD is all about, the best thing that you can do is research it on the Internet. Basically, we worry, we worry a lot, about everything and everyone, all day long and all night long. Now, I want to get to the point as to why I am sharing this information. One, my guess is there is probably someone else out there not diagnosed and suffering, just as I was for years. Two, society is still reluctant to talk about mental health so I feel the need to speak up. No surprise there. Am I right? Our society has learned to accept and talk about many aspects of health care whether it be cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity or lung disease, yet we still have problems facing the fact that there could be abnormalities with our brain. The most complex and complicated organ of the body we tend to want to ignore and neglect for fear that someone may judge us. OK, so back to my story. I suffered for years with extreme anxiety, sleepless nights, worry, and fears. Anxiety can then lead to depression, physical symptoms due to prolonged stress, and other issues. Not only is this difficult for the person suffering from GAD but also those family and friends that are apart of the person's life. Not that anyone ever found me difficult to live with or deal with. Over the years, I tried to figure myself out. I read self help books and tried everything I knew to de stress. Some good and some definately not so good. Anyway, one day at school, while trying to understand and help a very difficult student, it dawned on me that maybe I should think about helping myself. The first big step, as we all now, is admitting that there could be something wrong. The second step is deciding what you are going to do about it. Well, I had been working with my family practitioner for years on some of my problems and things just didn't seem to be jelling, and of course this could be no fault of mine. Anyway, I decided to go back to the beginning and start over. With the help of my family doctor and a referral, I found my old psychiatrist from WVU, that I had seen 25 years earlier. Yes, I did say 25 years earlier, so who is counting? Old dogs can learn new tricks. I thought maybe we missed something the first time, maybe there had been some medical advances in the past 25 years and maybe I was finally mature enough and honest enough with myself to deal with these issues now. The above seem to all be true as time passed. 25 years later, my psychiatrist is now the Chairman of the Psychiatry Dept. at Allegheny Hospital in Pittsburgh and is no longer taking new patients. Now, why would that stop me? I'm not a new patient. There is just a slight gap in appointments here. OK, so for some reason he gave me a break. I want to think he remembered how charming I was, probably not, but sounds good anyway. Over three years ago, Rob drove me to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Nickell looked at him and said "Here she is, it is your turn." The last few years in therapy and trying to get my "meds" adjusted have not been easy, but it has so been worth it. Prozac wasn't around for me the first time. It is now. Years of suffering make one a little more open to therapy, stress management techniques and behavioral management plans. This diagnoses was not easy on some family members, who still have issues with psychiatry. That is their problem not mine. I after a couple of years have become very open about this because I don't want others to suffer or feel ashamed or neglect getting help for any kind of mental or emotional problems. My friends have been very supportive and a few have gone to Pittsburgh with me to my appointments. People who have known me for years like me in therapy and medicated and Rob really does. I will do anything to make Rob happy. OK, so that might not be entirely true but it sounds good. I felt I owed it to Justin, my nieces, nephews and any future descendants to come clean about this because it is genetic and that gene probably is not going any where for now. My brain also developed a defense mechanism over the years to fight and protect me from the extreme anxiety. It is called depersonalization disorder. Another thing I feared sharing, even with my doctors, but have come to accept and deal with in my life. Today, I ran off the application to join the Mental Health Association of East Central Florida. One of my goals for retirement is to becoming actively involved in mental health education and advocacy. So this is my gift of experience for today. Crazy is OK. I've worked, raised a wonderful son, and been intelligent enough to know that we all need a little help from time to time. I hope if you or someone you know is suffering, you will get help, and you will realize with time that crazy is OK.

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