My name is Amber. I am one of the 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. who live with a mental health condition. I carefully chose the word live and not have. I live with a mental health condition, I don’t have one. I am not my illness. After years of working toward health and wellness down the path of recovery, major depression and PTSD keep slipping further in the background of who I am.
Who I am today is miracle from where I started. I am very outgoing and friendly with a large circle of friends. I work out, and ran my first 5k in my 30’s. My compassion for others has lead me to numerous volunteer positions and doing inpatient peer support on the behavioral health unit at a local hospital. I earned a Bachelor’s Degree and a professional educator’s license. I was hired to work at a nationally recognized research university on a pilot case management program that lead to an expansion of services across my state. I have traveled out of country. I have dated and recently fallen in love.
Yes, what a life I have lived—and plan on living—with depression and PTSD. I am just getting started.
My journey to get here hasn’t been an easy one. As it sometimes is with more serious depression, I required a combination of medications to feel my best. Finding this combination took years. It required patience, commitment and hope. Along the way, I just keep going. When the medicine wasn’t helping or I couldn’t tolerate the side effects I would let my doctor know. Self-advocacy became a vital ingredient to my recovery. I was worth fighting for. You are too.
I have been in and out of therapy so many times I have completely lost track. I’ll take a break and then head back when I realize I have more work to do. In recovery, there is always more work to do. It is a marathon, not a sprint and there is no finish line.
While I was getting better, I experienced many of the devastating symptoms associated with my conditions. I became too ill to teach and left the classroom, leading to crippling underemployment. Numbing with food, I reached 260 lbs at my heaviest. I regularly slept 12 to 14 hours a day, sometimes more on the weekend. There are still scars on my arm from previous self-injury.
Today, life is more than I could have ever imagined, even just a few years ago. I have been blessed with gainful employment, lost a significant amount of weight and have been self-injury free for almost nine years.
However, I can’t say that I feel strong all the time. I often feel isolated as if I live in a world that doesn’t include me. While I have meaningful relationships, no one really “gets it.” I grew up never feeling safe or loved in my own home. Daily, I was ridiculed, belittled or physically harmed by the people who were supposed to love me the most. I was taught to hate myself and that I was unworthy of love. Then, I was expected to find my way in the adult world on my own with a brain greatly harmed. Symptoms of my trauma have been perceived as “character flaws” by others and brushed aside in non-supportive ways.
No, I just can’t turn my anxiety off because someone tells me to. No, it’s really not funny when I startle easily and jump out of my skin. Yes, I really need to take this medicine to function and it has nothing to do with my faith not being strong enough. No, you can’t understand my suffering because you have been through a death, divorce or even single trauma.
I have heard and overcome it all. My life has begun to tell a different story. I live a new reality of a full, happy and productive life. Recovery can, will, and does happen. I know because I have lived it. I can’t say that I am exactly where I wanted to be by now or what my future holds, but, for the first time in a long time, I am really looking forward to it.
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