I’m secretly terrified that any children I have will wind up with serious mental illnesses. I mean like the rare occurrence of schizophrenia in toddlers type of mental illness. I guess I should backtrack into my teenage years to explain why I feel this way.
At the age of 12 something happened to me. I don’t really know how to explain it other than to say I used to think it was a major hormonal shift. But after researching it for a long time I’ve come to learn that hormones only account for so much of mental health change in adolescents. Ultimately it comes down to the production of chemicals in the brain (we all know of serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, etc.). Well, I guess my production of these chemicals was way off.
I went from a typical girl with typical confidence and typical problems to feeling worthless, hopeless, devalued, sad, and angry. I stopped having regular sleep patterns and would go three to sometimes four nights without sleep. I stopped eating regularly and became a waif. I started cutting myself and when that wasn’t enough I even burned myself. Scarily enough, I even tried to break my own wrist just to feel something other than the emotions I couldn’t get rid of. When that didn’t work, I tried to overdose a few times on over the counter medications like Robitussin and Coricidin Cough and Cold. Obviously, I was exhibiting clinical depression. But yet, it was more than that.
I was extremely Machiavellian. I would purposefully breakup budding relationships my friends were forming, even though I myself was in a relationship and madly in love for the first time in my life. I would lie and tell Friend A that Friend B said this about her and then tell Friend B that Friend A said the same about her to get them to fight. I even hit one of my best friends in the face once because I thought she was being “too slutty” and need to appreciate herself more.
When I started having sex at 13 I began to use that as a tool to achieve whatever I wanted. Again, I was still in a relationship with someone who loved me and wanted to protect me and help me but I didn’t care. I shoved him away and locked him out. Instead I started fooling around with guys that were dating my friends because in my mind I was showing my friends that they these guys were cheaters and they deserved better. Or, if someone hurt my feelings I would fool around with their boyfriend or crush without any feelings or attraction at all just to get back at them. I even used sex on my friends to get them to do what I wanted or be who I wanted. I would “experiment” with them, shifting their whole perspective on their sexuality, to get something I wanted, like unwavering loyalty.
I had keen observation skills and could break down any social group or interaction in minutes and find ways to exploit it for my benefit; for example, one of my best friends was in love with this guy. I was dating one of his friends. When I picked up on the subtle cues that she was really into him (smiling at him when he wasn’t looking, secretly listening to the music he liked to learn more about him, etc.) something in me made me start to pursue him too. However, I was less subtle about it. I remember walking with her to meet him and the rest of our friends after school and without hesitation I walked right up to him, sat in his lap, wrapped his arms around me, and leaned back into him like I was just cuddling my own boyfriend, who was there and stood by watching helplessly.
It was like I was on a war path of destruction – not just out to destroy myself but also to destroy everyone around me. Mind you, in between all of this my mother was constantly searching through my things for drugs and grounding me because she didn’t understand what was wrong with me. Even though she saw the cuts and burns on my arms, which I flaunted proudly, she never took it upon herself to seek help for me. Not that I’m blaming her because I wouldn’t have went based on her request anyway.
Anyway, my out of control behavior did extend to drugs too. I did every drug I could get my hands on. I preferred just to smoke weed and let the calming effect take over my mind for a little while so I could just feel normal for once but other drugs excited me. I would take ecstasy with the new group of friends I had to find because my old ones dumped me. We would take E on Friday night, Saturday morning, and Saturday night. We would party all day and night. In between we blew lines of cocaine or smoked woobangers. We never drank alcohol on E though; we thought that was a cardinal rule. Instead we drank orange juice; even now I don’t know why we thought that, maybe one of the 20 or 30 year olds we did these drugs with us told us we were supposed to.
I finally got help when I seriously started to consider hanging myself. I was 14 years old and obsessed with thoughts over how I would hang myself and where I would do it. It became such a real thought at one point I remember being scared of myself. I never told my mom my thoughts; I just told her if she wanted me to go to therapy then I would do it.
The therapist was great and it felt like I was unloading a burden while I talked to her. She wanted to medicate me and my mom agreed to it. They said Zoloft (sertraline) was controversial for me to take at my age but they thought the benefits outweighed the risks. I was put on 200 mgs. I was also given a mood stabilizer and a sleeping pill (the original Ambien). She also put me on a suicide watch and called my house once a day over the next week until out next appointment to make sure I wasn’t hurting myself. I felt like a prisoner.
But she had her reasons considering I started abusing my medications and selling them to my friends. Then I simply stopped taking them all together. They made me feel numb and believing I would one day become a greater writer, I didn’t want to stifle my emotions or creativity. But I knew I couldn’t continue to live my life the way I had been. I burned every bridge which left me with no friends and no guy would come near me since the word was out that I was suicidal, in therapy, and on medication. In other words, I was labeled as “crazy”. Even the teachers I loved and who tried to foster my writing talent steered clear of me as stories swirled about the things I did.
I can’t really explain how I got past it. I just sort of stopped talking to people and focused on my work and writing and graduated high school number 32 out of 350 students. I guess you could say that I learned the art of suppression. I pushed everything way down deep. I locked it up inside me and threw away the key. I plastered a smile on my face and tried to do what everyone else did. It worked up until I was 24 and working my first career job, then the box broke apart and years of built up anger and sadness and frustration unleashed itself upon me. This is when the panic attacks began.
When a panic attack takes over me, I can’t breathe or swallow or think. The edges of my vision blur and I feel hot and cold at the same time. I can hear my heartbeat as if my hearing turned inwards. I always think I’m going to pass out. I always think I’m going to die. I’m terrified for those minutes while the panic washes over me. It’s so severe I developed what my new therapist calls slight agoraphobia. I don’t like to leave my house unless I have to and even then I won’t go alone. And when I say I don’t like to leave my house I don’t mean I’m too comfortable and lazy, I mean the outside world makes me extremely uncomfortable and frightened.
I was told this agoraphobia is a subset of the panic disorder I now have, which means feeling uncomfortable in my own mind and body is something I have to contend with every single day of my life. The attacks and uncomfortable feelings made me seek intermittent FMLA from my job so on the really bad days I can work from home (driving is a panic trigger for me, so is being more than 30 minutes from home) I was put back on sertraline with a prescription of Xanax to take when needed. Sometimes I feel like I will never function as a normal person.
What’s worse that Machiavellian tendency is coming back to me with a big heaping side of anger towards humanity. Sometimes I’m scared of how much hate and anger I have towards people I don’t even know. I have days where I think everyone is stupid and worthless and the world would be better off without humans destroying it. I also feel hopeless about the future of life. And no matter how much positivity and optimism I practice and surround myself with, these feelings wiggle their way back in. Just yesterday, as I caught myself pondering whether or not I would feel remorse for physically hurting someone, I wondered if I may be on track to some sort of sociopathy. It was enough to scare me into scolding myself for even thinking it and I pushed it from my thoughts and drowned out my ability to think by blasting music the rest of my drive home from work.
I know that mental illness can be hereditary. In fact, after everything I’ve been through I just started learning about my family’s history of it. My mom has generalized anxiety disorder and has been on medication for 20+ years. Her oldest sister exhibited the same Machiavellian attitude and drug abuse as I did but never sought help for it and didn’t stop abusing speed up until 10 years ago when she was well into her 30s and had her first daughter. My grandmother has had clinical depression for 40+ years and has been on medication for it for the past 10 years. I don’t know much about the men in my family because they don’t and won’t talk about things like that which is a whole other problem.
My fiancé (yes I found someone who understands and accepts me and is willing to marry me) wants to have children soon after were married this May. I was so excited with the idea up until yesterday when I had that dark moment. Even though I pushed the episode from my mind, I woke up this morning concerned about what my mental illnesses would mean for my future children. Not only would their mother be struggling with these issues, they might start struggling with them too.
My fears are for their health and also for how I’ll cope with it if they do in fact wind up like me. Having depression and panic disorder doesn’t exactly make me an ideal candidate for handling this type of situation. And although the sertraline is working for me this time around what happens if it stops? I have a fear of needing in patient treatment in the future. What would that do to my children? Or what if they need inpatient treatment at some point in their lives?
I hate that I am sharing this with the world and have yet to share my fears with my fiancé on a serious level. We joke about our kids having my panic disorder and being scared of their own shadow but it is a real thing to consider. We never talk about my episodes of depression, especially the ones I had as a teenager because he hates to think about those times (he knew me back then).
I still want to have children but I don’t know what to do. I guess I’m just writing this for the need to feel a shared experience with someone else; the need for community. I understand that my experiences in life aren’t common ones but mental health issues are. I just don’t know how else to deal with all of this.