I was 14 years old when I had my first "break". I was a freshman in High School. My stressors (that I had acknowledged at the time) were pretty basic and ranged from me keeping up with my homework to securing an identity as an awkward underclassman. I had (and still have) an overall, really good life - with more love and support than anyone can really ask for.
It began with me starting to notice moments where I felt like my mind was racing - about things that I didn’t comprehend. Thoughts I had never had before. I remember looking my friends and family in the eye and feeling like I had no idea who they were. It was like my entire perception of reality was slowly distorting, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, fathom what that meant. So what do we do, as humans, when we are faced with the terrifying abyss of the unknown? We ignore it. And I did.
The next thing I knew, I was completely consumed by these once fleeting feelings. It became everything I was to the point where I felt like there was no piece of "me" left. It's very hard me to explain what I was experiencing, but to the best of my ability, I thought that everything around me wasn’t real and wasn’t really happening. My heart was beating out of my chest, every second of every day. My vision felt blurry, my thoughts cloudy - I felt like I was dreaming, and I wanted so badly for someone to wake me up. I couldn’t ignore it anymore. It wasn’t going away.
For the better part of a year, I was in a daze. I woke up every day with hopes that I’d open my eyes and feel like myself again. I just wanted to close my eyes and be asleep all the time. I was afraid to be awake. I was afraid to be alive. I just wanted it all to be over. I felt like a zombie, living life on auto-pilot.
I saw a few different psychiatrists and therapists. I wanted so desperately for someone to tell me I wasn’t “crazy” and that what I was experiencing had a name/could be treated. I wanted to hear that I was going to be okay and everything was going to go back to the way it was and I'd be "normal" again.
The hardest part was feeling like no matter how I tried to explain what I was feeling to my friends and loved ones – I felt like no one understood what I was going through. They were scared. They wanted to help. But I had never felt more alone. That is a scary feeling - feeling completely alone. Like no one can help you and you can’t even muster the energy to try to help yourself. I didn't feel guilty for being absent to my friends and family because I couldn't FEEL anything. It was a nightmare.
Working in the field of mental health has opened my eyes and heart to so many things; the most important being the power of advocacy and empathy.
I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety, which to me, at the time, was a fancy was of saying “You’re terrified all the time for no good reason and we don’t have a better title to slap on you - so uhh...here you go!” They started me on medication. “Anti-Psychotics,” I remember reading on the label. I cried for hours that day. “I’m psychotic,” I remember thinking. “I’m crazy.”
I can’t tell you where my turnaround point was, or how I managed to get myself there after falling so far, so fast - but with the help of treatment, the support of my family/friends and ongoing psycho-education - I was able to learn more about what I was going through, what potentially triggered it, and how to cope with it. It is still something that I live with, every day - and I am still learning, every day.
I went on to attain my degree in Social Work and have since been dedicating my life to finding rehabilitative, supportive permanent housing for individuals living with mental illness. Recently, along with a group of my inspirational, dedicated and incredible long-time friends, I co-founded The Makeshift Movement in response to frequent and devastating losses our town has suffered, over the course of the last several years. Working in the field of mental health has opened my eyes and heart to so many things; the most important being the power of advocacy and empathy. We all have a voice, and if we put the time and energy into using that voice to help eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health, substance use, suicide, etc....we can truly change the world.
I think the most important thing I've learned in regard to my personal experience is that everyone is different. There's no cookie cutter mold of how to help someone with Schizophrenia, BiPolar Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, etc. There are so many avenues of treatment and supports out there to be utilized, but at the end of the day - what may have worked/works for me, may not work for the next person. I can only speak from my own personal experience, hope that it reaches someone else and makes them feel like they aren't alone - and they aren't "crazy" because that's what I needed, and that's what we all deserve.
It’s my belief that the more we educate ourselves, the better we can empathize, not pass judgment, and support others who are undergoing pain and suffering - in any form, or to any extent - the best we can. We can understand how to be more compassionate with ourselves (as well as one another) and properly tend to our own mental health. We can learn what it means to hurt, and more importantly, how to heal. It is my sincere hope that if we all do our part to keep an open mind and open heart - that this is what The Makeshift Movement can help bring to our community.
by Alison Amato