Mental Illness Might Just Be A Superpower – Here’s Why
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. For me and many other people, it's a month in which we work hard to break the stigma of mental illness by sharing our personal stories.
It's not always been easy for me to share my struggles with mental illness. For much of my life, I felt ashamed and I felt people would judge me, based on my disorder. Fear of my anxiety and fear of people discovering what I was trying so hard to cover up, ruled my life.
Once I began working with kids and seeing signs of anxiety disorder in my daughter, I knew I had to help others by being brave enough to share my story. My hope is that through my own battler and victories with mental illness, others would find strength and understanding.
After my on-air radio career turned into a multi-media platform, I realized I could use my job to help others. Since then, I have been very vocal on the air, and online about my anxiety. Hopefully, through sharing my story, I can help you, or someone you know, find hope and peace. I have posted my mental illness many times before, but if it can help, even just a little bit, I will post it again, and again, and again.
My mental illness was diagnosed as an anxiety disorder. A DISorder implies that it doesn't fit in the order of things. It's out of order. But, what if it, along with other forms of mental illness it's just another way of thinking? What if it's actually a superpower?
After the age of 50, I began to realize that my mental illness was actually my superpower. Through it, I have been enlightened and empowered. It gave me a deeper sense of understanding and empathy than I would have had otherwise. Creatively, it helped to open up parts of my mind and soul so that they could unite in vivid colors, emotions, and frames of thought. In my weakness I found strength and in my darkness I found light. Read more about the concept of the superpower of mental illness, HERE.
Today and every day, it's important to #breakthestigma because we've all had our moments of insanity. For much of my life, my moments were filled with excruciating anxiety. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with anxiety. Moments when, out of nowhere, I would be overcome with fear and dread. I would feel as if I couldn't breathe, my heart would race, my stomach would become nauseous and I would have the urge to run around screaming and yelling.
Let's start from the beginning...
My anxiety issues are part of my earliest memories. Starting at 3 or 4 years old, I have vague memories of dread and nervousness. Moments I can remember feeling like a couldn't breathe. At 5 years old, I started taking a dance class. Little did I know that one day dance and performance would save my life.
Yearly recitals would put me on stage in front of hundreds of people. In high school and college, I studied theatre and performed in several productions. I was ALWAYS the performer. When on stage, I could become someone else, not myself. For some reason, I felt more comfortable in someone else's skin than my own. I tried to escape my anxiety by throwing myself into a make-believe world and it worked. But, doing this was very dangerous. Trying to hide it and not dealing with the bully that was living inside me was only adding fuel to the growing fire.
After college, my days on stage came to an end when I married, in my mid-twenties, and became a mother to a beautiful baby girl. Soon after the birth of my daughter, a feeling that had plagued me even in childhood returned in full force. It stopped me in my tracks. I couldn't even take care of my baby. I'm talking 23 hrs of dread and fear a day. It was debilitating. I was afraid to leave my home. It was so bad I thought about ending it all by taking my own life. I once sat on my bed with a gun in my hand and another time I sat on the floor of my closet with a bottle of pills. In the photo below, I don't look right. My face is tense and struggling to smile.
I knew I had to get help. I found a great therapist and was diagnosed with a severe case of anxiety/panic disorder. At that moment, I started dealing with some serious issues in my life. One of the big issues for me was being sexually molested as a very young child. I realized how ashamed I was and how much I hated myself. Although I felt good while going to therapy, I was a long way from leaving my demons behind me. I had to find the courage and strength to look my demons in the eye and stand strong to fight them.
You must understand that like many people, no one around me knew how bad I was suffering. I could hide it VERY well. After all, I was an actress. I was so good at hiding it, during that time, I taught high school students about life, through theatre, and helped start a theatre company for their parents and others in the community. I even won awards for my impact on the community and my students. Nobody knew about my suffering, except my family and really close friends.
My anxiety was like a vice grip, squeezing the life out of me. A huge victory in my battle came during my divorce. During that time, I WAS standing at the edge of the cliff of life...scared to death. What would I do? How could move forward while still in the clutches of my anxiety? I chose to use my fear to help in my healing.
I decided to audition for the musical, Chicago. I saw the musical as an opportunity to look anxiety directly in the face by doing something I had always feared, singing, by myself in front of an audience. It also offered a symbolic way of leaving my old life behind. I bit the bullet and auditioned and the director gave me the role of Velma Kelly. What? She was the LEAD. I couldn't do that. Or, could I? Yes, I could.
Opening night, I wanted to run away from the theater and away from an uncertain future, but running meant going back to my former life. THAT was out of the question. So, I took a deep breath and walked up the steps of the set, stood behind the curtain ready to make my entrance. As I heard my music cue and stepped out into the spotlight, I began singing and dancing.
At that very moment, I got ME back, a better me. I killed it that night. The new and better me emerged and took ownership of everything in my life and everything that had happened to me. All of my mistakes, failures, sadness, hatred, resentment, and fear, I accepted and embraced. For the first time in my life, I saw my superpower and what it takes to have it. And, h9ow it can help to make the world a better place for me and for those who need help discovering theirs.
After Chicago was over, I felt like I had found or recovered a better part of myself. I was ready to start living again, ready to move on from my past and step into a beautiful, loving, exciting, and powerful future.
Now, at 54, I feel extremely happy, incredibly confident, and stronger than ever. I do need to work on my physical health, though, The pandemic was not kind to me. There were times I thought it might break me and set me back decades in my coping techniques. But, even with the stress of my son's health, my return to work requirements, and the lingering feeling of never wanting to leave my house., I survived. I'm better because of it. and I remained strong. In a crisis, I was the one who was understanding of the complex needs of those around me and I was empathetic to struggle and fear. My superpower of mental illness made me better equipped to handle whatever came my way.
Now, I just take life one day at a time, focus on the positive and love the life I'm living. It's so important to take care of myself and think of my mental health issues in a positive way. And, YOU can too! Don't give up, don't suffer alone. There IS help. Don't let the bully of anxiety rule your life. Find out ways to manage your Anxiety HERE!