My Mental Health Journey

With the stigma of mental health slowly eroding, and all kinds of people coming out with their own stories, I finally feel comfortable revealing my mental health journey.

This is my personal story about how a red-headed, freckle-faced young girl filled with wonder and optimism lived in a house filled with chaos and violence and how she overcame the resulting mental health issues she endured. Luckily, mine is a feel-good mental health journey and I hope it inspires others who may be suffering.

The Roots of My Mental Health Issues

By nature, I am a jovial and optimistic person. If I weren’t I don’t think I would have been able to overcome the trauma I endured repeatedly in my childhood. That said, physiologically, repetitive trauma affects the circuitry in your brain and stunts your emotional development. So there was much to overcome physiologically, mentally, and emotionally.

For the first 13 years of my life, I lived in a home filled with chaos and fear. Sometimes those feelings get set off today in very benign situations. I live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

However, neither of these mental health issues have limited my ability to live a fulfilling life, remain jovial, have good relationships, and have a rewarding career. Most people are quite shocked when I divulge the painful drama I endured in my youth and my ability to seem so normal now.

In my formative years, I lived with two older brothers who could be quite combative, my mother who suffered from bipolar disorder, and my father – an insanely creative ad exec who was physically abusive. The ideal dysfunctional family.

My parents fought like cats and dogs and sometimes my father would hit my mother. He once slammed her head into a wall cracking open her forehead, necessitating an emergency room visit and stitches.

My coping mechanism amongst the chaos was to try and be invisible. I never wanted to suffer my father’s wrath so I was a model child — never getting into trouble. Unfortunately, my eldest brother didn’t get the memo and my father picked on him mercilessly. I remember one time he got so angry at him he pulled the wires from the television set out and whipped him up and down his body. The purple-colored scars prevented him from attending school for a whole week because my mother didn’t want someone to notice and say something. She was more concerned with what others thought than my poor, battered 11-year-old brother’s emotional and physical well-being. How crazy is that?

Overall, my parents were so self-absorbed and the three of us kids were completely neglected. My parents frequently traveled to Europe, lavishly entertained my father’s clients, and were basically never home. No one ever checked my homework, went to back to school night, or basically noticed me at all. And I was truly grateful for that. My strategy worked and I never got beaten even one time.

My other coping mechanism was to get to bed as early as possible because my father often worked late and I could avoid seeing him for days at a time.

When I was 9 my parents got separated, and my mom moved us from Long Island to Florida for a year. I loved it there. But, sadly she reconciled with my father and together they moved the family to Forest Hills Queens. I attended three different grammar schools in 12 months. After only 1 year of living together in Forest Hills, my parents divorced (when I was 13) and I was so excited. I thought that things in my home life would drastically improve without my father’s combustible anger hanging over our heads. But, I was left with a single mother without any job skills (yet college-educated) who suffered terrible bouts of depression. It was no picnic.

Once my father left, I pretty much never saw him again. He wasn’t all that interested in me and I was afraid of him – so it was pretty mutual. Many years later when I attended his funeral, I met his circle of friends, and his wife and I was shocked to think he went on to live a seemingly normal life. It was like a bad tv movie because none of them knew he even had a daughter. I guess being invisible really worked

In my middle and high school years, all I could dream about was leaving home. I hated living with my mother and brothers. I never felt like I fit in or appreciated their sick sense of humor. My ticket was to try and get the best grades possible and get into a great college. So I worked my but off, smoked a lot of pot, and had good support from several close friends. I made the dean’s list and dreamed of attending the University of Virginia at Richmond.

Age 15 at Sleep Away Camp

Though my parents bought designer clothes and drove luxury cars they neglected to set aside any funds to send me to college. With my dreams dashed I learned about the state school system and attended the State University of New York at Albany on a full scholarship.

Leaving home lived up to everything I dreamed about and then some. I think I may have had the best college freshman experience of anyone I know. I quickly made a great circle of friends and fell head over heels in love with the cutest guy from Long Island who looked just like Tom Cruise.

After only two years away my mother made me come home so I could attend her alma mater NYU. She was embarrassed that I attended public college and wanted me in a private institution. It meant I had to take out students loans to pay tuition and would have to live at home and commute over an hour by subway to class. I was miserable for those two years and never forgave her for forcing me to put aside my dreams.

Healing My Mental Health

Shortly after I graduated, I met the most honest, committed man I ever knew and we married when I was only 25 years old. It’s 36 years later and I can say that I still feel like it was the best decision I ever made. Shortly thereafter, I started therapy (at his suggestion). I went twice a week for 10 years working through the fears and anxieties I felt on a daily basis. I had night terrors and panic episodes and eventually went on medication.

And it all worked. Today I can say I am very happy with my life choices; married to my very best friend in the world, a mother to two adult children who are independently making their way in the world, achieved great success in my profession (and had the best time doing it) and have a small inner circle of friends.

The downside to all of this is that my nuclear family was shattered beyond repair and we all went our separate ways. None of us have any dialogue with each other and my kids don’t know their aunts, uncles, and 6 first cousins. So we are a small nuclear family with small numbers of people at our holiday dinners and no drama.

When my kids were small I tried like hell to bridge the divide with both of my brothers, but there was no foundation to work from. We each suffered separately and survived in the best ways we knew how. Unfortunately, both of them have repeated a lot of the drama we grew up with by getting divorced and losing touch with their kids. I can’t imagine losing touch with my kids no matter what egregious thing they did. It makes me so sad to think about it.

So that’s the story. of my mental health; it downs and ups. Now, I am looking favorably to the next several chapters of my life and the continued happiness that lies ahead.

My Own Little Family

If you are struggling with mental issues you may want to contact the following resources:

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Published by Amy Sandelman Harris

My name is Amy Sandelman Harris - I am a woman of a certain age and I continue to live a full life. While now officially retired, I have decades of professional business experience. The increase in my free time allows me to read more than ever-- one of my greatest passions as well as do volunteer work advocate for causes, cook and overall live a slower life. Through this lens, I cover deeply personal stories and issues that most people are too uncomfortable to talk about as well as provide the very best online shopping resrouces. Everything is on the record. But the one thing you can count on is that I will always have the best online shopping tips around.

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