My Mental Health Journey

My Mental Health Journey

With the stigma of mental health slowly eroding, and people divulging their own stories, I finally feel comfortable revealing the details of my mental health journey.

This is my personal story about how a red-headed, freckle-faced, giggly young girl 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 now live in the present with intention and I hope it inspires others who may be suffering.

The Roots of My Mental Health Journey

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. So how was I able to overcome growing up on such uneven ground and build a fulfilling life?

In my formative years, my parents fought like cats and dogs, and sometimes my father would hit my mother.

Subconsciously, I used a coping mechanism for surviving the constant chaos by trying to remain anonymous. I never wanted to experience my father’s wrath so I was a model child — never getting into trouble, getting straight A’s in all my classes, and trying to stay as unnoticed as possible. Unfortunately, my brothers didn’t get the memo and they suffered repeated physical abuse at the hands of my father.

Overall, my parents were so self-absorbed that 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 my back-to-school nights, or basically noticed me at all. And I was truly grateful for that. My strategy worked and I never got beaten.

After a short separation, my parents reconciled, stayed together for a year, and then separated again for good. I thought that things in my home life would drastically improve, but I was left in the care of a single mother without any job skills who suffered terrible bouts of depression. It was no picnic.

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.

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. But I wasn’t letting that get in the way of my need to break free. So I applied for financial aid and attended the State University of New York at Albany on a full scholarship.

By Going Away to College I Had A Chance to Start Over

Family members and close friends all knew about my serious unstable home life. So, going away gave me a fresh start and it 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.

Unfortunately, after only two years my mother (you can read more about her here) made me come home so I could attend her alma mater NYU. She was embarrassed that I attended a public university and wanted me to graduate from a private institution. Personally, I think she just didn’t want to live alone since both my brothers had already moved out.

Healing My Mental Health

One year after I graduated, I met the most honest, committed man in a bar on Fire Island and we got 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 after our honeymoon, I started therapy (at his suggestion). I went twice a week for 10 years to work through the fears and anxieties I felt on a daily basis. I had night terrors and panic episodes and eventually went on medication.

Psychotherapy treatment, doctor and patient sitting and talking, vector concept illustration

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 close friends.

The downside to all of this is that my nuclear family was shattered beyond repair and my mother, and siblings 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, but a mighty nuclear family with small holiday gatherings minus any drama.

Now and in the Future

Presently, I am enjoying a very fulfilling retirement from work which allows me to focus on new challenges I never had time for in the past. What possible passion projects can you take on when you have a daily 3-hour commute, work long hours, and are raising 2 kids? Now it’s Me time. I don’t mean my focus will be on me and how I look, but rather, on ways I can add meaningful value to our community.

It’s only been a few months since I embarked on this new life phase and I started this blog, run my husbands’ marketing and media campaigns for his business, volunteer with the NJ Community Food Bank and the NJ Coalition for Harm Reduction (providing resources for people caught up in the opioid crisis). And it feels like I am just getting started.

Because I am charting my own course as I see fit, I am finding it incredibly empowering. I am in great health, have financial security, a good support system, and look forward to the future and having a positive impact on people in need.

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

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Published by Amy Sandelman Harris

Welcome to our community. I use my voice on my blog to affect change through philanthropy, advocacy, and activism. My blog is meant to inspire people to get involved.

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