It’s dark. It’s always dark no matter what time of day.
My music is turned up and my headphones are in so I can try to escape into the lyrics. I’m hunched against the door of the bathroom feeling the cool tile floor against my feet while I’m hugging my legs to my body trying to calm down. I’m trying to take deep breaths. It feels like everything is closing in around me and then collapsing. I’m collapsing with it, and I cannot stop the fall. I’m Alice, but I’m not going to wonderland. I’m fighting the tears… because once I start, I know I cannot stop. Everything is spilling over. All of my emotions are spilling over. All of the thoughts surrounding losing my dad, living with type 1 diabetes and all of the stigma, and the desire to run away from the small town I live in are swirling around in my head. I cannot pick one thing to focus on. It’s always an avalanche with everything at once.
I just want to stifle it down like I know best- like I always do. I’m fighting the words inside my head telling me everything is crumbling around me- that I’m a failure- that everyone hates me- that I’m not worth it. These words keep adjusting and coming back, again and again. Eventually the tears escape and the sobbing shakes my entire body. I feel like I can’t breathe. I scream into a pillow to try to flush it all out. I don’t know how to make it stop.
The decision to possibly reach out to someone in my life is in the form of a reminder from my cell phone inches away from me. Do I use it to reach out to someone? But who? I don’t want to scare anyone or ask to much of them or do something that pushes them away. In my mind this is what happens, and I cannot keep repeating it. Most moments I decide to leave the phone where it is and sit there with my own staggered breathing. Reminding myself that the countdown to college gets closer each day. That’s what gets me through it. That’s what I focus on. In my mind that’s what will make it all better. Not just a new environment which is the main focus, but the ability to take care of myself first and explore who I am away from the past and the box everyone tries to push me in. No one walking on eggshells around me anymore. No labels. No more judgement. Not feeling like I’m the only one in my situation or with my views. I’ll be free. I will be okay.
Growing up I’d call these “my freak outs”.
I didn’t have something to label them properly. I’d experience them on occasion (actually more than on occasion) throughout middle and high school, but I knew how to get out of them. I knew what to do. I could pull myself up from the bootstraps and power on- focusing on something I could control or try to control which was often my type 1 diabetes. I would focus on the future. I would focus on doing my best. It could be exhausting and take a while, but I’d do it. I’d come back up and keep pushing forward.
But there would be times when a freak out was inconsolable. Where I couldn’t bring myself back easily. I couldn’t get out of them easily. I’d fall asleep eventually after I exhausted all of the emotions out of my system and with the sound of the TV on in the background to keep myself focused on something other than the thoughts in my head. I’d wake up exhausted and drained, but I’d carry on.
I wasn’t tracking when these would happen. Mental health wasn’t something you talked about or shared in my world. The stigma everywhere and from everyone was countless. The fear that this would be what would break me if I was truly honest with anyone. The fear that I’d get caught and found out. Bullet journals weren’t a concept I would learn about and embrace until my mid-twenties and use them to track my mental health and chronic illnesses. I wouldn’t pay any mind to them really. I would blame myself. I’d keep it to myself. I’d try to forget it ever happened. I’d tell myself I was overreacting and had no reason.
I’d wake up in the morning like nothing had happened.
If it happened in the middle of the day, I’d pull myself together and pretend like I hadn’t just had a meltdown. I took “fake it, ‘till you make it” to the extreme. I was lucky in a way. Evidence of tears were only apparent with makeup. On the days I felt more fragile, I’d skip the makeup that day.
I thought this was just a part of life. I thought that I was weak, Why couldn’t I get it together? What was wrong with me?
I didn’t know how to cope. I didn’t want to learn how to cope at the time, but I was also in survival mode. I didn’t have the head space or the actual time to cope. I had too much to do. The countdown I zeroed in on did make all of the difference in the end, but not just for the reasons I focused on at the time. The countdown of graduation and college.
My light at the end of the tunnel.
Once I got to college, I was able to pursue counseling for the first time and actually embrace it. I was ready for it. I had been forced into counseling situations before, but I wasn’t ready- they weren’t people I clicked with- and I lied. It wasn’t when I needed it as a kid, but when I did need it- it was nowhere to be found, and I would be treated like it was too late. Another part of it was affordability and finding something that worked for me. Finding that in a small town in the south with a chronic illness was not easy- especially when finances played a factor. So in college, I entered counseling with a ready mindset and a grant to pay for services at the counseling center on campus for those in need. I finally grieved the loss of my dad and worked on looking at past relationships and how to go from there. I went to group therapy- to learn that maybe there’s at least someone who can understand at least a bit of me.
I started embracing the importance of mental health through my experiences and studying social work.
I dived into self-care after several hiccups. Although the freak outs were less frequent, I would still have major ones. I would get discouraged and think I was leaping backwards.
I always felt like a fraud.
Well there was something “wrong” with me. But it was something- well things- out of my control. And it wasn’t the type 1 diabetes or losing my dad when I was 12. It wasn’t things from my past either.
It was my body.
I didn’t have the diagnoses at the time to explain it all to me or to know how to manage it. There was something going on in my brain- HOWEVER- it wasn’t the delayed anxiety, OCD, and ADHD diagnosis in college (although it played into it.)
I finally knew that these “freak outs” had a name.
I went on medications for the ADHD and the anxiety, and these “freak outs” subsided for the most part. Things got better.
But, then, periodically, I’d have the extreme breakdowns again. Since I was now on medications and knew what was going on. I could take steps to manage it. I could take the steps to figure it out. I started tracking when these breakdowns would occur.
This tracking lined up with the tracking for my period.
We all know the impact of periods and hormones on emotions. But with all of the factors and unknowns before, it was the last thing I was trying to figure out because it felt like a part of all of it. It was like trying to untangle several pieces of jewelry with similar chains.
I used this knowledge to try and remind myself in the moment that it was the period talking. That it wasn’t me. That it wasn’t just the anxiety, ADHD, or OCD. That it wasn’t necessarily that my blood sugar spiked, but it spiked because of my period.
After I was diagnosed with PCOS and endometriosis, I had an explanation for the issues with my period, the acne, the excessive hair growth, and why it was so incredibly difficult to lose weight but so easy to gain it.
The decision was to go on birth control continuously which helped with so much.
But there was one thing I wasn’t ready for when I went on continuous birth control-
The uncontrollable breakdowns stopped. The breakdowns I struggled to find a reasoning behind. I now knew that it was more than just my period.
Now of course mental health still happens. Of course things come up. Of course I still experience emotions and anxiety and scattered-ness. Of course I cry. Of course I get angry.
But now- I’m not grasping myself in pain and freaking out alone on the bathroom floor.
Now I can bring myself back. I grab that phone to reach out to the people in my life.
Now there’s a reason for it or something happened- typical emotional responses.
I have answers and tools and now knowing it wasn’t normal or okay.
What I was experiencing wasn’t the usual- but so many things involved are taboo. I was ashamed and didn’t want to bring it up. Maybe I would tell people, but only bits and pieces. Only to an extent. Not too much so I wouldn’t get found out.
Talking about it helped and made all of the difference. It found resources and answers.
My, what a diagnosis can do! My, what speaking up does!
When Your Darkest Moments are Tied to Your Period
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