More Than Mentally Ill

Fourteen years ago, I was diagnosed with Depression.

Nine years ago, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified).

Five years ago, I graduated college, became a small business owner, and English teacher, but I was still fighting daily battles with my own mind.

Two months ago, I quit my job to pursue my passion – writing.

One week ago, I went back on psychiatric medication.

Two hours ago, I decided to stop letting my diagnoses dictate my life.

Welcome to More Than Mentally Ill, a site dedicated to documenting my own journey through mental illness and a resource for those fighting alongside me.

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My Start

I quit my job three months ago.

After moving to Chicago from Minneapolis, quitting a teaching job I didn’t really like, and finding myself back in the retail world, it didn’t take long before I needed out. Well, wanted out. No, needed out. I’m the kind of person that, once I find some semblance of routine and comfort, will hold onto that for dear life. It’s one of the fun parts of my anxiety. Forced complacency. My discomfort with change couples up with my need for clear expectations and guidelines to form an inseparable bond. If my Whole Foods location hadn’t closed down, I’d probably still be selling homeopathic tablets to overprotective parents and straightening cans of soup. This isn’t to say that I’m “too good” to work retail, but I know that my skills and desire to make a difference were not being fully utilized there.

When I moved to a secondhand clothing store, I told myself that, at least, I was helping recycle and working with clothing, both things that I care about. Instead, I found myself picking up after grown adults and touching far too many dirty pairs of underwear. Still, I wasn’t making the most of my brain or my education. So I quit. I told myself that, if I had nothing stopping me from doing the one thing I’ve ever loved doing, I would read and write all day. In no time, I’d have an established freelance writing career, and everyone would tell me how brave I was to follow my passion with nothing on the other side to catch me.

About four and a half days after my last day of work, after I’d returned from a trip home to recharge with friends, I remembered. I still had unmedicated anxiety and depression, both conditions only worsening due to my social isolation and lack of upward mobility since moving to a new state. My surroundings may have changed, but my brain hadn’t. For the first month, I let myself relax. I told myself that the unpredictability of my retail schedule was what was keeping me from seeing friends and making new ones. I blamed 40 hours weeks for the zero hours I spent doing anything else productive or creative outside of work. I worked on a story for a journal back home and wrote a few articles for a local website. They didn’t pay, but they made me feel like a real writer. As someone who rarely struggled in any aspects of life aside from mental, having little to no spending money was good for me. I felt like I was, for once, a real millennial adult.

Then the second month came. It was a new year, and I pushed back against my normal impulses to commit to changing my entire life along with it. I didn’t change a thing. I kept sleeping until eleven, eating like crap, telling myself I’d write tomorrow just like I’d work out tomorrow just like I’d call my friends tomorrow just like I’d leave the house tomorrow. Tomorrow, for those of us with mental illness, is always a busy day. Too busy, most of the time, to really get anything done. Better to try again the next day.

But waking up every day knowing that tomorrow would have to wait another day wore on me. It continues to. I am almost three months into unemployment, and all I can say is I’m fortunate to have a lot in savings. I am applying to work for a tutoring company. Yet another job that will monopolize evenings and weekends, the same schedule that I told myself I didn’t want out of retail. I tell myself that it’ll be better because it pays more, even if it adds a 1.5 hour round trip commute to my days. I don’t know whether to believe myself anymore. Part of me thinks that I’ll just use it as another excuse for why I can’t write. Part of me knows I will. Another part wants to believe that I won’t fall back into old patterns, but there’s no part of me that really believes I won’t.

I’ve been on medication for about a month now. Good ole Lexapro and I going another few rounds together has so far been positive. I have a little more energy. I’m not crying for 100% no reason anymore, and even my road rage has improved. (I’m hoping that’ll keep up once this new commute starts.) But no amount of medication or positive affirmations can change the past. Every time I tell myself that this time will be different, I have hundreds of times when I had the opportunity to change and didn’t.

And here is where the classic mental illness conundrum comes into play. I didn’t do something I should have. It’s because of my mental illness. Am I just a robot responding to misfirings from my brain? Do I have any free will? In the past, I’ve exercised free will. In the past, I’ve also repeatedly succumbed to symptoms of my mental illness. Which one is easier? Which one is really me? Does a real me even exist without my mental illness? Next thing I know, writing a blog post or leaving the house or calling a friend turns into an existential clusterfuck, except now I’m too tired or frustrated or despondent to actually just do the thing. And back into the circle I go.

When you start out as a freelance writer, they tell you to pick a niche. Something you know enough about to write a lot about. Something that matters to you. Despite going to college to teach English, owning my own business, and working in retail for over ten years, this is still what matters most to me. This is why I started More Than Mentally Ill. Because nothing has colored more of my life experiences than this. My anxiety, depression, and eating disorder have fundamentally made me who I am today. But I am more than just my anxiety, depression, and eating disorder. I am a writer, even though I only write sometimes. I am a good friend, even though I only call or text sometimes. I am a good person, even though I only believe that sometimes. I want to believe there is more for me in this world than what makes my anxiety, depression, and eating disordered thoughts comfortable. I want to believe that I can find those things myself, maybe with a little help from others. I want to believe this is the right place to start, even though that’s not how life works. There is no right or wrong way to start living your real life. You just have to start.

So, this is my start.