Piecing together my own experiences with Mental Health

Brooke and I are huge advocates for mental health, we’re pretty much a couple of poster children for it. In a previous post Brooke shared some of her story and I wanted to add some of mine too in hopes that you’ll be able to take from it my empathy, validation and support, or something else you might need. I wish I’d heard more about these things growing up.
Mental Health Experience by popular US graphic and web designers for small businesses, Bea and Elle: Pinterest image of piece together my own experiences with mental health.

A couple of years ago I read Wil Wheaton’s essay for Medium called “My Name is Wil Wheaton. I Live With Chronic Depression and Generalized Anxiety. I Am Not Ashamed.” It’s actually the first tab open in my phone browser of the 200 I keep open which is also an overwhelmingly accurate representation of my mental health experience. His article sits there in first place, easy to find, as a token to ground myself when I feel like I’m starting to drown. Yesterday I listened to Zachary Levi talk again about mental health and felt compelled to reciprocate the support I again felt from his openness by putting my own story down and getting it out there, to make it good for something, just in case…

I only started piecing together my own experiences and their mental health puzzle-piece counterparts over the last chunk of my life. Up until then I just thought I was weird, too sensitive,  anti-social, socially awkward, unwilling to lead, easily irritated, forgettable and unlovable.

My Personal Mental Health Experience

Some of my earliest memories of anxiety are as a young child about 6 years old. I recall regularly laying in my bed watching the sun get brighter outside my curtains. I remember having bile rise up my throat as I thought about the day ahead: Going to school. Getting up on time. Packing the right things for the day. Finding my shoes. Did I do my homework right? Being asked to answer a question in class. Reading in front of everyone or worse having to recite times tables. What if I lose my lunch money? Not being picked for Heads-Down-Thumbs-Up. Does nobody like me? I remember planning on telling my mum that I felt sick. I did feel sick. I continued to feel sick every day until I graduated high school. Sometimes I’d stay home and our family doctor would come to the house. Nothing was physically wrong with me. I wasn’t sick, get back to school. Catch up on what you’ve missed. Rinse and repeat.

I remember acting up a few times at school. I still carry the shame of these experiences even 30 years later and it blows my mind how miniscule the situation is yet how gargantuan the impact on my conditioning… I had an undiagnosed learning disability called dyscalculia and because I never rocked the boat it was never addressed. I just seemed like I was lazy and uninterested, unaffected by pressure. The dyscalculia affects my short term memory and attention span – I can’t remember sequences, phone numbers, retain a recipe to follow, schedules, dates, social security number etc. Those are all anxiety inducing and can lead to generalised school phobia in kids. I just never was a high achiever and flew under the radar. I never spoke unless I was spoken to and never learned to express my emotions because of this.

The time I expressed frustration in class – as opposed to being defiant as it manifested itself as – I blacked out the page number in my math workbook. The teacher left a note in it saying to erase it. I left a note back saying “no.” My parents were called in to the school to talk about it. It was so unexpected and out of character for Laura.

There are a few other key experiences throughout my schooling that run like a highlight reel of torture through my mind usually when I’m not mentally stable enough to switch them off and I tell myself how stupid I am. It usually fires up as soon as my head hits my pillow and they rob me of my rest. There’s nothing like laying in the dark and quiet for hours with nothing to do but analyse 30+ years of your own flaws and shortcomings…

I remember my brother’s face when he asked me as a teenager why I didn’t go out on the weekends with my friends. “Because I’m not convinced they like me. They’re all pretending, to be polite.” Adult Laura recognises these symptoms (and lies) and is trying to recondition her inner child who is still in there, shy, codependent, insecure and anxious.

I am acutely aware, looking back, of how my current mental health came to be from how it resonated throughout childhood. I try to keep my experiences relevant especially as I raise my own two daughters. Everyone is different and I don’t believe in conforming to a standardized structure when it comes to education – and my kids don’t show any sign of struggling with numbers or sequence retention like I did. They’re basically geniuses, of course.

The take away I’d like to leave with this short glimpse into my brain and mental health analysis is that it’s normal to struggle. Not that that makes it any easier, but we’re not alone and you ARE doing great. Reach out if you need it. People want to support you even if it means actively waiting for you, holding space, being a presence when you need it. The unfiltered condition of your mental being isn’t a weakness.

It took me a long time to find the confidence to get my degree in Graphic Design after I’d actually been working as a graphic designer for years. I had expertise but lacked the confidence to go through the schooling process to get the degree. I’d tell myself, “you don’t deserve it,” “there are SO many people who are better at this than you,” “how are you going to do business when you can’t even count?” It was an important step for my healing because I am capable – one of the ways I describe myself at most things is “reluctantly capable.” I struggled and I earned the degree. Now I find validation creating bold, confident brand identities and it’s therapeutic to me. I upload the branding packages I create with my blessing for my clients and I watch them take it and intentionally use it to succeed, unapologetically. And that gives me confidence. I wish I had felt that way growing up.

I’m Laura. I’m a 30-something mother of two wild, bright, feisty, beautiful daughters. I’ve been a wife for almost half of my life. My husband carries a huge part of the weight of my anxiety and depression (usually) along with me and he had no idea what he was signing up for by partnering up with me. I am an immigrant, a daughter, a sister, a business partner. I accept my mental health for what it is and I try to magnify the sensitivity, empathy, compassion, and loyalty that I feel are traits I’ve developed due to the mental struggles I’ve battled. I’m not ashamed of my mental illness although I am often exhausted by it. I know what rock bottom feels like. I’ve experienced suicidal ideation, panic attacks, postpartum anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, and feelings of not being worthy of affection. I’ve also experienced support, nurturing, gentleness, and authenticity from other humans. I’m often reluctantly capable, but I am doing this and I’m happy to be an example of broken, chaotic, capable resilience to you, if you need it.

Do you have any mental health experience?  Let us know in a comment below!

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Brooke and Laura have a combined 20+ years of experience in graphic design, web design, and business branding.

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