According to the Mayo Clinic; "Mental illness, also called mental health disorders, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior." A quick Google search claims the most common types of mental illness are; clinical depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, dementia, ADHD, Schizophrenia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Each and every one of these disorders are complexed illnesses that vary in severity but in most cases all can feel stigmatized in today's culture. Those of us who suffer from one, or more of these diagnoses, carry around these heavy labels that can be hard to navigate because of lack of understanding of the disorders.
I am writing this today to begin a dialogue, introduce my story and begin talking more openly about my personal mental health. I hope to write more pieces that dig deeper into specifics that can help others understand, heal or inspire. I also hope to crack the surface of this harmful stigma and to open the conversation of awareness, compassion and understanding by sharing part of my story.
"Labels" a series of the heavy labels currently placed on me by society or myself.
Growing up in a small town in middle America in the 1990's, I was exposed to much of what landlocked girls in a town of 20,000, the largest city within 50 miles, are exposed to. Our house sat just off the last road in town that the pizza places delivered to and I often knew the name of the animals we ate at dinner.
The year was 2004 and I was known just well enough to be on the student senate but nerdy enough to march with my saxophone in the band and just edgy enough to do it all with specs of paint and clay all over my clothes. I mean why would I bother to wash up before class when I arrived to school early to work on my art projects.
I don't remember much from high school. Maybe it was my constant feeling of being a puzzle piece placed in the wrong puzzle box, maybe it's because high school was 15+ years ago or maybe it was because my high school memories weren't incredibly thrilling nor horrible either. What I do remember is a conversation with my friend our junior year in class after reviewing her notes for one reason or another. What I can never forget was witnessing the most beautiful handwriting I have ever seen. The penmanship looked as if she typed out her essay on a computer, that's how perfect each letter was. I remember being awestruck and commenting on her handwriting. She credited the complement to something called OCD. This was the first time I had ever heard about this condition and I was fascinated to learn more. She told me a bit about her obsessions combined with her compulsions and how some of the simple tasks many people take for granted were extremely challenging for her. She mentioned how if her handwriting wasn't perfect, bad things that would happen. I couldn't get this out of my head because I felt like she was in my head, describing my mental frame work but without the perfect handwriting part. A few weeks... maybe months... later in phycology class we began studying mental illness. We were asked to choose a mental illness disorder to study and report on the following week. I chose Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD for short. After a week or so digging deep into the ins and outs of this disorder I was finally able to articulate and understand what happened to me at age 7.
Summer 1993, the day before Father's Day, we drove to my grandparents house to spend the day with my sick grandfather. He had cancer for as long as I could remember, yet he kept outliving the doctor's expectations because he was a fighter & a Chyma after all -- us Chyma's, we are a proud bunch and we always fight, always. I was sitting on their porch swing with my mother as I watched my grandmother give my very sick grandpa his pills and for the first time I can remember I had an empathic thought "Maybe it would be better if he just passed way, so he wouldn't have to suffer through this sickness." We got in the car and drove home shortly after the encounter to land 20 minutes down the road to our home. The next day was a whirl wind and all I remember is my parents being flustered and rushing out the door to get to the hospital, leaving my brother and myself home alone for a few minutes until my aunt got there. My grandfather passed away soon after they arrived to the hospital and I was left unable to articulate my thoughts but I felt immediate guilt because clearly I killed my grandfather with my mind because of the thought I had the day prior.
So here sat Leah, age seven, a young girl who believed in Santa Clause, loved Barbie dolls, Legos, the Little Mermaid and also had the power to kill people with her mind. She could never articulate the last one, no matter how often she tried the words never came out so instead of speaking about it she had rituals to do in order for bad things not to happen.
It was a bit like this;
Step 1: Horrible thought of someone dying pops into head
Step 2: Touch the door knob and run up and down the stairs 33 times
Step 3: Then kiss your bible 13 times
Step 4: Wait and just hope that person doesn't die
Step 5: Repeat
Step 6: Oh and what ever you do avoid the number 6 at all possible costs
Step 7: Repeat whenever Step 1 happens again.
Now I can only speak from my experience and I grew up in a loving family who would have done anything for me but I was unable to understand or dictate what was happening inside me so I spent years dealing with these episodes until I adapted to make them less severe. It wasn't until that fateful day in high school that I began understanding what was happening inside my brain which is when I began understanding and speaking about it.
It seems that having OCD as a child combined with the change of your brain chemistry from your accident, you are wavering the line of Bipolar Disorder.
December 2019. My initial thoughts were "Wait... what? Another label? OCD, TBI, Depression, PTSD why the hell not throw another disorder on top of the mountain." But my lovely therapist elaborated and helped me work on a plan to regulate my mood and, per my request, we came up with natural methods of supplements and therapies to do so. We began identifying triggers, patterns and habits that helped or hurt our progress to regulation. In March of 2020 my artistic brain took over and to help track the process I began taking photos of myself whenever I was experiencing a low. I wanted to track and see if there were any patterns in my face, body language, surroundings or anything to try and manage these moods. The following photos were all taken in states of depression.
The interesting part of this experiment was many of the patterns were exactly the same as any other day but one thing I came to notice was in my eyes. I can see more visibly into my soul and without a shed of doubt by looking at these photos I can tell you I was feeling a low. Now this realization threw me for a loop. How can I tell just by looking at a photo how I am feeling? After discussion with my therapist it seems, sometimes without even knowing it, I have been on a journey for a very long time learning how to navigate and regulate my moods and i've become in tune enough to read myself. I believe this awareness stems from having to understand myself and my thoughts at a very young age.
Now this is just the beginning, I have so much more to learn about myself, to explain and to share with my readers but I wanted to open up the conversation. Over the next few posts I would love to talk about my OCD journey as a young child the ways it has manifested and helped my creativity and also how it's held me back. I would also love to continue discussing mood regulation and self realization and to share therapies that have helped, and are still helping, me heal. What other things would you like to read about? Please let me know so I can continue providing value and insight as Knockin' Noggins mission includes education and awareness not just badass custom design!