Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Let Talk about...Mental Health #ItAffectsMe

All week long I have contemplated whether or not I should write this blog. Bell Let's Talk Day 2016 was last week and it inspired me to share my own story. I tweeted using it's hashtag and received so much support. I now know I am not alone.This is difficult and somewhat uncomfortable to share but that is exactly the reason why I should. It affects me- I have a Dissociative Disorder.

"I get these headaches sometimes. No big deal. This isn't an out and out lie, because the headaches are part of it. It's like my brain is firing so fast that it can't keep up with itself. Words. Colors. Sounds. Sometimes everything else fades into the background and all I'm left with is sound, I can hear everything, but not just hear it- I can feel it too. But then it can come all at once- the sounds turn into light, and the light goes too bright, and it's like its slicing me in two, and then comes the headache." - Finch, All the Bright Places 

I was never able to put into words exactly how I felt during those "dark times," that was until I read All the Bright Places a couple months ago. Now I borrow Jennifer Niven's words, which I think encompass my feelings perfectly. Theodore Finch is my teenage literary doppelganger. Although he dealt with Bi Polar Disorder, we share the same struggle to stay "awake." If you haven't read this book, you definitely should. (Add All the Bright Places on GoodReads)

I remember the first time it happened. I was 12 years old and had just gotten out of the shower while at my grandparents house. I looked into the foggy mirror and I didn't recognize my own reflection. I touched my nose, my lips, and blinked my eyes a couple times. I felt my skin underneath my fingertips and the girl in the mirror mimicked me but somehow the movements felt disconnected. I brushed it off and figured I was just tired. But later when I spoke, my voice seemed unfamiliar. Panic swept over my body and I felt like I couldn't get enough air into my lungs. I spent the rest of our vacation scared out of my mind in a room under the covers and refused to leave the house. Luckily, my grandma had tons of old movies to entertain me while everyone else enjoyed themselves.

 As I got older, this feeling continued to come over me at random times, for various lengths of time in different degrees. It also progressed to the point that during my "episodes" I didn't recognize the people around me either.  I knew everyone's names of course but their bodies seemed distorted, weird and unfamiliar. My senses were on overload, everything was too bright and too loud and every touch was too much. The way time passed was even altered, the days seemed longer because I couldn't remember what I had done just hours before. One night, it was so bad I was convinced I had a brain tumor and that I wouldn't survive the night. But the next morning I woke up still trapped in my own distorted reality to suffer yet another day. I wanted to tell my family but didn't know how to explain exactly how I felt. How crazy would I have sounded? "Mom I feel like I robot has taken over my body."

As an adult the symptoms only worsened. Along with the unreal feeling came terrible vertigo which fueled anxiety which thrusted me even deeper into the painful cycle.  When I got married I would tell my husband, "I feel loopy." That was code for the feeling is here and I need to be left alone and not touched. He was very very patient while I locked myself in my room with the blinds drawn and stayed in bed for days. I also had manic periods where I had total disregard for everyone around me. My reality felt like a lucid dream so I treated it as one. I did whatever I pleased without worrying about the consequences of my actions. I was not the most pleasant person to be around during these times for my loved ones. On the other hand, my friends saw it as a "crazy streak" and I was the life of the party.

Fast forward to May of 2012, my life was finally coming together after a long period of total SHIT. I tried to be more delicate in the matter but the year before was a real shit fest. I was finally happier than I had been in a long time. I had 3 healthy beautiful children, my Graves was in remission, I was in a loving stable relationship, and going to school. I went to the grocery store and I felt it come over me. I pushed it back, NO! I am happy, not now. Sometimes I went to bed and in the morning it was completely gone. So I just hoped for that, but days turned into weeks.  About a month later, I was popping Xanax just so I could sleep through it. It came in various degrees but this time I felt like I couldn't even see straight and it was painful to keep my eyes open. It was like being stuck in a nightmare you can't wake up from.

For those of you still in battle keep on fighting.
RIP Warriors  
Mental Illness claims victims just like every other disease, except since it is misunderstood suicide is deemed selfish and not a tragic side effect of a sickness. I think the most common misconception about suicide is that you want to die. I wanted to LIVE but couldn't continue to breathe in a world I didn't understand. I just wanted to end the seemingly never-ending agony. When I posed a danger to myself, my husband drove me to a hospital in another city. Finally a doctor gave a name to what I had been feeling for so long-DEPERSONALIZATION/DEREALIZATION. That time was the longest it had ever lasted, I was dissociated for over a year. No amount of medications or therapy helped even in the slightest. I held on and did what I could just to get through the days. How grateful I am that I got help because IT GETS BETTER.

"Depersonalization is the third most common psychological symptom after feelings of anxiety and depression." -

During my most recent episode, I picked up a pencil and started writing a stupid short story/fan fiction about Hemlock Grove. Upirs running around Stalin-ruled Soviet Russia and an unsuspecting girl giving birth to the daughters of the Apocalypse. After a few days of writing, I felt better than I had ever felt. I discovered writing was my new therapy, a way of escaping reality in a healthy way. I changed my major and went back to my local community college to study English Literature and Creative Writing. After my first assignment, my teacher told me the piece I turned in was garbage. I didn't think it was that bad, just unrelatable to a middle aged divorced man since it was a story about a young couple's journey through infertility and adoption. So I refused to write for him anymore. I sat in his class in the back of the room with my earbuds in, which is very uncharacteristic of me. The week before finals, he pulled me aside and said if I didn't turn anything in he would fail me. I locked myself in my room and stared at the wall. I need inspiration and fast because I had to turn in 20 written pages to pass my class. I sat at my desk and the words flowed onto the page effortlessly.  I turned it in proudly but then he questioned if I had really written it and if I had, what had changed. I told him about my friend Matt* who had lost his life to suicide and how he visited my dreams. Nothing had really changed, I was just INSPIRED. He said I should write a book, and that is exactly what I did. This is how Questioning the Universe was born.

Matt has saved me so many times over. First in high school when he kept my secrets to himself, then when he visited me in my dreams when I needed him the most, and again through the fiction character he inspired. Over Christmas, I "finished" my book and was so excited. I immediately got in touch with editors and couldn't wait to send it off. Then I got word that another classmate had taken his life. He was afraid to get help because of the stigma that is attached to mental illness within the military. I hadn't seen this boy since Freshman year of high school but I can still remember his scrunched up smile and his goofiness during Debate Club in middle school. I felt overwhelmed and got in my car to take a drive. Ironically, the Fray's How to Save a Life came on the radio and so many feelings flooded me all at once. I was saddened by his loss and felt for his wife and children. I missed Matt even more because I felt like after I sent my book off, he was really gone and I couldn't even write about him anymore. But then it hit me, I felt guilty too. Although no path is exactly the same, we went down similar roads but our destinations were different. I wondered why...and I don't have an answer but I will let you know it does indeed get better. This is the longest I have ever gone without an episode, it has almost been 2 YEARS. I see the world clearly now and can fully appreciate all of it's beauty. Remember to know true happiness you must feel pain as well, which gives us a unique view of the world. I appreciate every single day I am well and live life to the fullest.

If you or someone you know needs help, please don't be afraid to reach out.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

When you get a chance please follow these awesome accounts on twitter that fight to end the stigma and who promote mental health awareness.

Don't forget to check out my new "Writer" FB page! It isn't much yet but it's a start and could use the support.

Thanks for joining me and letting me share my story. Together lets #RemovetheStigma and shout out loud that #MentalHealthMatters. It only takes one smile to stop a thousand tears. XoXo- Cheryl


  1. Best weekly post yet. Great job Cheryl. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks so much! I was nervous about sharing this one because it is so personal. I really appreciate your weekly support. It means a lot. Hope you are having a good Wednesday! =)

    1. I agree. It's personal but very motivational. You're welcome by the way. Yes. I had a great Wednesday. Hope the same for you. Cheers! :)

    2. I agree. It's personal but very motivational. You're welcome by the way. Yes. I had a great Wednesday. Hope the same for you. Cheers! :)

  3. Hi Cheryl!

    I'm a design student at Emily Carr University in Canada, and I'm making a mental health magazine for my thesis. The lack of safe discussion space for mental health is discouraging. This magazine will establish a physical platform to share and connect with others.

    I'm looking for people to submit stories and artwork influenced by their experiences. Would it be possible to use your post here in my project? The mag won't be circulated commercially, you would be credited (or kept anonymous), and I'll share the final product with you! But no worries! You can email me at

    All the best,


  4. Cheryl I am new to you and your blog! Thanks for sharing your story, that in itself is a help, if one can muster up the courage. I have worked in Pharmacy for 25 + years and although Medications have changed, for the better, attitudes of the general public, and to a degree Health Care and Law enforcement have not necessarily kept pace. Only by talking and everyone keeping Mental Health in the forefront will attitudes and outcomes improve. Thanks for letting me share 🇨🇦

    1. Nice to meet you Ken. Thank you for letting me share my story with you. I appreciate the time you took to stop by and share. I completely agree that although medications are advancing, public opinion has not. All we can do is share our stories and stand up to #EndStigma. I have lost too many friends that have been scared to get help because of societal repercussions. #SickNotWeak I hope you are having a wonderful day and if you need anything let me know.

  5. Wow, this is my first time hearing/reading about depersonalization. Thank you for sharing your experience!

    1. I'm so glad you stopped by and took the time to read my story. Knowledge is power and together we can stand up to end the stigma. Thank you so much for your support Kayti! Hope you are having a wonderful day!

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your story!
    I struggle with depression and anxiety and it is hard to know when to really get help - will it work? Who can I really talk to? Who can I trust? Which then adds to the anxiety. Viscious circle!
    I really appreciate the openness from you and several other authors, the perception of mental illness really needs to change.

  7. Thank you for taking the time to read! =) I agree it is quite the vicious circle! For me I have be without an episode for some time now and so I struggle everyday to keep those feelings at bay. Nothing really helped me personally until I got my feelings onto paper and let it all go. If you ever need to talk, I am here to listen. Again thank you so much for your support! Shout out loud that #MentalHealthMatters! Happy Saturday Theresa!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your story Cheryl.