This Thanksgiving, we're sharing sentiments from our brave community on why we're thankful.
Living with a mental illness (or 2 in my case) is not something I can honestly say that I am thankful for. What I can say I am thankful for is what these mental illnesses have inspired me to do in my life so far. Specifically as someone living with and surviving through PTSD I have become incredibly empathetic to those who have experienced any sort of trauma. My personal experience has been the driving force behind my graduate studies in Expressive Arts Therapy. My dream is to work with women who have experienced trauma and help them find healing through the arts. So, I am thankful for the drive that my experiences have given me.
My other diagnosis is Bipolar 1. Managing my highs and lows has honestly been one of the hardest struggles in my life. I have had to alter the day-to-day structure and functioning of my life to deal with this disorder. However, the upside of this disorder has been that with my highs comes a surge of creativity. Being that I am a multifaceted artist these surges of creativity are a gift to me and so I am thankful for them. Yes, I love balance… but hey I’ll take a surge here or there!
This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for one of the gifts that my mental illness has given me. Yes, gifts. Of course it’s given me things like racing thoughts, weight loss and weight gain, and the desire to sleep all of the time. But, it has also given me an incredible sense of empathy, and for that, I am most thankful.
Because I had my first bout of anxiety as a 9-year old, I can now relate to my daughter’s nervous tummy and inability to eat breakfast. Because I fell into horrible homesickness and despair my first semester of college, I can completely understand the fear, isolation, and loss of interest in life that accompanies depression. And because I had to forgo my medication to have two beautiful children, I know what postpartum depression and debilitating anxiety feel like - the inability to sit still, to enjoy anything, or to feel anything but alone.
Though unknowingly at the time, these experiences gave me a healthy capacity for empathy. It showed when I counseled another homesick student through her first semester at college as I had cried her tears. It showed me what relatives of mine who suffer from anxiety go through day after day despite the overwhelming fight or flight response that doesn’t go subside. Following a bout of postpartum depression, I became acutely aware of those same struggles in women around me. And though I might not always have the right words to comfort others going through what I’ve been through, I can promise them that I have been there, I understand, and I will be by their side until they can stand on their own again. Empathy. So grateful.
I wouldn’t want to wish anyone to suffer through depression and struggle with suicidal ideation the way I did in the past. There were times when I wished that I hadn’t, but had I not experienced these negative circumstances, I wouldn’t be the man I am today.
I’m grateful for finding the strength and courage to seek therapy to manage my life when things were falling apart. I’m grateful for recognizing the importance of creating a wellness toolbox of positive coping skills of self-care strategies including, but not limited to, journaling, exercise, music listening, and meditation. I’m grateful for being inspired to enter into the counseling profession, obtain my master’s degree in mental health counseling, and become a therapist to assist others maintaining their mental health. I’m grateful for discovering that I have brothers and sisters who are struggling and have struggled with mental illness and we are there for each other in love, support, and encouragement. I’m grateful for having the opportunity to become an advocate, a mentor, and a role model for other males to be unashamed to discuss their problems because asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Most importantly, I’m grateful for sharing my personal story because healing gains power and stigmas are shattered with every word written and spoken about mental illness.
Living with depression is something that, once I began to accept, was something I began to love tremendously about myself. Depression has taught me how to appreciate life in a different way, to see that you need dark sometimes to balance out the light, that I am both strong and resilient. My depression has made me compassionate and more sensitive to those in situations like mine, and to people suffering in any way around the world. Being broken is a different type of beauty, and I feel it's made me a better person. I know that when the light of the world begins to fade from my eyes, my heart, and my thoughts go dark, I just need to keep breathing because it will pass. Though just a label, it's mine, depression is a part of me. I've come to love my depression, even be grateful for it, as I've grown to love me.
I'm Leah Johns. In December 2007, I developed anorexia nervosa & received professional help at Laureate Psychiatric Clinic & Hospital in Tulsa. I'm also (still) on meds for anxiety, depression, & OCD-all of which have gotten better.
Earlier this year, one of the elders at my church said a prayer to the congregation that really spoke to me. Until then, even though I knew who she was, I didn't yet know her. That same Sunday, I introduced myself to her & shared my story. I told her that her prayer really spoke to me. We're good friends now & she definitely knows how much I love & appreciate her, our friendship, & support. We always hug each other & visit with each other. She means so much to me & is definitely a forever & true friend. I have other friends at my church who know my story, but I chose to write to you about my dear friend Jackie. I'm so thankful that I'm fully recovered, & my psychiatrist says I'm a success! Recovery isn't always easy, but I believe it's possible; believe me, it's worth it!