Taken on my birthday...always my happiest day of the year.
Thanks for clicking through to read more! My name is Tracy Kelly and I've managed mental health issues all of my life. For those who know and deal with similar issues, you know what a roller coaster ride it can be. We each have highs and lows and we each have different ways to cope and manage our minds. Here's the story of mine.
I've had anxiety for as long as I can remember. I was a child full of fear. I guess my earliest memory would be when a schoolmate of my sister's died from cancer when I was less than ten years old. It impacted my life from that moment on. Every ache, every pain, every little thing that didn't feel right was, to me, a sign that I had cancer and would die too. Even though I was reassured by my parents that everything was fine, I couldn't shake my worry and fear. It spilled in to every area of my life. Fear became my constant companion.
In high school, I went through a period were I knew something was wrong with my mind. I felt outside of my body looking down at it, felt dull, and just not right. I tried to voice my concerns and ask for help but wasn't taken seriously. I soldiered on and tried to be what was expected of me...or what I expected I should be. Life went on but something was still not quite right.
It wasn't until I talked with my future mother-in-law, who also dealt with mental health issues, that I went to get help. I saw therapists and decided to try medication. Life was stable for a while until my son was born and major postpartum depression set in. That threw me completely out of whack and started a cycle of pain that eventually became Fibromyalgia.
Overcoming the postpartum depression was difficult and being a new mother was a whole new journey in my mental health. I had never felt like I was "mother material" but the moment my son was born, I fell in love. Still, I didn't cope well. Anxiety, sleep deprivation and pain had me unbalanced once again. Added to that was a child who, between two and three years old, completely backtracked in development. I knew something was wrong in my heart but wasn't taken seriously, probably because of my new parent status and history of anxiety and worry. It was at his third wellness check that the doctor agreed that something wasn't right. After that came the diagnosis of autism.
I did my best to be a strong mom but I lost it one day in December of 2001. I found myself crying in the bath, unable to control my mind or my actions. My son climbed into the bath with me, trying to comfort me, and that's when I knew how serious things were. I knew that I had to get help. I checked myself into the hospital that afternoon. The reprieve from being a mother, for the three days that I was in there, was great but it didn't make all the pain and emotional heartache go away. In the years that followed, the pain continued to increase and my mental health diminished.
The first real tools I learned to manage my mind with came from a pain psychologist. He had me watch my thoughts and ask questions about them. At first, I was a reluctant patient, I thought he was telling me my pain was all in my head. Then, gradually, I began to realize that he was right. It wasn't the pain that mattered. It was how I thought and dealt with the pain. I hadn't been willing to process my emotions and they were getting stuck and creating pain in my body. I worked with that doctor for endless weeks and eventually was able to watch my thoughts.
I still dealt with anxiety and depression after that but now I had tools. I couldn't always remember to use them though. A marriage breakup is extremely hard to face and it lead me to another breakdown. I became a single parent to a son with autism and after two years I broke down again. The cycle repeated over and over.
After that breakdown, I realized that I wasn't capable of giving my son the parenting that he needed. I could barely take care of myself. I needed to learn to take care of me and love myself with the same fierceness that I loved my son and, in order to do that, I'd have to do it on my own. After a heartbreaking decision, my son went to live with his dad and I sold everything, put my life in a backpack and went traveling in Europe. I'd been inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame and had always dreamed of travel. Surely, an intense trip on my own would help me heal.
It did...and it didn't. In many ways, I become a stronger woman. I learned how to follow my heart and listen to its guidance and wisdom and I gained courage and confidence in the face of the unknown. Unfortunately, anxiety and depression proved to be my constant traveling companions. During a particularly hard experience in Rome, I had a full-on breakdown again. Only, I had no one to help. I had to rely on myself and the tools that I had learned to get me through...and I did.
After realizing my time traveling had served its purpose and feeling like I had conquered my demons and found self-love, I came home and life returned to mundane reality. My son was still better off living with his dad but I saw him every other weekend. I got a 9-5 job and felt great. Only, day by day, I didn't. Day by day the anxiety came back, the pain came back and I found myself in another full-blown pain and depression attack. It was probably the worst I'd ever had. I didn't want to live in this reality anymore. I didn't create a plan but I had definitely lost my way and my will to live.
Thanks to some good friends who helped get me back on my feet, I was feeling better but definitely changed. My mind was beaten and my body, now back in it's pain cycle, didn't serve me the way it used to. Because of the mental illnesses, the pain, and the constant unpredictability of my mind and body, I took my friend's advice and applied for disability.
Around this time I met an incredible man. I hadn't been in a relationship since the end of my marriage, as I didn't believe that anyone could handle my broken mind and body. Only, he could and it scared me to death! My anxiety and panic reared so forcefully that I almost lost out on a wonderful heart mate. But I had the courage to question my mind and all of those fearful and menacing thoughts. This man accepted every part of my so-called broken mind and body and loved them with a tenderness I'd never known possible.
It's been several years since that time. Has my life been perfect? Hell no! I have continually battled both the physical pain and the mental torment of anxiety and depression. Only now, through all my previous experiences, I come at them from a place of self-love. I have learned that my thoughts are EVERYTHING. I can tell myself a story of pain and anguish or I can tell myself that "this too shall pass", "find balance, Tracy" and "don't believe everything you think." These tools get me through the darkness. They help me through the pain. They guide me through the fear.
Just recently, I realized that mental wellness is the most important thing in my life. After all, if I didn't have my mental health, what did I have? Seems self-evident right? But I didn't really "get it" until I did an exercise asking, "What is most important in your life?" My top three were Mental Wellness, Creativity and Love. Then, an idea started brewing.
What if I could help others with their mental health? I've always spoken out about my journey and experiences, but what if I really put my creativity where my priorities lie? What if I put my passion and love for word art and typography into something that inspires? What if my designs that I'd been playing with for my own mental wellness could be a tool for others as well? What if I went for it?
This little "what if" of mine is now a reality. It's a way to give back for all of the wisdom, guidance and advice I've received on my journey. I know this little idea seems simple but I believe it has power. Whether you're feeling anxious or down, words can heal. Words can lift you up and give you hope. Words can change the direction of your thoughts. Words can inspire you to keep on fighting and they can remind you when you've lost your way. Simply put, words work.
I've come to a place of acceptance that my mind and thoughts will always be a balancing act. I may have good days and bad but there are always tools, be it counseling, medication, friends, family, or words, to help get me through.
I am grateful for them all.