Written by: Michelle Armstrong Instagram: @madhattermom63
Photography by: Erika Johnson Instagram: @mzjohnson4life
For myself, mental health awareness and my personal wellbeing was an element I was cognizant of although the depth of my own state of mind had never seemed to be altered as much as it has been over the last two years.
Being a past child abuse victim, a victim of one's actions who thought they could have their way with me, and an observer of watching addictions run ramped through my family, I fought to remain strong, I fought to rise above those past adversities and broke those chains of repetition. The rising up beyond what my past says I should become, allowed me to become the best version of myself and my future title of mom. At the same time the strength I built allowed me to be a cornerstone of solace to those around me who endured troublesome times.
I watched how the state of mind of those I loved was disrupted through their own personal internal wars that led them down the dark roads of mental health crises. I recall the day my mother was in the hospital with her wrists wrapped after a neurotic night in which she lost control, thankfully she endured but still numbed her wars through addictions. Through it all, I tended to remain her rock, her comfort and her voice that would tell her you can do this.
The same goes for the internal wars I observed in my male children who began to experience the fears of adulthood that brought about the never-ending moments of anxiety leading them to reach out to me at all hours of the night in tearful mental states. Such a state nearly took my younger child's life at the age of twenty. Just as before with my mother, I stood steadfast in reminding them how strong he was and how I would seek to remain an ever-present pillar of strength in his life and those around me. In my mind I had already become a warrior that I was thriving to see in the mirror daily and wanted to be that constant light of inspiration to them as well.
Yet, I can honestly say that in my early twenties I recall challenging moments that would create an altered state in which I too would attempt to end the pain of the day through harmful physical actions. But then again being raised in an unstable home, the guidance and direction to manage such “bad” days was never taught. So, as I became a mother myself, I aspired to be the foundation of open guidance for my children should they encounter the same perplexities. And as it would come to surface, I began to see those imbalances in my children which has been difficult for me, as I never wanted them to feel less than worthy or needed in this world. I knew what that feeling was like and would share my struggles with them to remind them that I too had been there and that together we would always seek to find a way. Eventually, twenty years later, now in my forties, my own mental health would be tested again.
In 2021, I had returned to my daily routine of employment after a 6-month medical leave. Such a leave was necessary to alleviate the pain surrounding one of the now three rare diseases I had been diagnosed with 2 years prior. These diseases seemed to have piled themselves on top of one another during a time in my life when I also encountered the loss of my loved ones, my mother, father, and brother within just years of each other. Yet, I pressed forward focusing on my health until it took me and my physical state down a road I could no longer withstand, so a surgical procedure was done in 2020.
Upon my return to daily life and employment at a medical clinic, I proceeded forward in the hopes that my day-to-day chronic pain would decrease and for some time it did, yet what I was not prepared for was the disruption of my wellbeing in now grieving the loss of my loved ones that I could not grieve during a time in which I had been previously focusing on myself.
No one prepares you for the unexpected disruption one's mental state can take, especially when I remained so strong for so long, as responding with strength was the only way I knew how to react, especially after a tumultuous childhood.
So, as I approached 2021 with a new vitality in mind, I began to observe that my days suddenly started in tears, the waterworks would stop as I pulled into work and composed myself, they would restart at lunch and on my drive home. This unusual behavior for me remained for weeks. Within those weeks a new onset of waking at night and cowering in the dark space of my couch began yet this space I struggled with not only tears but hallucinations as well. The hallucinations were of my only sibling, my brother I had lost due to a drug overdose 2 years prior, after he too struggled with mental health. Instantly, my daily fight with my health was now compounded with new layers of anguish I did not understand. I mean no one tells you that one’s mental health can short circuit at any time without notice. The state of my mental well-being began to malfunction as the grief process began for my loved ones, later than I had expected. In my mind I knew my loved ones were in a better place and without pain, yet the notion that I would never see them again somehow one day, unexpectedly and with dark consequences came on like a lightbulb in my mind that began to dim the light of who I was. I recall sitting in my doctor’s office after those long unstable weeks had diminished those parts of me that no longer shined. I recall crying out to my physician, who knew right away that I was not okay, and proceeded to offer comforting words and asked if I felt comfortable trying a regimen of anti-depressants. As I sat there in my own puddle of pride, I gracefully took the assistance that was offered to me. As time went on, I found a new spark in my step and became open about the contentment I found in the resources and beneficial medications, yet the response from some was bewildering. The notion that many placed judgements on me as they indicated I was too positive and too strong to need “pills” or help. But what they did not understand is that even when staying strong is all you know, you also learn when you no longer recognize that strength in the mirror, especially when you see pain instead of joy.
Although my mental state of mind is now reinvigorated, it is not to say I no longer have bad days, I mean we are all human and our emotions are just a part of who we are. I still long for my loved ones and am saddened at the thought of who I used to be before the plethora of rare diseases and chronic pain took over my body, but the flip side of my “I am not okay” moment has been a blessing in disguise. I have learned that strength can come from a much-needed meltdown moment, but that a moment such as that can arise at any age and more than once in a lifetime. What I have also discovered is that I now aspire to not only continue to be that guide to my children but those around me who may need a voice in their moments of silence to know that they are not alone. For I once was the strong girl who stayed silent due to what others might think of me, yet I have seen mental health imbalances affect too many of those I love and now myself personally and seek to be a beacon of hope to the world around me.
Be sure to order your copy of Mental Health Awareness Issue 57 to read Michelle's Poem, My Broken Kaleidoscope now on MagCloud! Click the link to view our free digital! https://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/2505544