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Mental Illness Looks Like: Karen, 28

Q: Do you struggle with mental illness? If so what?

Yes, anxiety and depression.

Q: When did you first realize you struggled with mental illness?

I realized it in my teens. I was fully aware of what I was going through but didn’t know what to do.

Q: How were you diagnosed?

I was diagnosed at 14 with panic disorder after a traumatic experience. My mom sent me to doctors and therapists. At 19, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

Q: What does Anxiety and Depression feel like for you? Describe your symptoms.

This feels like a whole new type of anxiety for me. Even though through the years I’ve been able to “manage” my anxiety, this time it feels like it came back full force.

My twin brother recently passed away and I had to ask myself if I was willing to see him in a casket in order to get my closure knowing it would trigger my anxiety, or not see him at all, and trigger my anxiety regardless with beating myself up with thoughts as to why I didn’t do it.

My worries and fears that cause my anxiety finally became a reality.

This anxiety has triggered my insomnia. Sleepless nights with thoughts of my brother's face. Sleepless nights with paranoia running through my mind if my sister in law and nieces are okay. Having to sleep with my phone next to me in case I get another call. Waking up with a heavy feeling in my chest. I’ve always been scared to drive on the freeway, fearing I would be hit. I’ve also always feared the dark, feeling most vulnerable. My brother was killed on a dark highway road. My worries and fears that cause my anxiety finally became a reality.

There are days I’m completely fine and the next, I just want to stay in bed to sleep the feelings away. My patience can be low, with having to ask my partner to leave me alone for a bit and take our daughter to another room. Wanting to be alone and stay alone. Telling my partner that I can’t sleep without him, needing him to tell me he made it to his destination to make sure he’s alive and well.

Q: Is there a metaphor or an example you use to describe your mental illness?

I wouldn’t say I struggle, instead I say: I “manage”. I see it as, it’s MY body and I have annoying employees that like to fuck up occasionally. So, here I am managing these employees (aka feelings and emotions).

Q: Do your friends and family know about your illness? If so, how did you tell them?

I just told them straight up, but it was hardest to tell my mom about what I was going through.

She’s the typical Latina mom that thinks she’s suffered more than you have and because she’s fine, so you should be too.

I feel like a lot of people in my generation suffer from some sort of mental illness. What’s hard is getting people to understand what anxiety feels like. My current partner would tell me at first to “get over it”. I don’t think he meant it in a bad way but telling someone you feel okay on the outside, but subconsciously you’re not, can be quite confusing.

Q: Do you believe your illness has held you back in any way?

I believe I held myself back. I used my mental illness as an excuse to not move forward and just settle with where I was at the time.

Q: What have you been able to achieve in spite of your mental struggles?

My daughter is a huge reason I was able to cope better with my anxiety.

I took myself away from what was triggering my anxiety and depression. I found a partner who has helped me realize my worth and help me be a more positive and loving person. Who taught me to just let it out and cry. I always told myself that crying was a sign of weakness. I’ve been able to manage my anxiety- once I feel it coming, I try and take care of it and just let my emotions do its thing. I always wanted to get away from my comfort zone and I did

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for a while, started socializing (Karen and her family)

more, taking care of my mind body and soul.

Most importantly, I don’t settle for less. I’ve dealt with a lot these last few months and I’m extremely proud of myself for being so strong mentally and able to be there for my family.

Q: Do you go to therapy?

I currently do not but I do plan on going.

Q: Do you take medication?

I do not. I have taken them in the past but I felt like it was just a temporary fix.

Q: Do you do anything besides therapy or medication to manage your symptoms?

I currently do take CBD to help when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I started doing acupuncture to help “balance” my body. I also workout occasionally but unfortunately, if I feel like I’m going to have anxiety, working out will kick-start it but I say "F it" and still go and just cry in the car on the way home. 😊

Q: Any stereotypes you'd like to address regarding the disorder?

Being a weak-minded person. I was told a lot of the time to "get over it", or "it’s all in your head", or "you’re not strong enough to get over it". People who suffer from a mental illness are truly a lot more powerful. I feel like I’m more understanding than others rather than being quick to judge.

Q: Are you an advocate? If so, please tell us about your advocacy work.

I don’t. This is the first time I’ve told my story.

Q: What do you want people to know about mental illness?

We all suffer differently. We all won’t have the same experience or story. I really wanted to get my story out there along with my brother's. He is the reason why I decided to share mine. I didn’t realize how important talking about mental health was until his passing. He was also suffering from depression, but he didn’t accept it. His way of coping was alcohol and living his life with no responsibilities. I feel like I should have been there more than I was, but at the end of the day he still allowed his triggers to be in his life. Family can be what you need the most in your life to feel happy or accepted, but they can also cause you the most pain. Mental health is real, and it can be hard to understand and accept. Be open to others and listen to anyone that seems like they may need help.

Q: Use three words to describe your experience.

Crazy wild ride.

(Karen's brother - right)

The Exposure Project wants to send its deepest condolences to Karen and her family. May her brother rest in peace.

Thank you for your vulnerability, Karen.


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