Are we defined by our mental illness? Brittany Elise from Fort Worth, Texas believes that your illness shouldn’t define you.
“There are resources and support networks for you. Don’t think your diagnosis is the end of the world. It’s the start of getting the help you need, even if you don’t think you need it. Find what works for you. Mental illness is not a-one-size-fits-all.”
The Beginning and her Incredible Journey
Some battles with a mental illness can go on silently for years, it was that way in Brittany Elise’s life. In 2014 while in high school, Brittany was first diagnosed with depression. It was the silent battles that came to a culmination that became her diagnosis. In the summer of 2012, Brittany began to have thoughts of wanting to self-harm. In the winter of that year, she opened up to her parents.
“I would spend an hour or more at the time in the shower. Sitting there with the water running. Thinking about how much I wished the pain would go away,” she explains.
It was always hard for Brittany and her family, and it was common for negative thoughts to go through her mind. She would think “things would get better if.” What if her parents didn’t have pay for things for her. What if they only had to buy food for themselves? It can be an overwhelming to feel a burden in the lives of others.
“I don’t remember what made me decide to tell my family, but I remember my mom’s reaction,” she recalls. Her dad killed himself by slitting his wrists right before her birthday.”
Brittany’s mother held her until she stopped crying. It was in this moment that her mother convinced her to go see the intervention counselor at her high school. The counselor was effective for Brittany, but the following year the counselor was gone. Brittany felt good, but it was only temporary.
“Gradually it started to come back. I would be angry all the time and lash out at the world. I was making myself sick so I wouldn’t have to go to school. I would stay home every day. It got to a point where I was close to not graduating,” she explains about her past.
It got so bad for Brittany that her parent’s frustration grew, and they made her see the family doctor. It here that Brittany got first got her diagnosis of depression and at it was the first time being on medication.
The medication helped at times for Brittany but it was still hard. The depression was still in full force by the time Brittany graduated high school. Stress was a major factor in her senior year and it would be the little things that got to her. Her doctor limited her medication to six months, and for a while after high school she normal.
“I finished the six months right before starting my first semester of college. I was on top of the world. I had a boyfriend who I thought loved me. My family was in a slightly better place and I was starting a new chapter in my life.”
As most things do in life, Brittany’s world began to crumble. It didn’t help that a few weeks coming off her medication Brittany’s grandfather got sick. In hospice care, her grandfather was close to coming home. But after a few days of visiting they never saw him awake. After a week Brittany’s grandfather passed.
“His funeral was the day before my first class and the next day, my relationship ended,” she recalls. “After my grandpa’s death, I started to get panic attacks. I’ve been to funerals before, but my grandpa’s hit me hard. The panic attacks were constant, but I hid them like my depression, and since they came at night, it was easy.”
Brittany transferred to a four-year college and things started to look up in her life. The thing is with life, things like panic attacks never come at the right time. The worse panic attack in her life came for Brittany when she went to a concert with her church group.
“I’ve never been claustrophobic, but I had my first major panic attack there,” she recalls. “This was the first panic attack that made my dad see that I did have something wrong.”
What we often learn in a mental illness journey is that some people will doubt your illness. They believe it made up or not real. This comes from never experiencing the feelings associated with a mental illness. It was the same in Brittany’s life. She explains how her father, up until she had her major panic attack, he didn’t believe that she had a mental illness. When they picked Brittany up from the concert they could see it in her eyes.
When Brittany got back to school she was able to see an on-campus counselor. When she got back on medicine she could see changes. But, in the first semester of her junior year in college, her depression and anxiety got worse. It became impossible to get out bed to go to class.
“After talking to my professors and my new counselor, I made the decision to take time for myself, and withdraw from classes. Moving back home helped some, but I haven’t been able to find a counselor to see.”
That is where we find Brittany in her journey with depression. It can be a hard place to be in when you have no outlet when you have no counselor to see. Dealing with her mental illness daily can be difficult for Brittany because of her anger. Her targets are often her boyfriend and family members.
“I’m moody all the time. I can go from “the best day ever,” Brittany explains. “To “I hate life and what’s my purpose” in a few seconds.
How Brittany Deals With her Mental Illness
In Brittany’s life, it can be difficult to be herself in a single day with her depression. It helps to have people in her life that understand the bad days. Brittany’s boyfriend suffers from depression and PTSD, so he understands.
“If I’m having a panic attack, he held me until I quit crying. We adopted a dog, who we are training to be his service dog,” she explains. “He calms me instantly. He knows when our mental illnesses are affecting us before we do.”
Brittany explains that her dog is one of the best decisions she ever made in her life. It also helps Brittany get through a day by reading and writing. It helps her to spend as much time in nature as she can. It is her happy place. It can be a struggle like any mental illness for Brittany. But at the same time, she wouldn’t be who she is without her mental illness. Brittany has found her place within her diagnosis. A great feeling.
“It makes me a stronger person,” she explains. “Even if I am weak some days. I’ve learned how to live with it, and make it more of a back burner than having it affect me severely.”
How do we get back to the real person that we are inside? It takes the little things in your life that make it worth living. The Bipolar Writer often struggles with this. It is in the little things that Brittany finds her strength. With her boyfriend, friends, and family she has her biggest support system.
“Even when they don’t completely understand my illness.”
Brittany has big dreams that she won’t let depression conquer. Instead, it will be Brittany doing the conquering. It is in her dreams that she also draws strength to move on. Brittany would like to finish her creative writing degree and become a fiction book editor. If possible she wants to write her own novel somewhere in the future.
“My pets. The dog my boyfriend and I adopted and the dog I grew up with is the biggest cuddle bugs. They are always doing something to make me laugh,” Brittany explains about the little things. “Especially when the big one farts all the time.”
Of course, there is Brittany’s tattoo.
It is a constant reminder to fight and to keep the faith that she will make it through her depression.
Depression can be crippling in our lives. It has been in my own life. I can find strength in Brittany’s story because it is one that I know well. I hope in reading Brittany’s story, that you feel the same. A connection with another member of the mental illness community. It was a great pleasure to share the journey of Brittany Elise. I have a feeling one day we will see the amazing person that she will become in-spite of depression.
If you would like to read more from Brittany visit her blog.
Interviewee: Brittany Elise
Author: James Edgar Skye
Photo Credits: Most of the photos are from Brittany’s personal collection