Authors Note: This is the beginning of a series I’d like to write about other people’s experience with mental illness. I so appreciate Liz, her brave heart and her willingness to share her story with fellow sufferers. If you’d like to share your story, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can set up an interview.
During her ninth grade year, when most girls were spending their days shopping with friends and taking drivers ed, Liz Erickson was coping with severe depression.
After experiencing her mother’s death at age 12 and enduring physical, verbal and emotional abuse from her autistic sister, she felt unpretty, unloved and unintelligent; but she figured everybody felt like that.
Her depression went undiagnosed for ten years.
Throughout that decade, Liz’s depression led to eating disorders and thoughts of ending her life.
It was during her time living in Salt Lake City that she hit her peak.
“I just completely lost it,” Liz said. “I felt like my brain wasn’t my own. I was fearful for my own life and I was scared of my own self.”
After telling the doctor she thought she might have depression, he gave her a blue packet to fill out, which would help him assess the severity of her mental illness.
She described filling out that packet as taking the worst test in the world, because it meant admitting she was broken.
After diagnosing her with mild-severe depression and anxiety, the physician put her on several medications.
“The medications worked for about six weeks, but then things got worse,” Liz said.
During a second visit to the doctor, Liz was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, which frustrated her, since she felt like the medicine was the cause of this second diagnosis.
Just when things couldn’t get worse, she was in a car accident, which totaled her car.
“I was physically fine, but I didn’t know how much it was going to change me,” Liz said. “I had started a new job and a new school, and my body was literally shutting down. The left side of my body shut down. My arms wouldn’t work and my hands wouldn’t open.”
It was then that she sought the help of a neuropsychologist, who diagnosed her with a third mental illness: Conversion disorder.
While most patients who experience anxiety fall into the 60th percentile, Liz fell into the 90th percentile, which led to her brain converting her mental pain into physical pain, sometimes even temporary paralysis.
If she did not get better, there was a risk of permanent paralysis.
The healing process meant regularly taking medicine and attending group therapy, but the medicine only made it worse.
One night, when she felt the weight of the world pressing hard upon her shoulders, she overdosed on her medication.
It was at that point she decided she needed to get better, and the medication could not be a part of the equation.
With the approval of her doctor, she decided to ween herself off her medication, but the results weren’t pretty.
She knew she had to get better, though, so she decided to counteract the medicine by training for a triathlon.
“The exercise gave me so much confidence in myself,” Liz said. “When I started doing things I never thought I could do, I started to think ‘Wow, I’m a lot more awesome that I thought.’”
It took less than one year for Liz to get off her medicine.
Though she was doing much better, she still experienced hard times.
One of her coping mechanisms was to create daily victories for herself.
Her victories were small, but productive, such as getting out of bed or changing her clothes.
She also made it a habit to pray daily, even if her prayers were as simple as “Thank you for keeping me alive today, amen.”
Liz said The Lord was the number one instrument in her healing process, though she couldn’t always see it.
“I think I was angry at God for the longest time, but once I started getting better, I saw His hand in everything.”
Liz experienced frustration with others when they would tell her that if she would just read her scriptures she’d be fine, she’d be happy. She tried doing that, but she wasn’t feeling better, so she figured she was a bad person.
“It wasn’t until a bishop in salt lake said ‘lets get you better’ that my testimony really strengthened, because finally someone heard me. I was sick and I needed to get better,” Liz said.
Author’s final note: It’s been fun for me to see Liz at church during the last few months, because happiness radiates from her skin. She has found the love of her life, whom she is marrying next month, and she always has a contagious smile on her face. Liz reminded me of the importance in seeking professional help. If you feel like you are in need of someone’s help, never hesitate to find a nearby psychologist. After all, like Liz says “the medication treats the symptoms, but the psychologist treats the underlying diagnosis.”