If you’ve been following along on social media, you’ve likely seen we are currently in England. It was a planned trip, but we ended up having to leave one day early because my father in law was very ill. We made it in time, but he passed away three days later. It has been an extremely difficult two weeks for Marc and his entire family—myself included. I don’t feel like it’s my place to eulogize this amazing man here. But I do want to share how the stress of it all took a toll on my mental health. Why? Because the more we talk about mental health and mental illness in a variety of contexts the more we peel away the stigma. So, this is my story of the last two weeks.
The morning of the launch of The Life Actually Company™ we received a phone call we had been dreading for weeks. It was from my mother in law in England. My father in law had taken a turn in his 14-month battle against cancer and was going back into the hospital.
She told us to not change our plans and to continue on with the launch party and that she would keep us updated. We were scheduled to go to England for a visit two days later but the following morning she asked us to come immediately.
Which we did.
When the tickets were booked, and all was said and done we had about one hour and fifteen minutes to pack for an indefinite trip across theAtlantic. Marc and I were so frazzled we just began throwing things into suitcases. As Marc said, he packed like a muppet.
About 12 hours later we landed in Devon and went straight to the hospital. It was emotional and terrible and also so very much needed for both Marc and his father. When we finally got back to the farm that evening, I realized that in my haste to pack I had forgotten one extremely important thing.
My antidepressant medication.
But this trip wasn’t about me. It was not my father who was ill, or my mother who needed comforting, or my entire universe that was about to be upended. I was here to be strong for Marc and his family. A rock during this turbulent time. So, I would just have to get through a few days without the drugs.
I should probably take this time to mention that my own father is also fighting a cancer diagnosis he received just over one year ago. And around the time of the launch we learned that his cancer had spread and would require more treatment. That treatment began the day my father in law passed.
And yet, I still thought I could just make myself okay. That I could get through one of the most difficult, emotional, and stressful times of my life by willing myself to just be okay.
Spoiler alert—it did not work.
Oh, it did for a while. In the three days from when we arrived to when we lost my father in law,I was strong. I held hands, I gave out hugs, I made tea, I cried a lot myself but was always able to compose myself in order to help everyone else.
Until I couldn’t anymore.
The day after my father in law’s death and the second day of my dad’s radiation treatment I found myself in a heap alone in the garden sobbing. I had just spoken with my mom on the phone and was terrified of what my parents were facing. But I was also devastated by the loss of Marc’s father, not only for Marc and his family but for me. I loved my father in law deeply and his loss is the biggest I’ve ever had to face.
Back in the garden I got up and dusted myself off before anyone could find me. I told myself it was time to be strong again.
Which I was. For about 20 more minutes.
At that point my body just said, enough. I once again found myself unable to stop crying. I tried to take deep breaths, but the waves of hopelessness just kept washing over me. In that moment I finally recognized this feeling as one I had experienced twice before—right before I first went on antidepressants, and when I had gone off of them a few years later.
At that point I knew. I was not okay, and I would not be able to be okay without help.
But getting that help would not be easy. Over the next day we would realize that you can’t ship medication internationally. We tried. Oh, you can lie and say it’s something else but then run the risk of Customs opening the package and sending it back. It’s also not permissible for an American doctor to write a prescription to be filled in the UK.
So, we had to wait and evaluate the remaining options. And all the while we waited, I could feel myself struggling more and more.
Here’s the thing about mental health and mental illness, it is not just “in your head”. Actually, that’s exactly where it is. Because certain brain functions aren’t happening the way they should which affects your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
But all too often people think of mental health as being all in your mind. Like you should just be able to flip a switch and be okay. Just start thinking positive thoughts and everything will work out. Or, you have the power to stop being sad and to make yourself happy again.
But if you break your arm can you heal it just by thinking happy thoughts? If you have diabetes can you regulate your insulin levels by telling yourself everything will be okay?
And mental illness is no different.
I made it through the following day alright, but by ThursdayI was really struggling. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I was on the verge of tears all the time. And all I could bring myself to do was sit alone in our room. At that point I couldn’t handle anyone else’s grief, let alone mine.
About 48 hours after my emotional breakdown we were able to work out a temporary prescription that could be filled immediately thanks to my mother in law’s doctor’s office. Just knowing relief was possible, made me begin to feel better.
That afternoon I took my first pill in a week and within a couple of hours the difference was evident. At that point the medication was only beginning to take effect, but I no longer had to worry about not having the help I needed and my mind could begin to relax.
By the next morning Marc was saying, “thank you for coming back to me.”
I was lucky. We were able to get the medication I needed, and it was able to make an immediate difference. But I had to admit I needed help. First to myself and then to my family.
It’s okay to not be okay. And it’s even more okay to ask for the help you need.
If I’ve learned anything from this experience it’s that I will never forget my medication again! Because like a physical illness or disease, mental health can’t be ignored. You are not weak for needing help. You are not less of a person for not being able to deal with this all on your own.
Tomorrow we say goodbye to my father in law in a Thanksgiving service to celebrate his life. And because I got the help I needed, I will be able to stand next to my husband and his family and support them while also supporting myself and sharing our collective grief.
It’s the least I can do to honor such an incredible and special man.
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