Panic attacks about nothing. The days where you can’t force yourself out of your bed. Then your mind begins to change, and this time you switch into mania. Your mind races and you have endless energy. It feels as if you are all over the place. The safest places like your own home become a battleground for depression and mania. It’s a typical day dealing with the issues of one human being dealing with her mental illness. Tabbi Ashley—from Western North Carolina.
“The best way to describe this is to imagine yourself facing a lion or a bear that is in the attack position coming toward you. Think how your body responds— you heart rate increases, palms are sweaty, the mind is racing, and your breathing changes,” Tabbi explains in her interview.
Even when the things you love surround you it can take you over. It’s never easy according to Tabbi, and it is pretty hard to describe to those not affected by a mental illness, but she does what we all do. When people ask Tabbi does her best to explain.
Many of our mental illness journey stories come from our childhood experiences and in Tabbi’s life, she can remember struggling with bouts of depression as early as eight-years-old. Growing up, Tabbi on the outside was a normal and sky kid, and her parents had divorced when she was four. It was at this point in Tabbi’s life that changed. It became the catalyst for her later issues with mental illnesses.
“In my childhood. I endured eight years of sexual molestation and neglect. It began shortly after my parents’ divorce,” Tabbi remembers.
Someone so young the abuse in Tabbi’s life might have seemed normal to her. But when she saw the warning signs of another family member, she decided to speak out.
“I finally spoke up to someone outside of the family and moved into another situation.”
If only this was the end of the abuse that Tabbi would endure in her life. In her new living situation, it became another place with physical and verbal abuse. By the time Tabbi reached the age of seventeen, her panic attacks led to a diagnosis. Tabbi had no knowledge at the time for fear that it would only make things worse for her.
In Tabbi’s early twenties she once again found herself in a doctor’s office after an illness recheck. It was a long road from her teen years. Tabbi found herself at the point of exhaustion from fighting her own brain. Tabbi knew nothing about her diagnosis of panic attacks. At this point, she couldn’t take the constant fight in her brain.
“My doctor spoke, and I started crying. I begged him to help me or to tell me to commit myself because I had reached my limit,” Tabbi recalls of that day.
For Tabbi, she got the treatment that most people getting diagnosed for the first time. The doctor diagnosed Tabbi with Generalized Anxiety Disorder with Clinical Depression and prescribed some medication to help. The doctor sent Tabbi on her way.
By March of 2008, Tabbi was struggling with depression. In her mind, she was sure that there was more to what she was dealing with on a daily basis.
“I worked with a therapist and my doctor. They diagnosed me with Bipolar disorder. A year later, my team diagnosed me with PTSD from my years of sexual, verbal, physical abuse, rape, and two abusive relationships.”
It didn’t end there for Tabbi. Six months later her doctor added the diagnosis to schizoaffective disorder. The basis was the fact that Tabbi was having ongoing hallucinations, both auditory and visual. When she is under extreme stress these hallucinations tend to get worse for Tabbi.
As of today, Tabbi has a plethora of official diagnoses. The diagnoses follow as such: Bipolar Disorder, Schizoaffective Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and PTSD. It was tough for Tabbi before getting her diagnosis. She often struggled to reconcile her struggles with normal people.
“Before my diagnosis, I would look at other people and see that they weren’t like me. They didn’t seem to struggle like me to do everyday tasks. They didn’t seem to have trouble processing things. They didn’t have to close down themselves to get through a single day.”
Nights are always the worst for Tabbi’s PTSD because of her night terrors. Smells and touch are the biggest triggers for her PTSD. But, with working in therapy sessions Tabbi has found her night terrors to be more manageable.
Those of us with a mental illness tend to learn through experience how to deal on a daily basis. Tabbi works best through a good daily routine.
“I try to watch the foods that I eat because I know the things that affect my mood in negative ways. I make sure to walk my dog and do things that make me happy. I also limit the time I spend with toxic and negative people and situations.”
It isn’t always perfect in Tabbi’s world. There are times when she has to deal with her auditory and visual hallucinations with the help of her dog Moose. “If he doesn’t respond or react it’s not real. If he does, then it is.”
Tabbi uses several things in her life to get through her mental illness issues. She works with her car team (a doctor, therapist, and psychiatrist.) Tabbi has a strong but small support system of family, friends, and others with a mental illness. Tabbi doesn’t believe that group therapy would work in her life. Instead her support group of doctors and family is her own version of group therapy.
Making lists are a part of the daily routine for Tabbi. On the good days, she takes full advantage of everything on her daily list. When the harder days hit Tabbi’s life she works on a single goal off her list. If Tabbi completes it, then she works on another until she can’t do any more tasks.
“I try not to beat myself up about it, and I know there is always tomorrow.”
It can be very hard to make long-term plans with the many mental illnesses controlling Tabbi’s daily life. She never makes plans too far in the future because every plan requires the knowledge of what mood she is in at the time.
Her mental illness affects other areas of her life like maintaining a relationship. “I would feel guilty about saddling someone with my issues,” Tabbi responds.
The way that Tabbi processes her emotions is unique to her own battle. It means spending time away from people. Tabbi would rather be alone than have someone judging her on how she deals with her issues daily. Instead, Tabbi focuses on her small group of friends and invests her time and energy with them. Within the mental health community, Tabbi has found the most strength and understanding.
“I’ve learned not to judge someone by outward appearances because everyone is dealing with something, and that on some level, we can all connect with one another.”
One question when interviewing for these feature articles is a favorite of mine. I get to ask the interviewee what they would like to share with the mental illness community in this article. Tabbi wanted to share this little piece of wisdom.
“I have survived many things in my life. But, I can say that the hardest fight I’ve ever had is the fight with my own mind. We have to remind ourselves and each other that we need to keep fighting. We can rejoice in those moments that we have peace and a calm mind. We should focus on what we can do now. We should be educating people. At the same time breaking down the stereotypes to show everyday people to never give up.”
The therapeutic nature of writing one’s journey and experience writing on a blog is important to many of us. Tabbi finds that when she is struggling the most, her blog allows her to shares her story and experiences. She makes amazing connections with others that have similar experiences. He blog allows her share these experiences through the written word, and it has meant the word to Tabbi.
The biggest question that faces many of us that live with the daily struggle of a mental illness is what makes life worth living?
“What makes my life worth living changes on a daily basis,” Tabbi explains. “When I get down I have to remind myself that my nieces and nephews need me. My dog always with me and he needs me. I do important work in my community and they need me. When my brain tells me that no one would miss me, I count my blessings.”
Tabbi wishes to convey that she believes that no one has to be alone in the struggles of a mental illness. There are many resources and one of the best is reaching out to someone. You can always find someone to listen.
“It might not be the first person, but don’t give up. It’s okay to reach out and need someone to help you. We’re created to help one another.”
Tabbi’s story is one that was such a pleasure to write here on the Bipolar Writer. I learn so much from the people I interview for these features. It is amazing that given what she has been through, Tabbi still looks to help others like her. We all have a journey that has taken us to different places in our lives. It was an honor to share Tabbi Ashley’s story. If you want to know more about Tabbi you can find her blog here:
Interviewee: Tabbi Ashley
Author: James Edgar Skye