Today is very important day. It's World Mental Health Day.
I was diagnosed as having "PTSD with Depression" in 2017, but once I started taking medication, I began to realize that I have been depressed my entire life. I also learned that my medications helped relieve the unrelenting anxiety that I never realized wasn't "the norm" either. Side story: I will work endlessly to break the stigma about being medicated. The clarity and warmth that I felt when my meds started working will always be the moment I go back to when I feel down.
As a teenager, I cut myself. A lot. I didn't know that was a "thing" -- I just knew that I was numb and needed to know if I was alive or not. I wanted any way out of this life. You see, I am a survivor of childhood rape. For decades, I didn't share my story, get help, or tell any adult. I eventually developed an eating disorder. I tried to commit suicide. And all this before the age of 21. I didn't start going to therapy until my mid thirties. I was moving in with my boyfriend, and I didn't want my baggage ruining our relationship. It hurt, and it was hard, but I am so thankful I went -- not just for the tools my amazing counselor equipped me with, but also because it led me to getting the medication I needed.
2020 has been a bad year in general for everyone, including me. In April, like so many others, I lost my job due to COVID cutbacks. Then, in June, my Mom died from complications with cancer. While she didn't die of COVID, hospital restrictions meant that a potentially life-saving stem cell transplant was pushed back as it was considered a non-essential procedure. Well, her life was pretty essential to me. Combined with the social isolation of COVID life and a near-constant stream of rejections from job applications -- well, I'm drowning in emotions.
Thankfully, I have an incredible support system and medication. There are many days I deeply struggle to get out of bed, to eat, to shower...washing my hair is a CHORE. There are days and moments (like right now as I type this) when I just start crying and it's hard to stop. Today, on Mental Health Day, I finally joined a Facebook group for people that have lost a parent. It's been 113 days since my mom died, and I still can't grasp the fact that she's gone. I need a little more help coping and am hoping I can find some community support in this strange virtual world we're living in.
The reason I'm sharing all this here is because one of my biggest comforts through all of this has been dogs. If you know me, you know that I'm a doer; one of the biggest challenges of being unemployed has been the amount of time I have on my hands. Thankfully, RDMOC was already closely involved with the rescue community in Chicago, and it's been such a blessing to be able to throw my energy into transporting, fundraising, and fostering rescue dogs over the last six months. This year alone, I have driven 12,275 miles transporting 236 dogs and cats (yes, you read correctly: cats). Without these long drives with dogs to clear my head and feed my soul, the social isolation of 2020 would have felt even more crushing. The day my mom died, my husband, our dogs and I were set to move into a new house. It was crushing. In this home, I've already fostered 7 dogs, and I'll be getting two new 10-month-old foster pups tomorrow. Helping broken animals helps my broken spirit, which is why I got into dog rescue in the first place.
It's no coincidence that dog adoptions have soared since the COVID pandemic swept across the globe. In addition to having more time at home, people are finding comfort and love through this uncertain time with dogs. I know that without mine, I wouldn't be here right now. I survived all of these dark periods in my life in part because of the unconditional love of my family dog as a child. My current two floofs have probably absorbed enough tears since March to fill the Chicago River. Dogs lick the tears away, lay by your side, snuggle you to sleep while you cry...there's a reason they say that dogs are "man's best friend." We don't deserve them, but THANK F-ing HEAVENS we have them.
So if you’re struggling right now too, maybe find somewhere to get involved. I have been so fortunate to find some really wonderful humans due to volunteering, probably all broken in their own ways, too. We share a common crazy love for dogs. No one judges one another for loving their pets too much. My RDMOC team has also been an unbelievable support system, and I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me to see your cute dog pics on instagram or your silly matching costumes at our photoshoots. I don't know that I've even been so thankful while also feeling such immense grief.
So hug your dogs. But most importantly, find help. It's okay to not be okay. It has taken me a very, VERY long time to be okay sharing my story. I am 41 now, and it's only been in the last 4 years that I've even shared that I was raped at all. I will be working forever on the part about who violated my innocence.
There are places that can help you if you don't feel comfortable talking to friends or family, or if you don't have that resource available. I have listed some of them below. You can also message me; I may not have any answers for you, but I can share the pain and maybe direct you to professional help. You are worth the effort.
National Alliance on Mental Illness
NAMI Chicago Helpline: 833-626-4244
We have the courage to believe that healing is possible. We work tirelessly, seven days a week to create a world that prioritizes mental wellness, and to bridge people into the care and support they deserve to live thriving lives of recovery.
RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network)
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE (4673)
The Trevor Project Saving LGBTQ Lives
Saving LGBTQ Lives The Trevor LifeLine: 866-488-7386
Their trained counselors are here to support you 24/7. If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
TWLOHA - Worth Living For
To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.
REAL DOG MOMS OF CHICAGO
Our goal is to connect dog rescues, dog-friendly businesses & dog lovers. Based in Chicago, Illinois, we host fun events for dogs & humans at great places with all proceeds going to local dog rescues.