Please welcome Lindsay Ensor as a guest writer today! Lindsay is one of my life’s longest friends, having spent much of our childhood together and reconnecting a bit later in life, even discovering the similarities our paths had taken since. Her heart for advocacy – for anyone who needs a voice, in a variety of circumstances – is such an inspiration to me!
Lindsay is a wife of 9 years, mom of 2 boys, writer, speaker and advocate for mental health. She feels called to use her experience and education to make a difference in mental health awareness. Lindsay is currently involved in projects with the Lindner Center for Hope in Cincinnati, Ohio and the National Eating Disorders Association. In her free time, she enjoys playing guitar and singing, as well as traveling.
As a teenager, I was a straight-A student, award-winning vocalist and performer, and very involved at school and church. I was a cheerleader, a dancer, and one of the “popular” girls. As I grew older, my life continued to unfold like the American Dream – I graduated college, got married in a fairytale wedding, had two beautiful children, and moved into a house with a big backyard. While living a perfect life from the outside, no one could have seen the depth of my depression and anxiety – a life that was overcome with illness. My days were lived behind a mask of a content, outgoing young woman.
Inside, I was dying a little more each day. My nights were filled with hidden sobs and sleep filled with painful nightmares. A traumatic past – mental and physical abuse, holding my father as he died unexpectedly, witnessing the horrifying scene of my uncle taking his own life – led to increasing fear and anxiety every day, and eventually an eating disorder.
My life continued to spiral downward. Fighting was becoming harder and harder. Living, just breathing, seemed like too much effort. The eating disorder worsened, then I fought an added addiction to prescription medication – using both as methods to try to numb my pain. I overdosed on medications and resorted to measures of self-harm, all desperate pleas for help, that often went unnoticed. I wanted to get better – to receive help and recover – but felt I had nowhere to turn.
I sought treatment through therapy on and off for many years, seeing a handful of therapists sporadically for a month here and there. I never seemed to find the right person or facility that could help with all my complex needs. I felt lost and hopeless. When I finally made the serious decision to seek professional treatment, I was at my worst. I was suicidal, spending most of my time in bed crippled by illness.
Stepping out and making that first phone call was the hardest decision of my life. I made an appointment at a psychiatric facility… which I promptly cancelled. Two more appointments made, two more canceled. Six months passed before I would ever actually go.
Mental health has a stigma that surrounds it. The illusions of what mental health issues are, as well as their treatments, are often just that – illusions. Mental illness is depicted as shameful, embarrassing, often times as wrong or made-up.
But in reality, mental illnesses are like any other illness. I take medication for my depression as one might take insulin for diabetes or chemotherapy for cancer. Depression and other mental illnesses are diseases of the brain, yet are rarely acknowledged by society as “illnesses”.
My biggest desire in life is to share with other people that they are not alone . I felt so alone. For years I suffered in misery because I didn’t understand that there are people like me. I also didn’t understand that there are people who spend their entire lives and careers devoted to helping people like me.
One step towards treatment and recovery opened up a world of potential for me. I shared my story with my therapist, then publicly – in front of 300 people – at the facility for which he works. That event led to so many more opportunities, and over and over I hear the same response from people – they didn’t know they could ask for help, or were too scared of what others would think.
I, too, am afraid. I often wonder what my friends and family really think. I have discovered, however, that what others think of me is not nearly as important as what I think of myself. If I look like a fool to millions but help one, then it is all worth it. I plan to spend the rest of my life fighting for people who can’t yet find the voice they need to stand up for themselves. I have a heart and a desire to help those suffering with any form of mental illness. I feel it is my calling and purpose in life to do so.
I know what it’s like to feel alone. I know what it is like to cry and wonder if anyone else out there knows how this battle and these struggles feel. Please know that while life may seem perfect from the outside, there are people who are struggling to make it through each day. You may be one of those people.
I lived behind the projection of a happy and wonderful life. I appeared to have it all together, to have everything anyone could ever ask for, but I was miserable and barely living, suffocating under the weight of daily life. I made a phone call that I know changed my life – and I want others to know there is someone who understands.
Maybe this doesn’t apply to you at all. If it doesn’t, then I ask you to do one thing: be aware. Be an ear to someone who is hurting; take a moment to just pause and listen.
None of us are alone.
From Jennifer: Please check out Lindsay’s website, Healing and Surviving. She currently has a memoir in the editing process and is working on funding a project to attend a seminar in Washington D.C. and to speak with congress on mental health awareness. Information for both can be found at the site.