World Mental Health Day

In honor of World Mental Health Day, I want to share some things with you.

Yes, it was yesterday, but every day really needs to become World Mental Health Day. Awareness of mental health should be as plain as being aware that someone has physically visible ailments. And, like physically visible ailments, it should be understood that it can happen to anyone, in any sort of relationship, with any sort of assets, persons or otherwise, and it most certainly does not take away from the person they are meant to be.

I have spent the last ten years trying to wake up from a coma I didn’t know I slipped into. I have the most vivid memory and my counselor calls me a savant, but I can’t remember some of the people and places that I really should. Events took place that I don’t even remember being invited to. I can remember the weather the night I met my first serious boyfriend, what he said to me, what he handed me, and how we ended off our conversation and then suddenly life goes dark. I was riding these varying waves through life trying to calm a very anxious mind and trying to see what would happen if I just let life happen to me. Maybe I would just get better when I lived here, worked there, dated him, hung out there. Sometime around twenty-one years old, I think I knew something was coming. I wasn’t really awake; it was probably a part of me trying to shake myself awake but I wasn’t strong enough.

I drank. Entirely too much. For the last seventeen years. I am thirty, do the math. What began as angst became the only thing I knew would help me fall asleep without a panic attack.

When I was a child, I laid awake at night with what we thought was acid re-flux. I am convinced that I had a panic disorder. Couple that with everything else, including abandonment by father and, at one point, isolationism from the only family I knew. I was a ball of nerves, constantly shaking, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. I always remark that when I do get depressed it is few and far between because my anxiety runs so deep I don’t have time to slow down. My mother always asked why my hands shook so much. All I can say now is that I liken the experience of my personal anxiety to what someone with electroconvulsive therapy might feel like. When I get very nervous, I picture that image of me with the headgear surrounded by grinning doctors flipping the switches and knobs. I see myself being shocked over and over again. That still happens. Every. Single. Time. Alcohol became about surviving and not about angst. And then borderline personality disorder became the wretched afterbirth of my addiction.

All or nothing. Black or white. Day or night. It takes a lot of me to try to see the grey in everything. I think that’s why I have become SO open and I strive to be THAT hippie. I have to be. Or the BPD consumes me, and the anxiety wins. And when I had a baby at the age of 25, and my marriage tanked by the age of 27, and the damage from the years before I ever even laid eyes on my ex-husband was compounded into an extremely torturous period of my life. I was only strong enough to shake myself into a groggy state but my eyes were finally opened. I mean, I wanted to die. I didn’t know who the hell I was for the first six months. I felt ratchet. I looked ratchet. I was scared as hell. I rationalized a deeper addiction by saying that it actually kept us alive. And suddenly, I was part of America’s opium problem.

As I developed all these growing pains, things I should have addressed or felt more comfortable handling in the past, I surrounded myself with good people and I worked like a dog. I raised an extremely bright, beautiful and happy child who has no idea that I went through a fraction of what I went through at this time, let alone my entire life.  The reason I point that out and the reason I wrote all this in the first place is to reiterate that this can happen to anyone, at anytime, for any reason. We are human. It is our souls, our hearts that need the true attention paid. Our emotional fragility isn’t a flaw, it is part of our make-up. It is what makes each one of us. What keeps us from turning that fragility into murder or suicide or addiction or anxiety is as much awareness and care from those around us as possible. Freedom from shame or embarrassment.

My name is Alyssa Judith Ruggiero and I have suffered from extreme anxiety the majority of my life, which has in turn caused me to live with addiction, develop a personality disorder, and become an alcoholic. I have been officially clean from opiates since January of this year. I have not drank alcohol in about 60 days. I am actively participating in counseling and have surrounded myself with love, light, and responsibilities beyond what is expected of me. I am staying busy with my own work and I am putting the intelligence I still retain (which I feel is the reason I am even still alive) to good use. I am done letting life happen to me and I will not be ashamed of how I reached that conclusion. I am, instead, actively participating, not only to have a better life for me, my family, my friends, but also for people out there who may not believe that they can live and love actively out of fear or shame.

Let’s treat everyday like World Mental Health Day and let’s treat every one like the human being that they are. Beautifully flawed; an explosion of stars; chaos harnessed in a fleshy vessel, that requires a healthy diet of a love and light.

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A photo my therapist asked me to take when I left her session last week. Apparently, mental illness has not stripped away how stunning I look.

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