Real-life mental health stories: agoraphobia, depression, alcoholism…

A.E. Stahl

This blog post is part of an interview series for mental health awareness week. In this series, different people give their perspective on living with a mental health condition.

In certain cases as with the interview below, people have had the courage to reveal their identity. This is brave, as it can be difficult and daunting. Congratulations to them!

Who are you, and why did you decide to share your story?

My name is A.E., I’m 44 and I live in Tel Aviv. I run Infinity Journal, a publication about strategy, as it relates to Policy Ends, Strategic Ways, and Military Means. I also run The Mideast Beast, a political satire website with a Middle Eastern twist.

What mental health issues have you experienced?

I suffered from alcoholism for 5 years, coupled with anxiety and depression. I also suffered from agoraphobia. I drank 3 to 4 bottles per day, smoked like a chimney, and had an atrocious eating habit resulting in me gaining at least 50 lbs.

I could not leave my apartment out of crippling fear. Often I had been drinking, sometimes as long as 12 hours straight. My parents and other family members knew about my anxiety but not my drinking nor the extent and severity of my depression. And the depression got rock-bottom-bad.

When was the first time you became aware you were suffering from a mental health/wellness issue?

I’ve always known but I was a functioning depressive. I was fighting it until the bitter end but.. I ended up in hospital for acute pancreatitis due to alcohol abuse.

Truth be told, I have suffered from mental health issues for pretty much my entire life, this was just the tipping point. I had lived with pretty severe anxiety before and had some problems in high school too.

What were you feeling/what did you experience that made you aware of it?

I woke up at 04:30 in the morning in severe and unmitigated physical pain. Within minutes I was humped over, my fingers and my toes strenuously curled, and my jaw clenched in agony. I was unable to find a position that would allow me at least an inkling of reprieve. I refused to vomit, despite my body doing its best to bend me to its will. I soon began sweating profusely from the fever that set in.

I kept telling myself “I ate something bad,” despite the fact that I knew deep down inside something was dangerously wrong. Nevertheless, I desperately searched for a position in bed, on the couch, and even on the floor in which to find comfort. The pain was so bad that I began yelling into my pillow and punching the mattress. It scared my labrador to the point that she laid down next to me and began to whine, the first time I ever heard her do that.

I continued to search for a painless position for nearly 36 hours before I finally listened to my Jewish mother threatening me over the phone if I didn’t go to the emergency room immediately.

What did you do about it?

I don’t know how but I managed to get up and go to the shower (in case of surgery). Humped over, I went outside and flagged down a taxi. By the time I reached the emergency room (the longest seven-minute taxi ride of my life) the pain was inching towards the unbearable. I went through the typical battery of questions and paperwork, as well as a few tests, then finally an x-ray and an ultrasound, all with very bad results. I was 100 percent honest with the doctors about my “habits”.

Within minutes I was in the ICU, tubes everywhere, nurses surrounding me for the first 24 hours, and I had to begin a full fast, which lasted just under seven days (36 hours at home + five out of my 13-day stay at the hospital). I was on an IV for fluids but I was not allowed to drink even a sip of water, just a stick wrapped in wet gauze that I could rub inside my desert-dry mouth.

I had a severe case of acute pancreatitis, brought on by just over five years of alcohol abuse, which itself was brought on by anxiety, severe depression and other issues from chemical imbalances, arguably a lifetime’s worth.

How do you feel now? How did taking those steps make you feel, and have they helped?

Having overcome my agoraphobia and previous denial (5 years’ worth), this near-death experience really helped me to turn things around completely. I have been sober ever since, and have dramatically changed my diet and my lifestyle.

Today, I am able to leave the house and enjoy the company of my friends which I hadn’t done in a long time. Even my dog is in better health! There’s no doubt that my hospital trip was the catalyst that helped me get back on track.

I am feeling better – especially since I am comfortable to talk about it openly. However it’s still a long journey to recovery and managing it, as anyone who’s experienced mental health issues will know.

How did your mental health issues affect your work?

Luckily my job can be done online and I work with a remote team. This meant that when my agoraphobia was at its worst, I didn’t have to deal with the difficulty of going to an office for example.

However it might also be one of the reasons why I ended up so far down the rabbit hole. Because I didn’t see colleagues face to face, it made it easier to hide the problems I was facing.

There’s no doubt that the many hours of drinking, anxiety and depression made it harder for me to do my job. For example, struggling to get things done properly, or experiencing feelings of shame and self doubt…

What are you doing today, to actively manage your mental health?

Today I am just beginning to blog about it. I speak about it openly to others and I’m eating and living a healthier life.I also take antidepressants.

What are your lessons learned with regards to mental health?

The most important one is: don’t wait until it’s too late. If my body hadn’t decided to almost shut down who knows what might have happened… I’m pretty sure I would still be suffering from the same problems in silence. Or, to be honest, I might have done something even worse.

Don’t feel afraid to tell your friends and ask for help. During my worst point I didn’t see anyone anymore. My friends didn’t understand why I couldn’t meet for coffee or even just hang outside and chat on a bench. Many of my friends simply thought I didn’t like them anymore which wasn’t the case at all.

I’m sorry this happened and that I ended up isolating myself and pushing them away. In retrospect, I’m sure that they would have understood and would have been willing to help me, but at that point I couldn’t see it.

What would you like to say to someone who is suffering in silence from a mental health issue?

First of all, if you are suffering from similar issues to mine such as alcoholism and severe depression – I totally understand why you may not be honest about your habits with your doctors, family and friends. From my experience, denial can be deceivingly comforting, making us feel deludedly safe. Functioning or semi-functioning people suffering from depression, anxiety, and even alcoholism learn to hide things very well. It’s a way to survive.

But this is why I’m speaking out as I’d like to help others realize that it’s better to deal with it and get the help you need from those around you. Don’t feel ashamed, realize that there are literally millions upon millions of people going through these things.

What are your next steps?

I want to continue to tell my story in all its details on my blog. Now that I’m “out of the mental health closet” I want to make the most of it in order to raise awareness about these types of issues.

My goal is for me and others to open up, to share, no holding back, to show that there is zero shame in dealing with mental health issues. And maybe, just maybe, in some way I can help someone along the way.

Where can people find you?

Come follow the rest of my journey on my website:
Follow me on Facebook
Follow me on Instagram

Author’s note: please do not contact this person if you have negative intentions or to share hate messages. This person has been brave in sharing their story and my intent is to spread messages of hope and positivity.

Please be respectful of all the people who shared their story. I will not tolerate any negative behaviour or actions and will report this via the platform you use.

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Currently working in marketing and comms in Amsterdam. Passionate about all things digital, writing, dancing, travelling and much more. Mental health blogger and advocate.

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