WRITTEN BY TIANA PETRULLO – FOUNDER & EDITOR
It has always been out of my character to talk about myself, to share feelings, thoughts and emotions. It has been within my character to be cold, distant, judgemental, quiet, condescending, a perfectionist. Always a running joke in my family that I was the most private person. These words burned into me, always. I learned to own my stone cold disposition, be proud of striving for perfection, love my private nature, and allow my wall to remain tight around me because the assurance of everyone's descriptions of me gave me an excuse to do so. It didn't seem like anything more than normal, but I too was locked out of the part of my brain that felt, and I spent at least a decade in the center of my life just going through the motions. It was easy to be condescending, sarcastic, and say that I disliked everything because that didn't require feeling.
This was just who I was and everyone else thought so too. I was allowed to stay inside myself, no one pressured me to come out. I was never comfortable talking to people and felt embarassed for how interactions would play out. I wasn't close to anyone or taught that I should be and wasn't conditioned to talk about my thoughts and emotions. My household was filled with alcoholism, anxiety and depression. None of these disorders were discussed, acknowledged or named and were accompanied by constant stress, pain and hatred.
Trauma is mysterious in the way that the same event could happen to multiple people, but may only manifest as traumatic to one. I am self conscious about sharing the things that I attribute my own depression, anxiety, and PTSD to because I wonder how these things sound to others, maybe very minor. It’s all perception. Did I inherit these disorders through genetics? By learned behaviors? Or has each point in my life that stands out to me been the true cause? It helps me to look back through my memories and find things that I can finally understand, feel, and give reason to.
My mother has struggled with alcholism and depression for close to two decades. When I was young, nights were bad and mornings were quiet. No one knew that I had experiences of nightly verbal abuse and daily confusion pretending that nothing had happened the night before. I had no idea that this was alcoholism. I perceived this with confusion, pain, and frustration – to be treated this way by someone who was supposed to take care of me. Her words caused me pain yet for some reason I had always felt obliged to sacrifice myself for her happiness. We seemed to have switched roles. I find it interesting that we may avoid calling out a mental illness in fear of hurting the affected person’s feelings. It was a taboo subject so no one ever called it like it was.
This year a therapist asked me what I think of in response to ‘PTSD’. I have an image of myself from a third person point of view behind the closed door to my room while I’m being yelled at from the other side. Everything else is a blur. Her words towards me were painful and my consistent attempts to try to show her ‘sense’ have given me PTSD that manifests in my interactions and conflicts with others. I was helplessly fighting to explain to her what she was doing. It was the most frustrating, especially not knowing anything about mental illness.
The best and hardest decision that I made for my own well being was to cut contact for a year, which allowed me to start seeing myself and my own issues without the distraction of another’s. I had been putting her first, allowing myself to be triggered by continued interactions and always being careful of what I said to avoid a conflict. After learning about addiction and depression, plus experiencing the latter first hand, I can understand how to try and navigate the situation a bit better. We finally used the word alcoholic for the first time last year and being conscious of these disorders has helped me navigate this relationship I’ve allowed myself to disconnect from the idea that this person is capable of being selfless towards me, it’s not her it’s her illness.
I was 18 when my first apartment gave me a space to feel my lowest lows for the first time without the distraction of others' problems. I started to have anxiety attacks and crying fits and fall into deep depressive states. I felt lazy but at the same time was overworking myself with the distraction of school and a full time job. I thought that I was just stressed.
My partner of four years reentered my life when I was 21 and I was forced to open up to someone for the first time. I was feeling love, a positive and vulnerable emotion. Before this I never had a relationship that required communication. Opening up is hard for me. I’m a brick wall and it’s emotional. I couldn't communicate my feelings and expressed an intense amount of incomprehensible emotion that came out in tears or would make me shut down. It was confusing and hard for both of us. He knew me at 18, and has seen me go from a complete shell to someone who feels. When he started to notice that my actions and reactions were abnormal is when we started our ongoing exploration of anxiety and depression. We had no idea of the journey ahead of us and I am endlessly grateful for his unconditional love and support. Discovering that my undesirable personality traits could be attributed to very real mental health disorders changed everything. Who knows if I could have done it alone.
High functioning disorders can be quite eye opening. I live a seemingly normal life, but more often than not I have been unhappy and uncomfortable, experiencing intense highs and lows. These illnesses affect every aspect of my life.
I compare myself to multiple family members that are more than half way through life and are still struggling with conditions that have only gotten worse over the years. Mental illnesses aren't as concrete to define as physical ones. They’re not easy to recognize until you can see them from an outside perspective. I feel fortunate to be aware so early in life.
I often feel like I am carrying the weight of the world on top of my own and it's hard but I feel blessed to feel. I've finally spent time in therapy and am currently taking an anti-depressant. I am otherwise very conscious of what goes into my body and it drives me crazy to have this in my system. But, in this period of transition and learning it has helped immensely by allowing me to have normal days, which had been hard to come by prior. The good days have outweighed the bad for the majority of this year, and that’s a first.
I think it's extremely interesting to analyze myself in this way and link pieces of my past to present behaviors. I find myself doing it constantly. I have been able to recognize and point out my symptoms more and more as time has passed and I try to take care of myself in these moments rather than shut down. I still can’t fight my symptoms in the moment, but it’s a beautiful thing to be able to understand what’s happening, even after the fact. My world has completely changed as I've started learning and I am grateful for the privilege of self-awareness.
It is hard to cover every prevalent thing to my story without writing a novel. I am happy to answer any questions, provide more detail or clarification or just share more with you. Thank you for reading.
Transparency is a shared journal that is curated by Tiana Petrullo in collaboration with a beautiful community of contributors who have offered to share their personal experiences with mental health. To encourage a contribution of the most raw and real experience, minimal guidance was given. All stories have been willingly shared and are written to reflect what is personally most prevalent to the writer. Together, we offer an expansion of knowledge, awareness, and acknowledgement.