Digging for Confidence

The moment I found myself on my hands and knees digging through dirt, was the moment I knew I needed help. But help is such an ambiguous term. So I dug a little deeper. No pun intended.

Mental illness was such a taboo term. Growing up, I attended a small, private school. I don’t particularly remember anyone discussing the topic, unless the word, “crazy” was coined along with it. And even then, the words, ‘mental’ and ‘illness’ were never used. Being 29 years old and in my thirtieth year, looking back I sure as hell have had some “crazy” moments in my lifetime. And I’m sure there will be a few more. But mental illness wasn’t truly brought to light until my early twenties.
Can you imagine working full time, while having a two part time jobs, attending college full time and being newly married? Yeah, I can hardly imagine it either. But, that was me. That is how I spent my early twenties. I was learning who I was and what I wanted in life, all the while adapting to a drastic lifestyle change that marriage brings, like taking on a new last name and learning the habits, desires and needs of my new spouse.
A year or two had passed. I became quite an actress, as hiding my feelings well became all too common. I had a brave face on the outside, but eventually I reached a breaking point. After all, I didn’t even truly know myself. At that time, my brain, mental and emotional capabilities were still developing. According to research and science, our brains don’t reach its full development until mid-twenties.
So, you may be wondering why I found myself on my hands and knees in dirt. I remember that hot, mid-July day. Oddly, I don’t remember the reason for the dispute, only the outcome. After a mid-afternoon quarrel with my husband, I, like most times prior to getting help, found myself taking it too far and intensifying the fight. I remember throwing my wedding ring on the ground. Immediately, I regretted doing so. Tears streamed down my hot, red face. I scrambled to my knees, searching for my ring in the dirt and shrubs, as I found myself as depicted above. I then heard my husband calmly say the words, “I believe you are mentally ill. Will you please get help?” Am I mentally ill? I silently asked myself. And if I am, where do I get help?
My husband wasn’t as uninformed as I was. He was quite familiar with the term, as he was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at a young age. But this — mental illness — was a whole new world for me.
I wish I could say I got help a couple days later...or a week...or even after a couple months. But, sadly, no, that was not the case. It took me about 14 months later, to find myself shaking with nerves sitting in a consultation meeting with a therapist. But I knew I was where I needed to be. I was finally on the right track. I, Vanessa, was finally getting help.
Let’s fast forward a couple years. I think it was a mixture of brain and mental development, along with spiritual and physical maturity, but instead of going to therapy once or twice a week, I found myself going once a month. Once a month led to once a quarter. And once a quarter eventually led to present day, which is simply staying in touch twice a year (if that) via e-mail. Which is sad because after seeing my therapist regularly for a couple years, I built a relationship, and I truly loved visiting her. She was and still is a total bad ass (and I would totally recommend her to anyone in the Northwest Ohio region).
In the end, I was never diagnosed with an exact mental illness. They simply said I had a mood disorder with obsessive compulsive tendencies. But if I never sought help, I don’t know where I would be today. Let’s be honest and start with the most obvious, I would probably be divorced.
Thankfully, I’ve turned my situation and my experiences around for good. I am an independent actress. (I may have done some foreshadowing earlier.) And last year I wrote my first film in which I will be directing and acting in this summer. The storyline is on the topic of — you’ve guessed it — mental illness. Although the character is loosely based on myself by having similar interests and personality traits, the story itself is a general, fictional plot.
For those interested, my film is called A Story Worth Living. If you wish to follow my journey of bringing my script to life, follow @AStoryWorthLivingMovie on Instagram and give it a like on Facebook. Your support means the world to me. And for anyone who likes spam of cat pics, my personal account is @vanessalleonard. And I’m just kidding about the cat spam — sort of.
In conclusion, if there is anything I’ve learned the last eight years from my journey with mental illness, it would be to take the time to learn yourself inside and out, then let yourself heal. And my husband and I both wouldn’t recommend getting married young. But thankfully, I found a man who stuck with me through the tough times and says to me to this day, “I still choose you.” And yes, I did find my wedding ring.


Vanessa Leonard