Republished on The Mighty on 5/4/20.
Republished on Yahoo News on 5/4/20.
Republished on The Mighty on 5/4/20.
Republished on Yahoo News on 5/4/20.
After struggling with mental illness my entire life, a couple years ago a miraculous thing happened. I found my voice and finally began opening up about my mental health struggles. Talking about living with such a debilitating illness has altered my life in so many positive ways, as well as changing my outlook on life itself for the better. For the most part, I have been met with wonderful support, not only from others who are struggling as well but also by those who, though they have never experienced mental illness firsthand, yearn to understand and empathize with the plight of others in their lives.
And then there are the trolls.
Those lovely people who relish commenting on other people’s lives for no other reason than to accuse and attack.
They inform me that my mental illness “is all in my head”.
They tell me that “everyone has problems”, say I “should stop having a pity party” and “just get over it”.
And they suggest that I’m just looking for attention and wanting others to feel sorry for me.
Though I always try to remind myself “water off a duck’s back”, those comments honestly eat at me because I have never seen myself as seeking attention or wanting anyone to feel bad for me.
As a matter of fact, for most of my life, I kept my struggles largely to myself. I did not want to burden anyone else with my problems, especially problems they neither caused or would be able to solve. Many of my friends were genuinely surprised when they finally heard about what I’ve been through because I kept so much to myself. I’ve been described as one of the happiest, sweetest depressed people that most will ever meet because I refuse to let my illness defeat or define me.
I also personally have never wanted anyone to pity me. Yes, I have been through a lot of trauma in my life. And yes, I am struggling with a life-long debilitating mental illness as well as multiple meningioma tumors on my brain. But you know what? I’m still here. Still fighting. Every single day. I fight to stay healthy and to stay positive, despite my own brain constantly trying to convince me otherwise.
Yet I am quick to tell others not to feel sorry for me for the simple fact that I am still here. I am a survivor. If you must feel sorry for someone, feel sorry for all those who have lost their battle with mental illness. Feel sorry for all those who suffered in silence and died never finding their voice.
The question remains:
If I am not looking for attention or for pity, why am I writing?
I write so others can better understand an illness that affects millions of people every year yet is still widely misunderstood and stigmatized.
I write because I know there are others out there who are struggling but don’t have the words to fully articulate the battles they are fighting every single day.
I write because I should not be ashamed of my illness or forced into silence due to other people’s ignorance, misinformation, lack of compassion or any other stigma they carry regarding my condition.
I don’t write for a pat on the back from anyone either. I don’t need a “good job”, a certificate of merit or a gold star. I need others to know they’re not alone. I need them to be okay, to keep fighting, to not give up. If my words can help even one person or five or ten, then I have made a positive difference in this world and that is enough for me.
Imagine silently struggling for years with an illness that nobody else can see. The entire time, friends and family are repeatedly asking what is wrong with you, why you seem so different, so distant, why you’re not able to do everything you used to be able to do. Imagine spending your life being expected to apologize just for being ill.
If your best friend invites you along for a 5k run and you decline, explaining that the chemotherapy your doctors gave you to fight your cancer has you too worn out and drained to go along, your friend will most likely show compassion, support and understanding. They will accept that you are struggling with an illness you neither asked for nor have any control over and that you are trying your best to heal and get healthy again.
Your family would not question if you spent whole days in bed while struggling to beat cancer either. They just want you to do whatever you need to do to get better. Nobody would accuse you of looking for attention simply for describing what you are going through and explaining that you currently don’t feel capable of joining in.
Replace cancer with many other debilitating illnesses and conditions and the story remains unchanged.
Can’t go running because you have a heart condition and you physically cannot handle it in your current state? Not a problem.
Spent the day in bed because your diabetes has flared up and struggling to balance your sugar again has you exhausted? Asthma acting up and you’re struggling to even breathe so you need to rest? Rheumatoid arthritis flare up and you can barely stand let alone run? Get some rest and feel better. It’s okay. Everyone understands. Take care of yourself.
However, if you are struggling with a mental illness, compassion often goes right out the window.
You’re told to “suck it up”.
To “stop feeling sorry for yourself”.
To stop making excuses, get off your butt and get over it”.
“Stop being a baby”. “Stop looking for attention”. “Just stop altogether”.
The truth is – we shouldn’t have to stop acknowledging our existence or our reality.
Our medical condition is just as valid as any other one. It, too, was diagnosed by a doctor. It, too, needs medical treatment. And it, too, deserves to be acknowledged. We deserve the same compassion and empathy that you’d show to anyone else who is sick with any other debilitating illness.
I spent forty years apologizing. “I’m sorry I can’t do more”. “I’m sorry I’m such a mess”. “I’m sorry I’m so broken”. “I’m sorry I’m having such an off day”. “I’m sorry I let everyone down”. “I’m sorry for existing”. “I’m sorry for being sick”.
But you know what?
I shouldn’t have apologized all those times. I had done nothing wrong. I was, and still am, struggling with a valid and verifiable medical condition. I did not ask to be sick nor did I do anything to cause this illness. I was born with it hard-wired into my genetics.
And these days I am completely unapologetic for my condition.
Am I looking for attention?
All I want, and feel I rightfully deserve, is the same acknowledgement, compassion and understanding as people would show anyone else with any other serious medical condition.
Do I want anyone to feel sorry for me?
I don’t wallow in my condition but I don’t minimize it or sugar coat it either. I am unapologetically and blatantly honest about what it is like living with mental illness because the only way to fight misconceptions and stigma is with the truth.
I’m a fighter. I am so much more than my illness and I refuse to let it define me or beat me. Don’t pity me. Cheer me on for the fact that I am still going. Be proud of the fact that I am taking the lemons life has given me and transforming them into something positive to help others.
I talk about my struggles with mental illness because I refuse to stay silent any longer. I refuse to pretend I am fine when I am not or to apologize when I have done nothing wrong. Most importantly, I write about what it is like because there are too many others out there struggling who need to know they are not alone.
Trolls are going to troll. They attack what they don’t care to understand. It is easier for them to pass judgment than to show compassion or try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
But I don’t write for trolls.
I write for that teenager sitting alone in a dark room feeling all alone, convinced nobody else could possibly understand. I write for that widow, sitting in an empty house, struggling to find a reason to pull themselves out of bed. I write for that person who keeps eyeing that bridge on their drive home each night or who sits at their table, gun in hand, weighing whether or not to eat a bullet and put an end to their misery. I write to add my voice and my story to the collective of everyone struggling with mental illness.
I write to let them all know they are not alone and that others understand. I write so that they know they, too, are more than their diagnosis and they don’t have to let it define them. I write to remind them that they, too, are fighters and survivors and to help them find the courage and the words to tell their own stories. I write to encourage them to get the help they desperately need.
I also write for that parent who desperately wants to understand why their teenager has begun isolating themselves and never smiles anymore. I write for that husband who needs to understand why his wife just hasn’t been the same since she had the baby. I write for everyone who has lost someone to suicide or has sat there dumbfounded after a loved one’s failed attempt, unsure of what to say so that their world would make sense again. I write for everyone who desperately wants to understand this illness though they have never experienced it themselves.
I don’t write to appease trolls because I have no place in my life anymore for those who spend their lives spreading negativity, judgment and hatred. They are not my target audience. Not my circus. Not my monkeys. Not my problem. I will spend just as much time caring about their opinions as they have spent empathizing with my condition.
For those that I am hoping to reach – please don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. You are so much more than your illness. You, too, are a fighter. A survivor. You, too, can get through this. Know that you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out, to speak up. There is no shame in asking for help, for needing to see a doctor for your medical condition. Stay strong. You’ve got this.
Republished on The Mighty on 5/27/19.
Republished on Yahoo Lifestyle on 5/27/19.
Republished on Yahoo Finance on 5/27/19.
Republished on Yahoo News on 5/27/19.
Republished on The J. Wheeler Group on 5/27/19.
Republished on Core Wellness on 5/27/19.
Today is not going to be a good day.
It’s not even nine o’clock in the morning yet, but I already know this for a fact.
There are some people that will insist it is too soon to know anything for sure, that I should pick myself up, brush myself off and face the day with a positive attitude and a brave face. There are others who will insist it is all in my head, telling me that I will be fine once I get up, get out there and start moving.
There are some who will insist I am being melodramatic, making mountains out of mole hills. If you have never experienced these storms firsthand, never fought to survive them, you have no idea how bad they can get.
But I know these days all too well.
I’ve struggled with depression my entire life.
I’ve wrestled with this beast many times over, fought this monster again and again.
And I know today will be yet another epic battle.
Today, I will be lucky if I can even pull myself out of bed. The world feels completely overwhelming, my life utterly overbearing. Everything seems hopeless and futile. I feel like I am suffocating under the weight of all the problems and issues I have been attempting to juggle and resolve. I am mentally and emotionally exhausted beyond words. The lies depression tells have already begun gusting and blowing around me, their sheer force threatening to knock me down.
I am wrapped in a blanket. I will be lucky if I can pull myself up at all today.
I am caught in a rising tide of emotions, being pulled back and forth between feeling way too much and being completely numb to it all. The tears come in waves, the struggles crashing into me, threatening to knock me overboard.
As each wave recedes, I sit here catatonic, drenched in my own tears, unable to even fully process everything I am feeling anymore.
The pain and the numbness each wash over me in turns. Every time I think I could not possibly feel anything more, I am flooded with more anguish and strife. Each time I think the agony will never end, I find myself trapped in that moment of stillness again, that nothingness, staring into that void, feeling empty and numb.
I rock back and forth, thrown around in that sea of depression, each crashing wave threatening to pull me down into its depths.
I am trapped in that storm front, between the hot and the cold, feeling too much and feeling nothing at all.
You cannot stop those storms when they hit, but you can feel them in the air when they’re about to arrive. You know they are coming so the best you can do is prepare.
I cancelled my afternoon appointment. Otherwise, I know I would spend the morning fighting with myself to get up, get moving, and ultimately tearing myself apart for being unable to do so. When I dragged myself to the bathroom, I brought back granola bars and my water bottle on the way back through. I grabbed an extra blanket, extra tissues and the television remote. There is little time to prepare but I do my best.
I have curled up on the couch, wrapped up tightly, nourishment on hand, ready to ride out this storm.
There’s an old saying that “into every life a little rain must fall” but this isn’t just a little rain. It is a hurricane. A tsunami. A nor’easter.
I would evacuate if I could but there is really nowhere to go. Like Eeyore, these storm clouds follow me everywhere. The storm will come.
There will be flooding.
But I won’t let myself drown.
I’ve learned long ago not to push myself during these storms, not to foolishly attempt to wander out when they get bad. I don’t beat myself up for what I cannot do or where I am incapable of going. I cannot control the storms raging inside me any more than I can mother nature outside. They come from time to time because they are part of my depression.
It is always harder to go out in the storm so I try to avoid it whenever I can.
I have learned to batten down the hatches, board up the windows and take care of myself the best that I can. I have learned to take care of myself to the best of my ability, making sure I have what I need on hand. I have learned, as well, to not beat myself up for not feeling capable of navigating through these storms. It is better that I stay home, stay safe and warm, then to attempt to venture out and drown in the sea of my own depression. Especially when the skies appear clear to everyone else so nobody else even realizes I’m drowning.
No storm lasts forever.
I will ride this one out and I will be okay.
Because I am a survivor.
I have survived other storms and I will survive this one, as well.
I refuse to drown in my own depression. I will do whatever I must to stay afloat.
Everything had been building up for months, years.
It was not that I didn’t have wonderful things in my life to be grateful for. I had healthy, compassionate, intelligent children that were growing into incredible adults before my eyes; I had reconnected with my first crush ever who has turned out to be the love of my life and we have a wedding to plan; I had finally found my calling as a mental health advocate and had the start of a promising writing career; I finally understood my struggles with my mental illness, having found a clinic that not only helped me to find the answers I needed, but also actually gave me hope for the future. In so many ways, my life was finally looking up.
However, it was overshadowed by a lifetime of struggling. I had been battling my own brain my entire life. And in recent years, the government and my insurance company, as well. It felt like all I ever did anymore was fight everyone, again and again. It seemed never-ending. I was so exhausted from fighting all the time, never getting to catch my breath, never getting a break.
Add to that discovering not one but two meningioma tumors on my brain. I had survived years of abuses that left deep scars that would never fully heal. My fiance and I were facing a possible pending eviction caused directly by the government’s prolonged inaction in my case and direct refusal to comply with a judge’s previous fair hearing decision in my favor.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was the fairly consistent presence of someone toxic in my fiance and my lives under the guise of one of his childhood friends who was hell-bent on causing problems in our relationship, repeatedly trying to split us up.
To give a little background on the situation, she had known him since she was thirteen and had a crush on him for close to thirty years, bordering on stalkerish. When he was staying with his parents following the end of his marriage, she would intentionally show up hours before he was due home from work and say she would wait in his bedroom for him as an excuse to sleep in his bed. Though they never had any type of a relationship because he never saw her THAT way, for years, she regularly borrowed hats and shirts from him and kept them, much like a girlfriend would normally do. Despite having a crumbling relationship at home she should have been devoting her attention to, she tried repeatedly over the years to supplant herself into my fiance and his family’s lives in any way she could whenever she could, often causing drama in the process. Though he later forgave her to an extent, she even played a crucial part in the break up of his first marriage.
From the time we got together, she had been trying to cause problems between us and split us up. The first time I met her was a month into our relationship, shortly after his father went into hospice. She pulled me aside and tried to convince me that I had no idea what I had gotten myself into or the mess he was going to be so I should just walk away before I got in over my head. She told me he was mentally unstable, that she knew him well enough to know I could not handle what was in store. She seemed thrown aback when I told her I had known him longer than her and I was in it for the long haul.
When she could see I was not going anywhere, she switched tactics. Over the course of the next year, every single time she came over she would make negative comments about me and my mental illness, lecturing me that I needed to stop being lazy and do something with myself and my life. Whenever my fiance and I would both jump in to defend me and attempt to explain the disability diagnosis my doctors had given me, she would interject that she worked in mental health, too, and she “knew what she was talking about”. She worked in a mental health care adjacent position, as a glorified overnight babysitter at a facility that housed mentally or physically disabled adults, a job you didn’t even need a high school diploma or any certification to get, yet she swore repeatedly that she knew better than all my doctors over the years. She frequently trivialized my mental health writing as a waste of time and criticized everything from the cleanliness of my apartment to my cooking, as if nothing I did even remotely met her standards.
As if the constant attacks were not enough, she also was constantly attempting, albeit admittedly very poorly, to blatantly flirt with my fiance in front of me. She would try to run her fingers through his hair and insist he let her cut it, to which he would pull away and say I will cut his hair when he needs it done. When he stopped shaving for no shave November and the couple months afterwards, she commented repeatedly that he should shave because he looks so much better clean shaven, that she prefers him that way, even offering to do that for him, as well. She was forever reaching out to touch him, swat at him or rub him with her hand while she talked, trying to take sips out of his drinks like a girlfriend might do and regularly found excuses to lift her shirt or drop her pants in front of him under the pretense of showing off numerous bug bites and bruises. She would often announce wildly inappropriate things that people wouldn’t normally discuss with friends, like she had just shaved her nether regions or talk about having sex, watching porn or masturbation when she came over.
We tolerated much more than we should have because honestly we felt sorry for her. She was always desperate for attention and, according to her, her problems were always ten times worse than everyone else’s. For example, when we attempted to explain about my doctors finding my brain tumors, she cut us off by saying, “That’s nothing! Did I tell you I had to bring my car back to the shop again?!” as if car problems were somehow worse than brain tumors. She was loud, obnoxious, crass and crude with no concept of respect or boundaries, always saying or doing whatever she could think of to get all eyes on her. She was always talking badly about someone when she came over, usually my fiance’s ex-wife, even though she was supposedly still good friends with her, to the point where we began watching everything we said around her to avoid becoming part of her gossip. She also had severe substance abuse issues. In a year and a half of seeing her once to twice a week on average, I never once saw her even remotely sober regardless of the time of day – she was always drunk, high or both. We knew from everything she had talked about that things were bad for her at home, that her relationship was in shambles. A lot of people had written her off already over the years for her behavior but we understood that she had a lot of issues so we tried to cut her some extra slack.
I had tried my best to be kind to her. On more than one occasion, I took the time to show her sons my sugar gliders and explain more about them. I even watched her youngest once for over an hour while she ran an errand. If we had leftovers when she stopped by on her way to work, I would send her with a plate or bowl. She would regularly fill her purse from treats I had put out in snack bowls. I baked her family Christmas cookies and sent her with extra for both home and work. I once even lent her an old pair of pants that were too big on me so she had something clean for work when she stained her own. I listened sympathetically when she complained of relationship issues, health problems or other stresses, trying to extend an olive branch of friendship. I even did my best to overlook her steady barrage of flirtation with my fiance because I realized it must have been hard to see someone you crushed on for decades happily with someone else.
But despite all my attempts at kindness, both her attacks on me and her inappropriate flirtation with my fiance not only continued but steadily increased. What originally may have been one off-handed comment about her believing my disability was nonsense became full-fledged rants. She began making snippy and snide remarks and telling us to stop whenever my fiance and I were affectionate to each other as if she resented anyone else showing him attention or love. Over time, it had all became too much to bear. When my fiance and I began contemplating marriage, she declared we were not ALLOWED to both get married a second time because she had never even been married a first. When we officially announced our engagement, she responded by referring to me as (please excuse my language) his “fuck buddy”, saying outright that the only thing I did for him was give him my “roast beef curtains” and insist that he deserves better than me. That was the last straw and we agreed she was no longer welcome in our house or our lives.
For two weeks afterwards, she did not come around. Then late one night, well after one in the morning when we were already in bed, we heard a drunken knock at our kitchen window. We both knew exactly who it was because she was the only one we knew with the audacity to think that would be acceptable. I was livid and wanted him to tell her to leave immediately. He wanted to quietly let her in to avoid her making a drunken scene in our apartment building, to wait to tell her she was no longer welcome here another time, during more reasonable hours when she might be somewhat more sober and perhaps slightly more reasonable. Everything quickly escalated.
We were both beyond stressed at the time, not at all with each other but rather with life circumstances in general, topped off by our unwelcome, uninvited guest. Beyond all my own issues, he had been struggling terribly, as well. He had a lifelong battle with his own mental illness. In the last year, he had lost first his father then his job. The family dog that had been his parents’ for well over a decade had to be put down and he was struggling to keep his truck, one of his last physical connections to his deceased parents, on the road and in working order. We were both well beyond our breaking points on many fronts and the culmination of everything with her pushed us right over the edge. We fought terribly, something we don’t often do even in a mild sense. It may have been the worst fight of our entire relationship. Afterwards, I retreated to the bedroom to cry, locking the door so I could be alone.
I did not have any plans to commit suicide. The thought honestly had not even crossed my mind. I was not trying to hurt myself in any way. I loved my fiance and my children more than I could ever put into words and would never have wanted to hurt them in any way, either. I was hurt, angry and distraught over our fight, disgusted that we had tolerated someone so blatantly toxic for so long, and I was exhausted and overwhelmed with life in general. I just wanted to be alone, wanted to try to calm down, to catch my breath, to stop feeling like I was free-falling through a world where I was never allowed to just be happy, never allowed to just rest and be at peace.
I dumped the basket of pills out on the bed and fished out various bottles of my take-as-needed anti-anxiety medications. In between sobs, I took a few. Then I vomited.
Seeing the pills floating there on top, I took a few more to replace the ones I had lost. I continued to sob and to vomit. To vomit and to take more pills to replace the others.
At this point, I was no longer thinking clearly, caught in a nightmarish loop, wanting desperately just to calm down, to stop feeling like this, and to get some much needed rest.
Eventually, sleep came. I started to feel dizzy and thought to myself, “..finally.. they are starting to kick in..” It is the last thing I remember for almost two days.
I woke up a day and a half later in the hospital. He was seated at my bedside, looking ragged, like he hadn’t slept in days.
Baby! You’re awake! Oh my god I love you. I am so sorry about everything. How are you feeling? What do you remember?
I was confused and disoriented. On oxygen. Had a bunch of tubes and wires all over my body. It took me a few minutes to realize where I was and what was going on. I could not remember anything since taking the pills, crying and throwing up repeatedly. I was not even sure what day it was.
I can’t believe you don’t remember any of it. I had to kick down the door, to call the police.
My chest hurts.
I can only imagine. One of the cops did a sternum check, pushing really hard on your chest, hoping for a reaction to the pain. You were completely unresponsive.
My throat hurts.
You had tubes down your throat. They had to restrain you for a bit because you started to flail and grab at the tubes. You have no idea how much you scared me baby. What you looked like, laying there hooked up to all those machines, all those wires and tubes. I thought I was going to lose you. Please don’t ever scare me like that ever again.
I wanted to talk about it all, to explain, but my voice was raspy, my throat raw. It hurt to talk. I couldn’t stop coughing. I wanted to insist I hadn’t meant for any of this to happen, to swear I wasn’t suicidal like I had been all those years ago before we were even together. I wanted to apologize for scaring him, for fighting over stupid things like people who were inconsequential and irrelevant. All I could do though was cry as he held me close, my tears flowing freely with his.
I had lost a day and a half.
But more importantly, I tarnished our relationship in a way I can never take back. The sight of me laying there unresponsive, of being carted out on a stretcher, of my laying there as the doctors frantically worked to revive me, will forever haunt his nightmares.
I spent the next day in intensive care as they closely monitored my heart, followed by three days on a secure floor on suicide watch. Again and again, I tried to explain it all to whoever would listen, to insist I was not suicidal. However, protocol required a few days of observation no matter what was said.
My heart was constantly monitored, my vitals taken every few hours. My IV was moved numerous times as my veins collapsed and fresh bruises appeared up and down my arms. I was stuck in bed for the first couple days upstairs while I waited for nurses to find me clothes other than hospital gowns. The clothes I had arrived in had been cut off me in the emergency room when I arrived. I could not wear other clothes from home until after I was cleared for discharge.
I was not allowed many other items often taken for granted such as a phone charger or silverware. Well-intentioned staff reached out repeatedly to try to convince me life was worth living. Meanwhile, they rushed to confiscate any cans or other sharp items from meal trays and to take endless notes on everything I said and did to assist with my psychological evaluation. I had a constant companion, a nurse or aide to sit with me at all times to prevent me from possibly further harming myself. Though I was never by myself during those four days, I had a lot of time to lay in bed alone and think.
I was not suicidal but I have been in the past. I did not intent to harm myself, but I had in the past. Intentional this time or not, I found myself in the same place and, like my previous attempts in the past, it had not solved anything. On the contrary, it made everything much worse. It hurt the people I love, scared my fiance and my children to death.
I didn’t get any time to calm down, didn’t get that moment of peace I had desired so badly. The majority of the problems had not gone anywhere. I lost a day and a half, woke up in pain and discomfort only to face new problems created by my own actions.
I was extremely lucky just for the fact that I am still here to tell my story. I could have just as easily become a statistic that day. My story could have just as easily ended with my obituary, the words and questions of others left unanswered, adrift in the wind.
I cannot apologize enough for what I put everyone through. I feel stupid, ashamed, that I should have known better. There are no words that could adequately express my remorse. I would do anything to take back that night but there is nothing I could ever say or do that would erase the past.
I would love to say there is no excuse for my actions but when my depression and anxiety reach certain levels, I no longer always think clearly. I become increasingly overwhelmed, the world feels largely hopeless and I am no longer able to cope. Even when I am not actively suicidal, which I have not been for years now, I struggle regularly with suicidal ideation, not exactly wanting to die but no longer wanting to continue living my life the way it is, either. Though I never meant to fall apart like I had that day, unfortunately once I reach a certain point, I react before rationalizing the repercussions of my actions.
I would love to say there is an easy solution to this, that I could take a magic pill or think some happy thoughts and my mental illness would just fade away and disappear. I wish I could say it was a temporary phase even that I would eventually get over. My mental illness is caused in part by a genetic mutation. I was born with it and I will have it until the day I die. There is no cure for me. It is permanently hardwired into my genetics. I can receive therapy for past traumas and current issues, I can take medication to provide my brain with the chemicals my body cannot make itself, I can fill my coping toolbox with techniques and strategies for dealing with harder days and attend things like tai chi and yoga classes until the day I die. Yet I will always have a mental illness. It is a lifelong, permanent diagnosis for me.
Mental illness is my cross to bear. Though I truly appreciate that my loved ones are willing to stand by me and support me through my struggles with my mental health, it is not fair or right for them to suffer like they have for my diagnosis. Although I never intended to do so, I severely hurt everyone that matters to me. They all have tried to be compassionate and understanding, to forgive me for an illness that often wreaks havoc in my life, for a condition frequently beyond my control.
However, I am not sure I will ever be able to forgive myself.
Since getting out of the hospital, my fiance and I have not talked much about the incident beyond him being thankful that I am okay and asking me to please never scare him like that again. I have reassured my children that I am okay, as well, trying to minimalize the severity of it all to lessen their fears. Again, I wish there were some magic words I could say to take away the pain and panic in their eyes. I fear no apology will ever be enough.
It took almost a week before we could even sleep in our bedroom again. While I was in the hospital, he slept on the couch when he could sleep at all, the spilled pill bottles, vomit and towels still sitting where they were when the ambulance carted me away. I insisted on cleaning it up myself when I came home, my mess, my problem, but going into that room felt like crossing into an alternate nightmare dimension. Nevertheless, I fought my way through a bevy of anxiety attacks and breakdowns to clean it all up. Even after everything was cleared away, no trace remaining, we opted to sleep in the living room for the next week on our air mattress. We knew what had happened in there, we had lived through it, yet we were still not quite ready to fully face it.
The first couple nights that we returned to the bedroom, I couldn’t sleep at all. He continued to cling tightly to me all night while he slept, as he had done every single night since we returned home from the hospital, as if he was terrified that I would disappear forever if he let go for even a moment. I laid awake both nights, silently crying for the pain and fear I had placed in his heart. A month later, my anxiety still rises whenever I enter that room, my sleep restless and plagued by nightmares old and new.
I know I need to change many things, to put safeguards in place to prevent something like this from ever happening again. I cannot change the fact that I have a mental illness, but there are other things I can address, precautions I can take. I never want to hurt my loved ones like that ever again. For instance, no more locking myself away when I am upset. No more taking extra dosages of medication early, even if I have thrown up the dose I just took. No more tempting fate when I might be too emotionally irrational to think clearly.
I have a constant pressing need now to reassure him that I am okay, that he doesn’t have to worry. I catch him looking at me, watching me, more frequently now, and checking in on how I am feeling. We are trying to heal from this, to move forward, though I’m not sure we can ever completely move past it. He almost lost me that day. He is always going to worry just a little bit more now.
We have also agreed to remove certain toxic people completely from our lives, those who prefer to add drama and conflict rather than happiness and support. We learned the hard way that some people will take advantage of our kindness and tolerance, repaying us tenfold with cruelty and drama. The nail in the coffin of that childhood friendship was hearing from mutual friends that she had been going around laughing and bragging about “putting me in the hospital”, proud of the part she played in my breakdown. We will never again allow anyone like that into our lives. Whatever it takes to never find ourselves in that situation again.
Some people say that suicide is selfish because all it does is pass the pain onto others. Other people attempt to explain that those who make attempts just don’t want to hurt anymore themselves. Many nowadays recognize that suicide is often a tragic byproduct of mental illness. I have been suicidal. I have been in those moments of desperately wanting the pain to stop. I have had suicidal attempts in my past and now an unintentional attempt because I was upset, irrational and not thinking clearly. I have lost loved ones to suicide, and known others who have lost people they loved deeply, as well, so I understand all too well how devastating it can be from the outside looking in. Regardless of where you fit in the equation, suicide is always heart-wrenching and tragic.
One thing I can tell you, whether you are suicidal or not, whether your attempt is intentional or not, the result is always the same. Pain. Pain for everyone you love, everyone who loves you. Pain for yourself should you survive. And not just physical pain from tubes and tests and IVs. Emotional pain as you see that haunted look in their eyes, that kernel of doubt that appears every time afterwards that you insist you’re okay. Pain that will continue for years, that will likely never go away, whether you’re around to see it or not.
Pain and overwhelming loss for everyone who has ever cared for you. They will never be the same. You might carry physical scars from your attempt, but theirs will run much deeper and never fully heal. Those close to you will retrace all your interactions, looking for signs, real or imaginary, to explain what happened. They will question whether they should have said this or should not have said that. People who you have not seen in ages will question if they should have reached out, as if they could have magically known things were bad and somehow made a difference. They will all blame themselves for your actions and choices. Whether you die or not, they will be forever haunted by that one choice you made, something completely beyond their control. Yet, in their pain, they will embrace that blame, caught in a cycle of imagining every scenario that could have prevented it.
To those contemplating suicide or just on that edge of not being able to cope with life anymore, please know that I understand completely how hard it can feel, especially when you’re struggling with mental illness. You are not alone. But I wouldn’t wish the kind of pain I caused on anyone, not my worst enemy, not my loved ones or yours. Once it has happened, though, you cannot ever take it back. Even if they don’t lose you, your relationships will never be the same. I cannot change the pain I’ve caused, but perhaps, by sharing my story, you can spare your loved ones from the same fate.
Please be careful. Be careful with yourself and be careful with your loved ones. Life is a fragile thing, a light that can be snuffed out in a moment. It may be hard sometimes, downright unfair. But life is also precious. As is love. Don’t take either for granted.
I know all too well that mental illnesses are rarely rational. When we are upset, we often react based on pure emotion. So take precautions now, during the calm before the next storm. Do not leave ways to harm yourself readily accessible when you might find yourself too emotional to think rationally. Don’t set yourself up to fail or to hurt yourself or those you love.
I thankfully am very lucky to still be sitting here, able to share my story. Many others have tragically lost their battles with mental illness without ever having a chance to tell their tale. Their stories are told in yearly mental health statistics and on memorial pages created by those they left behind. We’re all in this boat together and we only have two choices. We can either become a statistic or we can keep going, keep fighting, and find some way to make a difference in this world, even if only to show others that it is possible to survive our diagnosis. There are too many mental health statistics and enough pain already in this world. If we have to choose anything, let’s choose life and love.
Much love, compassion, hope and faith that even if this does not find you well, it finds you strong enough to keep living. ❤
I have struggled my entire life with mental illness. Unlike some people whose mental illness has an origin that can be pinpointed to a specific life event, mine is caused in part by a genetic mutation. It has always been there to varying degrees. I have always struggled.
Thanks to that same genetic mutation, I have always been considered treatment-resistant, as well. No medication I ever took seemed to even touch the darkness I carried inside me. This mutation affected the way the neurotransmitters in my brain worked so I never received the chemicals that I desperately needed, whether made naturally or prescribed, in any useful amount.
For over forty years of my life, I struggled to function while feeling inherently broken and flawed without ever understanding why. Discovering the existence of my genetic mutation helped me see my mental illness in a new light and put me on a new path of self-love and acceptance. There were ways to treat my mutation. I no longer had to be classified as “treatment resistant” and pushed aside as a hopeless case. I no longer had to stagnate through life, a broken shell going through the motions while barely existing.
Please know that I am not touting any magical cure for mental illness. I am also not trying to push that stigma-fueled misconception that if you just try harder, you can somehow vanquish your mental illness by force of will alone. My mental illness is still very much present and ongoing treatment is still needed. But the way I have come to view my mental illness has drastically changed and, in many ways, it has been both a world-changer and life-saver for me.
I no longer blame myself for my mental illness. I used to believe I was damaged and broken, that I was crazy on some core level, unbalanced and just not right in the head. I had downed gallons of that stigma kool-aid, poisoning myself with the idea that I must just not be trying hard enough, that I was somehow doing this to myself.
I now accept that it is a verifiable illness and one that is largely treatable. I have accepted that I am no more responsible for my illness than a cancer patient would be for their condition. It is a medical diagnosis that affects people of all walks of life regardless of their race, religion, gender identity, age or socio-economic status. I did not ask for my illness nor was it thrust upon me as some punishment or retribution. People just sometimes get sick and when they do, they need treatment.
For years, I was suicidal on and off. Because none of my treatment ever seemed to work, my world felt hopeless. Because I felt damaged and useless, I surrounded myself with people who treated me like I was as worthless as I felt. Even on my best days, I was only a few steps away from giving up.
Being able to finally accept that I was not responsible for my illness removed all the blame from the equation. Since I was no longer to blame, I could stop hating myself, stop punishing myself for being so broken. If it was a medical condition, it was treatable. And if it was treatable, there was hope.
Hope was a new concept for me.
I was not used to the idea of looking forward to the future. Previously, I went through the motions of merely existing day by day. I did not look forward to what tomorrow might bring because it had always brought the same despair as told held and all the days before. Nothing had ever changed. But now, there was finally a very real possibility for change. For the first time, I found myself looking forward to the future.
I also received some semblance of control over my own life. For years, it felt like my world had been spinning out of control and I had no say in the matter, that I was just along for the ride. But if there is treatment available that can work, that means I have control over my life again. Though it might take time to find a balance that works for me, my life and my health are in my hands. The only way my life will never get better is if I choose to not get treatment.
Regaining control over my own life in turn made me more proactive about my treatment. I was willing to try anything that might help. Meditation. Yoga. Tai Chi. Writing. Art. Anything that might make a difference and give me a better fighting chance. It all added new tools to my mental wellness toolbox and made me stronger.
It also made me more open to letting others back into my life. For years I had isolated myself from many people, believing they were better off without me. I worried that somehow the mess in my head might spill over into their lives and firmly believed that nobody deserved that. Being able to see my mental illness as a treatable condition allowed me to take those walls down and let people back in. I wasn’t dangerous, unbalanced or crazy. Nobody needed to be protected or shielded from me. I had a fairly common condition that was treatable.
My new strength also helped me to see that everything my mental illness had been telling me all along was a lie. I was not weak. I was not broken beyond repair. I was not useless, unlovable, unwanted, unworthy. I was strong. I was fierce. I was brave. I was a fighter, a survivor, a force to be reckoned with. My future was in my hands.
My new fighting spirit gave birth to an inner advocate that I never knew was within me. Not only was I fighting for my own mental health, but I began writing advocating for others, as well. And the more I talked about my own mental illness, the more I let others know they were not alone and encouraged them to never give up, the stronger I got. Within my illness, I found a purpose, a reason to keep going and to fight that was much larger than my own survival. The same illness that for years had me pinned on death’s door had breathed new life into me and given me a true calling.
That does not mean that my mental illness is gone. It is still there raging strong. The only difference is that now when that inner dialogue begins, I can fight back. I can call it out for the liar it is. I can use the tools I have acquired in my mental wellness toolbox and stave off the worst of it. Instead of succumbing to its cruelty like a lamb being led to slaughter, I now have the will to fight back, to call it out and to refuse to let it beat me.
And I have hope.
I want to get treatment. Because I have a sincere hope that one day things could be better, that one day my mental illness will not have such a death grip on me.
Having hope has made all the difference.
If you are struggling right now with mental illness, please take my words to heart. You are not to blame. You have done nothing wrong. You are not broken, flawed, or damaged beyond repair. You are not useless, unwanted, unloved, unworthy. You have a medical condition that could happen to anybody. There is treatment available. Things can get better.
And there is hope.
You just have to open yourself up to that possibility.
Trust me. It will change your world and might just save your life.
You’re stronger than you realize. You’d have to be strong to fight the monsters you’ve been fighting all along.
You’ve got this.
I have hope for you. Now all you need is hope for yourself.
I recently touched base with someone from my distant past. To say it did not go well would be a colossal understatement. While I will not go into specifics about the conversation as a whole, one comment they made has been eating at me. So much so that I found myself at a loss for how to respond.
They told me they had been made aware of my writing but had not read it because they don’t believe in finger pointing.
When I began writing, it was for survival. I had so much baggage I carried with me that it was eating me alive. I was haunted by my past and desperately needed to talk about it before it killed me.
It had nothing to do with pointing fingers or hoping anyone received their comeuppance. The past was the past and nothing I could say or do would ever change it. But I could no longer pretend it didn’t happen, either. I needed to stop running and face my demons.
Even after I shared all I had been through, I continued to write. My second book was entirely about examining my perceptions of people and events, to reevaluate them not through the eyes of an injured child but rather as a rational adult. Again, it had nothing to do with finger pointing. I needed to reevaluate unhealthy and dysfunctional thought processes and patterns in my life if I was to ever have any hope of change.
I can understand their wariness. They knew my mother and witnessed her persecution complex firsthand. My mother, while suffering from often untreated, always undertreated, mental illness, often displayed what those close to her frequently referred to as the “Poor Patty” complex, believing the world was against her.
But I am not my mother.
I am not looking for anyone’s pity. I often tell people not to feel sorry for me. Feel bad for those people who lost their battles. I’m still here. Don’t pity me. Cheer me on. I’m a survivor.
I’m a realist in many ways. I’m not going to minimize what living with mental illness is like, especially not for the comfort of others. It is not pretty by any means. It is dark, ugly, disturbing and scary. Pretending it is less than it is only perpetuates the stigma and reinforces the belief that it should not be taken seriously. The only way we can ever hope to get others to truly understand how debilitating mental illness can be is by talking openly, honestly and frequently about it with no filter, no holds barred.
Part of being a realist, too, is accepting my diagnosis. A large part of my condition is caused by a genetic mutation. I was born with it. I can no more wish away my mental illness than a diabetic could wish away their illness. There are medications I will have to rely on for the rest of my life. I am also fully aware of my limitations currently. Whether those limitations might change in the future with treatment is yet to be seen but lying about or exaggerating my capabilities is only detrimental to myself and my well-being. I will not do it anymore.
That being said, I am also an optimist. I refuse to believe there is no hope. I refuse to accept the stigma surrounding mental illness. While I accept my diagnosis, I refuse to let it define me. I am constantly looking for new tools for my wellness toolbox and am devoted to deciphering and changing dysfunctional thought patterns and behaviors. I may have a mental illness but I still strive to be the healthiest that I can be.
I consider my writing to be both truthful about mental illness yet still uplifting and motivational. I encourage others to not give up, to stay strong and to fight for change. I want others suffering to know that they are not alone and that there is hope. After all, they are survivors, too. They are stronger than they realize. They don’t need pity, either. They need empathy and compassion.
I wish this person could see how wrong they are about my writing and my motivations. I wish they would take the time to read through my work and see that it was never about finger pointing. It was about healing, survival and personal growth, transitioning into advocating for others to stay positive and keep fighting, as well.
But unfortunately though you can lead a horse to water, you cannot make them read.
I hope in time we can talk more and move beyond their misconceptions of my writing and the intentions behind my words. I hate the distance I have allowed to grow between us and hope, in time, things may change. I hope, as well, that they will eventually come to see my writing not as something negative but rather as a sign of strength and a tool for survival.
Because as much as I truly miss having them in my life, I remain thoroughly unapologetic about my writing. Finding my voice has saved my life in more ways than one. Helping others has given me a purpose greater than I ever imagined for myself. Whether they can see it or not, my writing is one of the best things to happen in my life.
This last week has been yet another stark reminder of how differently people view and react to mental illnesses versus physical ones, especially in medical settings like the emergency room.
Please bear in mind that I am by no means a frequent flyer in the emergency room. The last time I was in the E.R. was about two years ago when I had a large cyst and tissue growth on my left ovary that had twisted and contorted it, causing severe pain. I was in no way crying wolf or looking for attention. My E.R. visit resulted in a surgical referral and the removal of that ovary.
My mother was a hypochondriac. She had doctors for everything and scheduled appointments with specialists on the drop of a dime. Somewhere along the way in my journey to not become her, I became the polar opposite in that aspect. I avoided doctors and only sought medical treatment as a last resort. I once tried to walk off appendicitis for a few hours as bad stomach cramps. On some level, I know it is irrational and that I need to make my health a bigger priority, but I still struggle to go to the doctor unless it is absolutely necessary.
Last week, I had a bit of a scare. I had gotten upset after a spat with my partner and had gone for a walk to calm down and clear my head. Somewhere along the way, though, my head began to hurt and spin. I knew I was upset but the details felt distant and fuzzy, as if the facts were lost in my head somewhere yet I was unable to access them. The harder I tried to root out facts, the more my head spun and the more confused I felt.
While I do struggle often with losing numbers, words or specific facts as a result of my mental illness and have also had memory issues following anxiety attacks and PTSD flashbacks as well, I have never experienced anything like this before. When I realized I could not even recall my own name, it sent me into a panic. I knew something was seriously wrong so went into the first business I saw and asked the clerk to call 911 for help.
An ambulance arrived to take me to the hospital. Their initial fear was a stroke. They started running multiple tests and sent me for a CT scan. As tests began to come back ruling out the prognosis of a stroke, the demeanor of the staff treating me began to change drastically.
Their next possible prognosis was that it was purely a mental issue or that I was lying about the severity of my condition, putting on some sort of act for attention. Despite the fact that I was visibly agitated and distressed at being unable to recall even basic facts, their demeanor changed. All of a sudden, they became outright accusatory and began to question whether I was telling the truth. One nurse went so far as to tell me point blank that they would have to start doing uncomfortable and painful tests, including taking my temperature rectally, putting in a catheter for a clean urine sample (though I had given them one in a cup not twenty minutes prior) or even putting a needle in my back to withdraw fluids for tests “unless I had something I wanted to confess”.
As I laid there in a state of panic not because of the possible upcoming uncomfortable tests but rather because my brain just was not working like it should, I could hear that nurse at the desk nearby laughing with her coworkers about how she was “going to get a rectal thermometer and make me talk”, the results of my CT scan came back.
It turns out that I have two meningioma on my brain, tumors between the surface of my brain and the inside of my skull. The larger of the two is in the falx region, in the front of my head, which deals with memory. The smaller of the two is in the middle, presiding predominantly over balance.
Neither was particularly large thankfully, but when housed in the small space between my brain and skull, even smaller tumors could cause issues. Apparently in my already agitated state following the spat with my partner earlier, there must have been just enough pressure put on the memory portion of my brain to cause a temporary memory loss.
The whole demeanor of the staff treating me shifted once again, becoming very serious and somber. They gave me some sedatives and anti-anxiety medication to calm me and slowly the fog began to clear. They began bringing in paperwork and test results for me to bring to my primary doctor to get a referral for a neurologist, stressing the urgency of the situation. Though they informed me that something like eighty percent of meningiomas are benign, even benign tumors continue to grow and could cause temporary or even lasting damage to my brain if left untreated. Ultimately, I’ll need surgery regardless of whether biopsy results conclude the tumors are benign or malignant.
The whole situation made me nauseous, even beyond the fact that I have tumors on my brain. Just the fact that I was only taken seriously when they feared for a physical condition like a stroke or when the tumors were found on my brain was appalling. As I had mentioned earlier, I have had memory issues related to my mental illness in the past, though thankfully never quite to this extent before. However, following PTSD flashbacks or severe anxiety attacks, my brain is always fuzzy and muddled, as well, and I often have periods of impaired memory afterwards. The fact that professionally trained medical staff at an emergency room would treat any condition they believed had a mental origin less seriously, let alone as a joke, is beyond disgusting to me.
I did not make a scene or call them out on their obviously shifting behavior, in part because the very idea that I had tumors growing on my brain left me in a state of shock. Even more so, like many others struggling with mental illness, I have sadly become accustomed to my mental health not being taken seriously. However, it is deeply disconcerting to me that emergency personnel at a hospital would be so openly cavalier about anyone’s mental health, treating their patients as a joke.
I walked away from this situation with a few distinct feelings and thoughts in my head. First and foremost, I have a newfound anxiety and wariness about going anywhere alone until this is resolved, particularly when upset. I was lucky that I was in an area with easy access to other people and was blessed to have maintained enough reason to know to ask for help. But I carry with me now an ever-present fear that next time I might not be as lucky, especially considering that I regularly operate under conditions of extreme anxiety and depression due to my mental illness.
I also am distinctly aware of all the unknowns in my foreseeable future. I am not sure exactly where I go from here. I understand the basics. Get a neurology referral, get an MRI, get a biopsy, have surgery, possibly radiation if needed. But I have no idea of the time frames of anything just yet and probably won’t until tests and biopsies start coming back. I don’t deal well with the unknown. Not being able to plan to any degree heightens my anxiety to dangerous levels.
There is a strange sense of underlying optimism, as well. Somehow I know I will get through this, that I’m a tough cookie. I come from strong stock. Both my parents survived multiple types of cancer and other ailments before they passed. My time is not up yet. I have too much left to do. I have a lot of fight left in me.
However, I am very aware of the fear growing inside me, too. Cancer scares me to the core. I remember going to the hospital day after day when my mother had part of her lung removed due to lung cancer, watching her fade in and out in the CCU, not sure whether she would make it or not. I remember reconnecting with my father just in time to watch cancer wreak havoc on his body, going through repeated cycles of surgeries and chemotherapy. His cancer always seemed to be one step ahead, reappearing again and again in different areas until it eventually killed him. I’ve seen cancer eat away at and kill multiple friends over the years, as well. Cancer is, by far, my biggest fear and it is now on my doorstep.
More than anything, though, I came away from this with a harsh reminder of the stigma that still surrounds mental illness, even in medical facilities. When they believed my issue was a mental one, I was a joke they saw fit to threaten with unneeded, uncomfortable and painful tests as a way to get me to “come around”, expecting my condition to magically cure itself and disappear under threats of unpleasantness. It took finding tumors on my brain, something they could physically see, for my condition to finally be taken seriously.
Republished on The Mighty on 6/17/18.
Republished on Yahoo Lifestyle on 6/17/18.
Republished on Yahoo Finance on 6/17/18.
Republished on Yahoo Sports on 6/17/18.
There are many quotes that resonate strongly with me on a very personal level. One of my favorites is by William Goldman:
“Life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”
What makes life more fair? I believe it is the fact that you still have possibilities and options. No matter how bleak and hopeless today might feel, there’s no way to know what tomorrow or next week, next month, next year might bring. Life is fairer than death because death takes away all your options, all your possibilities.
I won’t ever throw out empty promises that tomorrow will be better if you just hang in there because none of us knows exactly what tomorrow may bring and whether it will be good or bad. But one thing I can guarantee you is that it will bring possibilities. The possibility of action and of change. The possibility of a future beyond today.
I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been there myself, if I hadn’t tried myself in the past. I understand how it feels to feel lost and all alone in the world, to believe that you have no more options. I know exactly how scary it is up on that ledge. I know all too well that siren’s call, promising an end to the pain if you just give up, just give in.
Unfortunately, that’s all suicide gives you. An end. It doesn’t remove any of the problems that existed. It just robs you of the ability to do anything to fix them. And it’s final. There are no do overs, no second chances, no tomorrows. It is emptiness. Nothingness.
Yes there would be no more sadness, heartache or pain. But there’s no more happiness, either. You’re robbing yourself of the chance to heal, to overcome, to see better days again. You’re allowing the worst days in your life to steal the possibility of all future happiness from you. You’re depriving yourself of a future that is completely within your power to transform into anything you wish.
Giving up means giving up your future and giving up the chance to make your life better. It is final. When you give up, there are no more possibilities.
There are also no more hugs. No more drippy ice cream cones or licks from cute, fuzzy puppies. No more bad puns that make you chuckle and no more all you can eat taco bars. No more sunny days or breezes blowing through your hair. No more singing songs loudly and off key and no more cups of cocoa with too many marshmallows. There are no more bonfires or camping trips. No more joyrides with friends or late night pizza runs. There’s no more movie marathons or teaching your children to ride a bike.
There’s no second chances to fix things and no way to say you’re sorry or make amends. There’s no new friends or new jobs. No new children or new pets. There’s no new hope and no second wind.
I could go on and on, listing all the things you could be giving up, but the possibilities are endless. By choosing to live, you have millions of doors available to open, millions of lives you could live.
There’s only one thing you get from suicide. Nothing.
I won’t guilt you by saying you should keep living so you don’t hurt others because I believe you should be living for yourself, not someone else. Don’t get me wrong – it would devastate everyone in your life and change who they are forever but it isn’t fair to ask you to live your life for someone else. You ultimately need to choose to live for yourself.
But please know that I have been right where you are now. I was sixteen the first time I tried to kill myself. I can tell you without a doubt that I am grateful I did not succeed. I won’t lie to you and tell you that my life has been a bowl of cherries since then, but I still have been blessed beyond anything I ever imagined for myself.
I have wonderful children I would not trade for the world. I have reconnected with my first childhood crush and found a lasting love. I am a published author of a handful of books and with blogs that have been republished and shared world-wide. My life has not been perfect by any means, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative which is nothing.
I know others who have survived suicide attempts, as well. Years later, we’ve talked about all that has happened since their attempts. Children. Marriages. Careers. Vacations. Celebrations. Memories. Life.
I have never heard a single one of them say they wish they had been successful. No matter how many highs and lows they have gone through since then, every single one has been glad they are still here. I’ve heard stories on television, as well, from people who have survived suicide attempts like jumping off bridges. They all share the same narrative about regretting that one moment of weakness and being grateful that they did not succeed.
Because you know what they would have had if they had been successful?
“Life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”
Life is fairer than death because life is full of possibilities. Death takes every last possibility away.
Don’t keep living for anyone else. Choose to live for yourself because living means that you still have a chance to be happy, a chance to make amends, a chance to find love, a chance to be a parent or to pursue your dream job. Keep living because by living, you still have a chance. With death, you have nothing.
A couple years ago, right around my birthday, I began to write. My life had begun unraveling yet again and I clung to my words as someone drowning might cling to debris floating downstream, hoping something, anything, might keep me afloat and stop me from going under.
It began with a book about my own experiences. Sink or swim, live or die, I didn’t want the truth of my story going down with me. But a miraculous thing happened as I threw my words out into the wind – I was finally heard. For the first time in my life, I was heard. Even more miraculously, words floated back to me, telling me that others understood, others had been there, that I was not alone.
And it saved my life.
Knowing that I wasn’t broken, wasn’t crazy, wasn’t alone in all the world gave me renewed strength to fight, to keep going, to not give up. In that moment I was forever changed.
I suppose some could have dusted themselves off, walked away, and continued on with their lives, grateful for another chance at life. But I couldn’t. I had a lifetime of silence to make amends for, over forty years of pain to release. Once I got to the shore, I added my voice to the collective.
For years, I had drifted along seemingly alone, being pulled under, almost drowning, again and again. Those voices that reached out to me from the shore, other survivors who encouraged me to just keep swimming, showed me I was never as alone as I had believed. If there were others on the shore, there had to be others in the water, as well. Others who needed to know they were not alone, either. Others who needed encouragement and empathy to keep fighting and not give up.
I had this overwhelming urgency to pay it forward.
I began writing more often, sharing the gritty truth of what it was like to live with mental illness. I also began speaking out more and more about fighting stigma and discrimination. I was like Ebenezer Scrooge, awoken on Christmas morning to see the world in a whole new light. It was not too late for me. My story wasn’t over. I could still make a difference in the world.
How have I endured in regards to my newfound passion?
Though personally, I’d consider my venture into writing over the past two years a huge success, I know many would consider it middling at best. I have a handful of books about mental illness and mental health published and others in the works. I have an active blog, averaging 2-4 new pieces a month. Many of my blogs have been republished elsewhere, most notably The Mighty who has republished well over 35 to date with others sitting in a queue, earmarked and waiting to go live. I have been on my local NBC news station for an interview about my book. My pieces have been discussed by television and radio stations as far away as Australia and have been shared by advocacy groups, private practices, schools and government agencies in one hundred different countries around the world – that I know of, at least, according to the stats page on my personal blog. I have a milestones page filled with events in my short writing career I would have never dreamed possible a few years ago.
The majority of the people who have read my writing have read blogs that have been published and republished for free. I do sell a book or two here and there, as well as an occasional anxiety chart poster, but it is nowhere near enough to make a living from or to pay any of my bills. As much as I would love to make a living at this, doing what I have come to love, I am not sure whether it will ever be in the cards for me. Why, then, do I keep writing?
I write to make a difference. My voice might not travel far – mental illness is a very niche topic that is unlikely to ever truly go viral – but I have seen firsthand that my writing is reaching others. I see it in the messages sent to my inbox, thanking me for putting their own struggles into words. I see it whenever someone else tags someone they know on one of my pieces, trying to help them better understand. I see it every time any group, organization or agency who works with the mentally ill shares my writing.
Admittedly, even two years later, it all still feels surreal and makes my eyes water. I still feel honored and humbled every time anyone reads my words and relates, reads my words and shares them with others. I truly feel blessed. It has in many ways become my calling.
But still, in a day and age ruled by the almighty dollar, why continue devoting so much time and energy to something that can’t even pay the bills?
The answer is simple – I write because I know I can make a difference.
I don’t ever imagine I will be world famous and renowned. I am honestly beyond amazed that my writing has reached as many people as it has. I know I won’t be able to save everyone, to make a difference in everyone’s life, but I am making a difference in some people’s and that is enough for me.
I am reminded of a bittersweet story about a young child walking along the ocean shore after a big storm. It comes from a book called The Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley. This young child walked along the beach, one by one throwing starfish that had washed ashore back into the ocean. After some time, an old man approached the young girl, asking her why she was wasting her time, telling her there was no way she could ever save all the starfish that had been washed ashore. At first, the young girl was discouraged but that feeling only lasted a moment. Then she picked up another starfish at her feet, returned it to the ocean and proudly proclaimed that at least she made a difference to that one.
I relate so very strongly to that little girl. I cannot save everyone. I know that. But I am determined to keep writing, keep making a difference, continue to help others as much as I can. Even if my words only touch one life here or there, I have made a difference in the world. I have left an impact and made the world a better place than it was before. And that is enough for me.
Ever since Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson spoke up about his own struggles with depression, the story has been everywhere, appearing again and again on all my social media feeds. Everyone loves The Rock. It’s a great story. It’s all everyone wants to talk about. And beneath his story, you see the same sentiments being shared again and again.
“The poor guy having to suffer through that..”
“Good for him to speak out..”
It’s a story that we’ve seen dozens of times before. Celebrities speaking out about mental illness is quickly becoming a huge movement as more and more share their story.
We applauded and cheered when Kristen Bell talked about her battle with depression and anxiety because it made her so much more real. She wasn’t that perfect, ever-smiling, ever-happy Hollywood darling with no problems. She was one of us!
When Demi Lovato spoke out about her own struggles with depression, bipolar disorder and drug addiction, her fanbase surged. People admired her for being brave enough to speak up about such difficult topics.
Since he spoke up about his depression and thoughts of suicide, Jared Padelecki is continuously swarmed at cons by fans who love him even more for his brutal honesty and his “Always Keep Fighting” campaign. The whole Supernatural cast has begun speaking out about mental health and have never been more beloved.
We admire and idolize Carrie Fisher for speaking so frankly about bipolar disorder and called her a national treasure.
When Patton Oswalt talked about the depression he went through after losing his wife, our hearts all went out to him. We grieved with him and felt his pain. We all wanted to hug him and to find the right words to say to lessen his pain.
J. K. Rowling. Lady Gaga. Selena Gomez. The list goes on and on. Speaking out about their struggles with mental illness makes them more relatable, less larger-than-life. Our hearts all go out immediately to them when they share their stories and confide with us about their pain. We sympathize, we empathize, we want to reach out to tell them that we’re here to listen even though they don’t even know us.
Whenever we see an actor, musician or a professional athlete taking time off from making movies, touring or playing a game to seek treatment for mental illness, we all say to ourselves, “Good for them, getting the help they need. It’s such a difficult thing to admit or to face. I hope they get the help they need.”
Robin Williams. Chris Cornell. Chester Bennington. Whenever we lose an iconic celebrity to suicide, the whole world mourns for months. The mourning is renewed each year on the anniversary of their death, as well. Crowds weep together and share stories about how their lives were impacted by their presence and how greatly their loss will be felt. Newsfeeds are filled with scores of pictures sharing quotes and sweet sentiments along with prayers that their souls are finally at peace.
If you only looked at how society treated mental illness by how we respond to our celebrities, you’d assume we are the most compassionate, enlightened society to ever walk the earth. It’s truly laughable.
Please know I am not minimizing or trivializing any of their battles with mental illness nor am I diminishing the tremendous losses the world has endured from celebrity suicides in recent years. It is incredibly brave to fight for your mental health, perhaps even more so in the public eye.
I personally admire them all for taking a stand to fight against the stigma of mental illness. Like many others, I’ve cried when I read their stories and so many others like them because I could relate. I’ve mourned those needless deaths because I have walked that edge myself on more than one occasion so I understand all too well how it feels to be suicidal.
I say it is laughable not because I take mental illness lightly or because I am mocking their pain but because the way mental illness is regarded with celebrities is so far removed from the responses the rest of the world gets. It truly sickens me that the overwhelming support they receive rarely extends to normal, average, everyday people with the exact same diagnosis.
When the average person opens up about their struggles with mental illness, we’re rarely met with any support and encouragement. More often than not, we’re hit with judgment and persecution. We’re treated as if we’re exaggerating or making something out of nothing.
“What do you even have to be depressed about?”
“Have you even tried to just be happy? It’s not that hard. You just have to be more positive.”
“You’re still not over that yet? You need to just learn to let go of things that get to you.”
“Everybody has problems. Stop being such a drama queen and learn to deal with them like everyone else does.”
We mention going to our doctor and getting on medication and are confronted with comments and memes about how we don’t need pills, we need things like sneakers and fresh air.
We talk about seeing a therapist and are told we shouldn’t be putting our private life out there to strangers who are only listening because they are paid to do so.
We’re told it’s all in our heads and that we should be grateful we don’t have “real problems”.
We’re told we’re just not trying hard enough, not doing enough. Told we just need to try harder, do more, and we’ll get out of that funk.
Everyone has an answer for how to “get rid of our illness” but none of them have anything to do with the actual medical treatment needed for a medical diagnosis. Be on your phone and computer less. Go outside more. Join more activities. Start more hobbies. Get a dog. Get a girlfriend or boyfriend. Make more friends. Watch happier movies. Read more positive books. Listen to more upbeat music. None of this would cure any other illness but that doesn’t matter. Since others cannot see our illness, it must not be worthy of any real treatment.
We see those with mental illness painted as monsters or mocked as jokes. We’re told that only the weak-minded can’t deal with their feelings. We’re portrayed as unhinged, broken, unbalanced and unsafe, someone to avoid at all costs so that our crazy doesn’t rub off or spill out onto others as if we’re contagious.
We’re expected to suck it up, hold it in, don’t talk about anything that might make anyone else uncomfortable. We’re supposed to pretend everything is okay, pretend we don’t feel anything at all even though we feel like we’re slowly dying inside.
When we reach out for help, we’re more often than not denied because it is an invisible illness that they cannot see. We’re forced to fight, to prove there’s anything wrong and that it’s bad enough to justify getting help.
And Heaven forbid someone loses someone they love to mental illness. They can’t even mourn without others commenting about how selfish suicide is, as if no longer being able to live in constant torment somehow makes them a bad person that deserves to be forgotten. If an average person kills themselves, you’re not even supposed to acknowledge their life or their death because it might make others uncomfortable.
For the average person, mental illness is a bad word. It’s that gorilla in the room that everyone knows is there but nobody is willing to talk about. It’s that monster on our backs and in our souls that is eating us alive that we’re supposed to pretend isn’t there.
Mental illness doesn’t just happen to celebrities. It does not discriminate. It affects everyone around the world regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation and identity, religion, race, occupation, political party, or socio-economic status.
Mental illness isn’t some rare fabled unicorn that only lives in legends and fairy tales, some mysterious creature whose very existence is highly doubtful. It is all around us. Millions suffer from mental illness every year. An average of one in five people struggle with it. It is an epidemic of global proportions. It is a very common health problem. And average, everyday people deserve the same compassion, admiration and support as celebrities do for fighting the exact same battles.
I am an average person with an average illness that affects one in five people in this world. I am fighting the same battle as millions of others fight to varying degrees every single day. I’m tired of being treated like I am invisible just because my illness is. Whenever a celebrity speaks out about their own battles with mental illness it reminds us that they are just ordinary people, too, with the same problems we all face. If we support some “ordinary people” in their battles with mental illness, shouldn’t we support all?