“I appear at times merry and in good heart, talk, too, before others quite reasonably, and it looks as if I felt, too, God knows how well within my skin. Yet the soul maintains its deathly sleep and the heart bleeds from a thousand wounds.”
― Hugo Wolf
According to http://www.choicesinrecovery.com, 1 in 4 adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. With this knowledge, why is being diagnosed with a mental illness such a stigma in our society? Having been diagnosed with Chronic Depression, among other things, I live with the stigma on a daily basis. Despite famous individuals publicizing their illness/disorder, I continue to experience negative repercussions while dealing with this disorder.
I grew up in a time where we were told to “snap out of it” or “get over it”. Mental disorders were not spoken of. My mother’s instinct was to not talk about it, period. It is only when it became detrimental to talk or lose me, did she briefly open the door. She didn’t always understand why I needed to see a therapist or take medicine. She had “friends” and “family” she could talk to, so why couldn’t I?
I began physically hurting myself when I was around five. I didn’t tell people back then, not always. I would hit my head against our solid wood end tables, or step on broken glass. As far as I know, people were not aware of this side of me. They did think I was a reserved child at times – within myself. There were times that I did make “public” gestures by threatening to throw myself off of the balcony, etc., and those times were not spoken of between my mother and I. She felt it was better not to discuss it. What I did learn, even more than before, is to keep things to yourself.
There were environmental factors that played a part in my mental stability. Definite reasons to be depressed or withdrawn. I do not want to focus on those at this time. I believe that it also happens to be my genetics that play a part in my illness. The chemistry is not right. I know that my hormones have never been my friend; usually, becoming suicidal, paranoid, and weepy around each period.
I was in kindergarten when it was first noticed that I may need some sort of help. I would count the bricks on the way into class, skip school(yes, in Kindergarten), and, generally, be withdrawn. Because of that behaviour, I was sent to a psychiatrist to determine if I was mentally retarded. Keep in mind, that was before it ever occurred to anyone to be politically correct. What they discovered, is that my “smarts” were above average. Not that that changed things. Frankly, this was the seventies, and I am fairly sure they didn’t know what to do with me.
When I was around thirteen, give or take, my mother took me to a therapist. My hormones started acting up, but I had also been attacked my a group of boys. This is important because I did not talk to my mom about it. To this day, I do not remember my sister being there when it happened. But this is another story for another time. What is important here is that I only saw this therapist once. She told me she would not repeat the things I said, then she told my mom everything under the guise that she needed to share “some things” in order to help.
By the time I was in tenth grade I was hurting myself to a point it was becoming dangerous. It was also more public. This was definitely a cry for help. My mom found a new therapist and I grew to trust him. He was open and honest with me, as far as I knew. They decided to send me to an institution in order to monitored and protected from myself.
I would be lying if I said that didn’t frighten me. I wanted to back out at the last-minute, but, my mom, wouldn’t allow it. The second the door locked behind me, I was nervous. However, it turned out to be a good thing. I was with a group of kids who also had diverse “problems”. I had one on one counseling, group counseling, and various other meetings. I continued to be schooled. The best part of that was that I went at my own pace. I excelled in that environment. We thought the physical hurting stopped and they let me return back home.
For two years, nothing in regards to hurting myself, manifested. Being in a public school was difficult and my grades suffered (I wasn’t doing my work). I had a couple of jobs and school and friendships. Our local newspaper interviewed me, anonymously, about my hurting of myself. Back then, they didn’t understand it the way they do now. I felt that I had conquered the desire to injure myself. I was wrong.
The January before I graduated, 1984, I tried to kill myself. I waited until my mother went to bed, my sister was involved with watching tv, I gathered various pills and a large glass of water. I said good night and went to my room. Apparently, after I had taken the pills, I called my father and said some non sensical stuff that probably made sense to me, at the time. I went to sleep. An hour or two later, I woke up. My head and chest were beating hard. I felt that God was giving me a second chance at life. I called poison control. After all, why say anything if nothing was going to happen. Turned out that I could stroke and die. I had to tell my mom. So, I took the phone to her and matter of fact told her they were on the phone and needed to talk to her. Then I went down the hall to tell my younger sister. I burst into tears telling her what I did. During the whole ordeal, the days after, etc., that is the only time I cried.
I heard many things the day after that I wish I wouldn’t have. I don’t think people are sure of what to say to you. To me, the comments were ludicrous. I think that’s funny since I was then locked up on the psychiatric ward. Despite my suicidal tendencies, they didn’t give me disposable silverware until the end of my stay.
My grandfather, throughout all of those years, was my staunch supporter. He had survived WWII, Korea, and alcoholism. He told me that if anyone teased me to tell them, “the difference between you and me, is that I got help and you didn’t”. He would joke that we were “certified”. My mom hated it when I made light of my condition. She hated the certified and she hated when I referred to the psychiatric stays as anything else but psychiatric stays. Actually, if we didn’t talk about it, that was fine with her.
By the time I was in my mid twenties I needed to be locked up again. I stayed at what seemed like a luxury camp, for a month. We worked through my depression, mutilation, and suicidal thoughts. Unfortunately, for me, the mutilation desire never passed. For whatever reasons, it brings a sense of calm to me, but it is not rational. When things get difficult, that is where my brain goes. I hate it there. I talk myself out of it, usually. I liken it to drinking or smoking, either way you are hurting yourself. My way isn’t socially acceptable. Frankly, I wouldn’t want my kids to do it either.
I do take medications to help lessen the depression. There are people who assume that these keep you from reality, when, at least for me, they keep me in reality. They help my brain think clearer. There is less anxiety, paranoia, depression. I am not joyous. I am stable. I still feel things, even when I would rather not. Sometimes the pills do not appear to be enough, as when my mother died. They don’t keep me from life, they help me live it.
Depression isn’t a matter of thinking that your life is horrible. Most of the years I’ve had of the depressed state, I’ve realized that I had nothing to be depressed about. Those are the worst times for me. Trust me I’ve tried the “get over it” route, and it doesn’t work for me. My life is not horrible. The thoughts that creep into my brain at times are. Thinking about other’s lives being worse does not help, it makes things worse. Then I start to fret because I can not always help them. It is a sad cycle that keeps rotating. I’ve talked my brains out. Now, I realize, I need the medication. I am fortunate to have people in my life who understand that. Though, there are others that get uncomfortable if I mention any of this.
I do have a chronic, medical condition, that took years to diagnose. What didn’t help me was having the mental disorder of depression. Once you have that, it seems that medical personnel tend to think other things are all in your head. So, what is already frustrating, becomes even more so. I currently surround myself with doctors who look pass the depression, though they do not lose sight of it. When they treat me, all is considered, and not in a “bad” way.
I realize there will always be people who can not see beyond the stigma of mental illness. I try to help them understand, but, find, that I need to get beyond it myself. I rationalize that I can not help others if I can not accept myself. Perhaps, if others realize they are not alone they can learn to accept themselves. There are many famous people out there with mental disorders, but there are, also, many regular people. As with any illness, it is important to get the help you need. Don’t let shame stand in your way. The people you need in your life will stand with you, the people you need less of should not count. Just remember, as the website says, 1 in 4 suffer from a mental disorder. Look around you. You are not alone.