If I had the chance to visit you, my younger self, a self who was just beginning to struggle with mental illness, what advice could I offer? What wisdom could I impart? I don’t know how long I’ve been struggling, to be honest, but I do know how long I’ve been formally diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety, and adult ADHD and have been seeking help. And if I were to go back to visit Alex before his first doctor’s visit, here are a few pieces of advice I would share.
Dear Outpatient Clinic,
I won’t be coming to my next appointment; please transfer my medical records to the address below. Judith Lewis Herman, who first characterized complex PTSD, calls it a “shame disorder” . The inability to act when the self is at stake causes a person to doubt, even to loathe, herself. Trauma is shame; complex trauma is shame that lasts long enough that there is very little ‘self’ left by the end. Trauma is one type of loss of self. Depression, anxiety, and many others – often in tandem – also chip away at the self-worth of your clients.
One more thing to worry about
As a mother of three and now grandmother of one, I worry what has passed on genetically to my offspring. We don’t have a family history of bipolar disease and as far as I know, no particular gene is identified for the condition in any case. However, I did grow up knowing that my maternal grandmother was clinically depressed. Losing a child to Leukemia took its toll on her. I was quite young and obviously have no memories of Grandma from that time. I do know she additionally suffered the loss of her father during her teen years along with living through wars the Great Depression. I have often wondered whether I received hereditary mental health predispositions. How much of her bout(s) with depression were passed on to her children, grandchildren, great and now great, great grandchildren is unknown. I am unsettled by this lack of information. What does all this mean for my family? What does your family history of mental illness look like?
What my depression looks like: It is the Jabberwocky.
It rears its ugly head when you least expect. It fights to tear your soul apart and spit it into the flame. Your passion is dulled like an unsharpened knife, but it cuts you piece by piece. You hold your head high but your shoulders slouch. You only have energy to stay on the couch. Tears bottled up inside, but you don’t have the strength to cry your heart out or even stay awake. Hurt so bad, it aches; life so fragile, it breaks. All your past mistakes conglomerate into one big hate: of yourself. Please don’t let this be my fate. I only want to be great again. A dragon lies at the foot of my bed, laying wait until I feel good again, only to find that day won’t come: is this the end?
Recently, I submitted a story of my own struggles with anxiety and depression to makeitok.org in hopes of having my story shared with another outlet. I’m proud to say that they accepted the story and it is now published here. But for your convenience, here is my story.
What kind of stigma did you experience/observe?
Mental illness is no joke. It sucks. Suffering with anxiety, depression, and ADHD has made “adult life” rather challenging. Not to say it was easy as a child either. For me, an always-busy childhood helped keep everything in check. I would spend the school year going 100 miles per hour between school, sports, and other extracurricular activities. Then the summer, I would work six days a week, work out seven days a week, and do all of the AP class preparations and college preparations needed to continue the high octane life I had built. Then when I had the opportunity, I would utterly crash. Zero miles per hour, clutch disengaged, rolling wherever gravity would take me.
After college, I joined a high octane consulting firm to keep up the heat. 15 hour days? On the road 250 days a year? You bet! I still didn’t realize what was going on. Work became my outlet for two years, affecting nobody but myself (or so I thought). Marriage changed that quite quickly. It became very apparent (very quickly) that my all-over-the-place-ness, which I regularly combated with bouts of extreme cleaning and organization or full-on, days long “me” time, was not just affecting me. It affected my wife. And I couldn’t stand to see her hurting like she was. It is easy to have your dress shirts hanging the “right” way, ordered by color, immediately removed from the dry-cleaning plastic when you are alone. It is easy to not have a single dirty dish in the sink when you live alone. No one else is affected by this.
It is so easy to be blinded by naivety when you are only looking at yourself. When others are affected, especially other who you love, that’s when the light of reality shines the brightest. The pain in their eyes is the most haunting sight anyone can envision. When I saw that pain, I knew it was time to act. She kindly and lovingly supported me throughout the process of finding a doctor (even booking me appointments when I was resistant).
She owed (and still owes) me nothing. Her help getting me help saved me. Her undying, and unyielding love saved me.
Years later, she remains my rock. We’ve hit bumps along the way, but she has never doubted what we have, she had never doubted my love for her, and she has never doubted the future we are committed to sharing together. Even through the most challenging of times, she reminds me who I am. She helps me understand who I am. She never lets me forget who I truly am.
Anxiety, depression, and ADHD: they are a part of who I am. I live day in and day out with these illnesses. But they do not define me. I am me. And while they occasionally have more say over my life than I prefer, I will not let them win. Even if I fail today, there is always tomorrow. There is always tomorrow.
How did you overcome this experience?
To overcome is to completely extinguish. I am, and will forever be overcoming mental illness, every single day. Share your story and do not be ashamed that you have a mental illness. There are more of us out there than we know, but who are afraid to talk about it. Your words make a bigger impact than you think. You never know who may be reading, and whose life you may save.
Help others by sharing a brief, positive message.
No matter what happens in this crazy world, there is always a brighter day ahead. There is always tomorrow.
The sunlight shines –
Shines so bright.
After the darkest –
Darkest of nights.
Your tired or fighting –
Fighting this fight.
But tomorrow brings hope –
Hope of new light.
Maybe you can relate to this: as a parent, there exists a thin line between what happens to any child and what happens to my child. A tragic event occurs involving my friend’s child, a child in my community, or even a child in the news and I feel it could have been my child. I feel the pain as if it were my child. Teen suicide is one of a parent’s greatest fears. And as an adult who experienced suicidal ideation, it’s unfathomable to me.
When I was in my first year of recovery after hospitalization for severe depression, I used writing as a way to process my pain. I wrote in journal after journal and I began to think of the future and what it had in mind for me. And when I heard about the following story, I thought—maybe my writing could help others?