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.
A hilarious genius, Robin Williams would verbally shower us with his brilliance as we laughed until our bellies ached. We marveled at his boundless energy and his ability to be extemporaneously funny. Robin Williams’ mind improvised stand-up comedy routines which he delivered flawlessly. He was a comedic tour de force. The USC film school has established a Robin Williams Comedy Chair. “Robin was a comedy genius with a boundless talent,” Lucas said. “He was singular in every way, yet had great respect for the genre and for the dedication it took to succeed. His talent was only matched by his work ethic. That’s why he made it to the pinnacle of comedy success, and why his legacy will be to motivate and inspire young storytellers.” 
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?
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.
How to Talk To Someone Experiencing a Clinical Delusion – or Just a Radically Different Point of View
“I have a lot of money coming my way soon,” the thirty-something woman sitting across from me at the table told me with a sincere tone.
“Oh yeah?” I calmly responded. “How’s that?”
“Well, I helped Maroon 5 write most of their songs,” she said without blinking.
Before you get too excited, no, I wasn’t having a chance encounter with a music mogul at a swanky cafe; I was interviewing a schizoaffective patient in the crisis unit of the psychiatric hospital in which I worked. And I knew what I said next would either hinder her recovery or hasten it.
“How about that?” I replied, showing a lukewarm level of interest. “When did you get the chance to work with them?”
“I used to date Adam Levine,” she continued.