Liz B.

I remember my 30th birthday well. I was given a surprise party by my two best friends; they coordinated an amazing fete without having met, while living on different coasts. It was really wonderful, but my real gift that year was passing a grave milestone I had set for myself. I had somehow convinced myself that if I lived to be 30, I would have crossed a threshold that ensured I would not become schizophrenic like my brother.

I made it. I had dodged a bullet, or so I thought. What I didn’t know then was that a numbing and severe depression would overtake me decades later. I come by this naturally. Disorders of the brain, including, but not limited to depression, alcoholism and other addictions, exist on both sides of our family tree. My family is not unusual in that regard. One in three of us will suffer from mental illness at some point in our lives.

I was plunged into an abyss from which I could not get out on my own. The New Englander in me figured I could pull myself up by my bootstraps; I wasted a year of my life thinking like that. The reality was that I barely had the energy to feed myself and dropped 13 pounds before I even had a name for my indifference to life, everyday social interactions, or the fall leaves that I had always looked forward to each year.

Most of you would never guess this about me and that’s exactly why I am telling you now. My silence has been at odds with my desire to erase the terrible stigma that is all too real and pervades our common vernacular, the workplace, places of worship, and our private conversations.

There is something safer about sharing it now. The Affordable Care Act means I can not be excluded by an insurer for my pre-existing condition, nor can I be dropped because of it. This is a Godsend not just for me, but for the millions of Americans who suffer from some form of mental illness. My brother lost his insurance just 20 days after his first psychotic break; he was deemed uninsurable—too expensive. Unworthy.

I am a survivor because my mom made me get help. I’m a survivor because of a wonderful therapist and an anti-depressant that worked like a bloody miracle for me. I am alive because a few friends stood by me when I was not much fun to be around, and when isolation and sleep were my only escape from this exhausting life. How lucky I am.

At the end of the month, I will be 57, twice as old as my brother was when he took his own life. I want to honor my good health and my life with a birthday wish that was also his: to give to mental health research so that we can improve treatment options and one day find a cure.

11 responses to “Liz B.”

  1. Jenni says:

    Liz, Thank you for your story. I’m glad you take an anti-depressant that gave you back your life. I want to tell my story but it’s too long and involved.

    Blessings

  2. Deborah L says:

    A truly inspirational story by a remarkable and courageous woman. We are all better off for it.

  3. Jennifer says:

    You shared your story, which is also mine, in a way. I celebrate you, me, and all of us survivors, and those who STOOD BY US, and didn’t choose to run and point the blame!
    We did it, and do it everyday we are able to stay vertical.
    xoxoxo infinity.

  4. Steve says:

    Mental illness has few friends as eloquent as you. It never had anything to do with intelligence or perception. Just the courage to continue through the bleakest of times.

  5. Barbara l says:

    i wish I were brave enough to share to the world about depression, but I’m too afraid of being judged.

  6. Lori says:

    Liz — you have honored Jonathan’s life for so many years; and now you have honored your own life. You are a model for us all.

  7. Liz Brooking says:

    Thank you all for your support and loving words. I consider myself very lucky. Barbara, It took me several years to get up the courage to do this – but it is one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was met with positive energy from friends, associates, colleagues and total strangers. Because of it, I now have an even wider circle of support and I’ve been able to encourage and support others as well. That’s pretty special and it lessens the pain with which I remember that very dark period in my life. I am stronger for what I have experienced. It doesn’t define me but it has shaped me. I’m a much better person for it all.

  8. notimportantenough says:

    My birthday is coming up. I’ll be almost 40 years old having dealt with depression my entire life and 3 suicide attempts. Everyone but my parents have abandoned me. I’m so alone and miserable. No one wants to be around someone that’s sad 90% of the time. Medicine hasn’t help and therapy hasn’t helped. You’re 57 and now happy or at least you have your depression under control. I don’t want to live another 10-15 years being as miserable as I am now. Good for you. This depression is impossible to beat for some of us, including me.

  9. Liz B says:

    To notimportantenough,
    Oh, but you are important. Don’t give up hope. It is hard to beat, but I encourage you to keep on trying. I am rooting for you!

  10. Karen says:

    Thank you Liz for sharing your story. As the parent of an 18yr old who has been recently diagnosed with psychosis and with a real possibility of schizophrenia looming in his future, hearing your story brings me hope. Aside from the obvious heart-break and fear, we have found that this is a very lonely place to be. I can only imagine how my son feels. When all his friends are getting ready to enter college and other milestones in their young lives, my son is fighting to just get his head clear and be able to control his anxiety. I have noticed our friends that know are kind and supportive, however, they really don’t know what or how to help us and so we just don’t get together much. I am greateful for this website and hope to be able to help my son feel empowered knowing that he is not alone in his suffering. We have started a 3rd medication and feel hopeful that it may be the one. Thank you again. Sincerely, Karen

  11. Liz B says:

    Karen, We must have hope. Life can be so difficult and heartbreaking. I know all too well from watching my mom, what sadness comes with being a parent struggling to help a mentally ill child or adult get appropriate and effective treatment. It’s a lifelong journey, but keep at it. Your efforts are so important. You are far from alone in this! Seek out the friends in whom you can confide a find the professionals who can help. There are so many books as well that are both informative and a testament to those who have survived disorders of the brain – and even thrived. I wish you and yours all the best.

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