Opening The Lid

By Jolene Cannady

Opening the Lid imageI remember as a child I was a mix of tomboy and girly girl. One of my favorite things to do was to catch the big fat bumblebees in a Mason jar. I would poke holes in the top of the lid prior to catching them, so they had just enough oxygen to survive their short visit. They were so fuzzy and fat that I would giggle watching them fly around outside, but at the same time I was afraid of them. When I would catch one I would watch as they flew around the jar trying to find a way out. They would slam into the side of the glass and whirl around. Finally, after a couple minutes they would settle into the jar. Perhaps they were exhausted or maybe they realized there was simply no way out. I would study their big eyes and often wonder if they had thoughts, the true curiosity of a child. This research would go on for about 30 minutes and then I was ready to release them. However, I had this fear of being stung by a bee so I would often beg my mother to help me out. She would chuckle and ask me why I continued to catch the bees if I was so afraid of them. Off the lid would come and the bee would rush out as if the open space and vast flowers were its one true happiness.

When people ask me what it was like to live in the arms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder I often think about those bumblebees. Living with depression was like a bee being stuck in a Mason jar. There were a few holes that gave me the ability to breath from time to time when my emotions were not suffocating me. When I went through the experience that brought my diagnosis with it I felt like the bee trapped in the jar at first. I tried to find a way out and did not want the stigma that came with the diagnosis. Finally, I could not fight anymore. The disease became debilitating at times. Vivid dreams constantly reminding me of what happened. I would wake-up afraid and covered in sweat. The depression made me feel trapped. It would hold me in its warm embrace making me think it was my friend. Getting out of bed was a challenge and concentrating on schoolwork was almost impossible. So I settled into my jar defeated and tired. The doctors would prescribe me medicine, but it took a lot of trial and error before I found one that worked. Even then, the one that worked was prescribed to me at the highest dose possible and I would often walk around feeling numb. Therapists would ask me to talk about my emotions and during those conversations there were times I felt someone had given me more holes to breath through. Yet I could not help but feel like the bee in that jar. Everyone watching and analyzing me, but very few people willing to help me take the lid off. That was the stigma that existed around me.

People assumed that since I worked in medicine I had an abundance of support, but to be honest I believe I felt more pressure to keep my dark friend hidden. There is even a stigma that exists in the medical field because mental health disorders still come with a lack of understanding and fear. They are not necessarily something you can see with an ultrasound or view under a microscope, so it is that unknown that causes misunderstanding. I did not want people feeling I could not take good care of others when I was barely able to care for myself because truthfully it was caring for others that helped get me out of my jar. It helped me feel a little less alone in this big world because I would hear others stories. In the long run it was my journey with depression and PTSD that allowed me to take better care of my patients and empathize with them. When you work in the medical field you come to understand just how prevalent mental health disorders are and how many people are struggling with daily battles.

The only difference between the bee and I was that the bee was only in the glass jar for 10 minutes before it was able to fly to freedom. I was within my jar for 16 years before the lid was removed. It took a lot of support, patience, acceptance, and traveling to dark places before that lid could come off. When I discuss stigma that is one thing I try to explain. How removing the lid is not a simple task and sometimes it takes more than one person to help take it off. That for those stuck inside the jar we often wonder how long those little holes will allow us to breath. Some of us are able to remove the lid and some have to learn how to live with the lid constantly on. It is not easy and never something we asked for.

3 responses to “Opening The Lid”

  1. Pat D'A says:

    I have a family member who works @ the company that discovered abilify. Although they read many case studies & know it’s a serious illness, it’s very difficult for them when their loved one has the diagnosis. Knowing about something intellectually, & dealing with it on a daily basis is very different. There was a TV show called “The Blackbox” it was about a psychiatrist who ease hiding her diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. She was afraid that if people learned the truth they wouldn’t have confidence in her ability to treat patients. You would think there would be understanding in the medical profession, but there is stigma there, too. Our stories have power. Thank you for sharing yours.

  2. Danika says:

    I also work in the medical field as a nurse, and am painfully aware of the stigma associated with mental illness, my own included. I feel like I live multiple lives, some people only knowing parts of me. My co-workers are such a huge part of my life, but I still have to keep another huge part of me hidden from them. I feel like it is not fair. It does not make me less of a nurse, if anything it makes me a better, more understanding nurse. It is very frustrating to feel like I have to hide from certain people. I have heard the way they talk about mental illness, particularly in healthcare workers, and I know that I do not want that part of me exposed to them. I don’t think they would understand, or respond well. I feel they would act differently towards me, even lose respect for myself and my abilities as a nurse. It’s not fair to have to live this way.

  3. Hilary says:

    I am so touched by your story and can relate on many levels. I am thankful for my education (masters in Social Work) and experience working with students who have numerous, significant cognitive and physical disabilities. My willingness and ability to understand and articulate the exact nature of the struggles, needs, and strengths of OTHERS was well appreciated and applauded. But when it came to me giving voice to my own struggles with numerous mental illness, I received a much different response. With coworkers and bosses, there was disbelief, stigma, and eventual separation. With professionals (other than my therapist and psychiatrist), there was minimization, shame, and a sense of “you went to school for this; you should know better,” like it was my fault. During my fifth hospitalization, after explaining the severity of my symptoms to the main psychiatrist of the entire hospital, so desperate for help or at least understanding, he said,”You just need to get a job again and get a boyfriend.” I write all this to agree with you (and many others) who experience stigma and separation due to mental illness. It hurts. But the hope is that we can reach and teach others and become more compassionate helpers. Thanks for the transparency. There is such power in sharing your story 🙂

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