I, myself, was shocked to learn that not only was my doctor on the same course of anti – depressants as I was, but that my tutor and friend, a PhD graduate and one of the strongest people in my eyes, was a long – term sufferer of severe depression herself. Yes, as difficult as it may be to believe, contrary to popular belief, sufferers do not walk around with a sticky note attached to their head saying ‘Don’t look at me; I’m one of the crazy ones’.
When you educate yourself about your diagnosis, physical and psychological, you become empowered by knowledge. You can see through the snide remarks from the no-offense-but-people. When you react from strength, not trepidation, you’re helping to erode the fear, misconceptions and stigma that are rampant in our local and global communities.
I survive by rote. I have medicine and therapy. I educate myself. I talk to professionals and peers alike. Had I been diagnosed when my symptoms first appeared, life might have turned out differently. Challenges might have been lessened, opportunities more available. I’ll never know. This is how it is now, and I work towards accepting that. It’s a lonely struggle, one the public doesn’t see.
My father was dead at 51, a casualty of the manic depression he had fought for years. The New York Times, citing its suicide policy, declined to print his obituary. He lived in a time when mental illness was an embarrassment for families and a weakness for men. For Dad it was a crushing blow. He had left Harvard early to join the marines, and flew dive-bombers in the Pacific. He came home from the war to a different world, a wife, two small children, no money and bipolar disorder. He prided himself on his toughness and never discussed his demons.
Mean people suck. In my first draft of this blog, that bumper sticker sentiment was all I could type. It’s a natural response to an emotional situation, but I know better. Responding in anger only fuels more intolerance. I have enough to deal with just managing my mental illness. Advocacy is not a license to bully. Leave that to the narrow-minded. Then help them change their mind through peaceful interaction.