In reality, being unwell may not be hard, but it can be incredibly painful. It can be isolating. It can be complicated. Juggling the day to day tasks of living can be an effort. There is too much or not enough of everything. Things are too bright or too dim. Things are too big or too small.
I arrived at the state hospital not as a novice any longer, but with approximately five years of direct clinical work under my belt as a psychiatric social worker. I had worked with families with issues involving mental illness and / or substance abuse related problems in a variety of contexts. However, I also realized very quickly that I was far from an expert in my field, and that there was much to learn in order to better assist my patients.
When I say I like to be prepared, it is an immense understatement. I take pride in being prepared for the known, and the unknown. I obsessively play the tape through every possible scenario knowing that being fully equipped for each one will boost my mood up a notch. But in all actuality, I obsess over having to know what to expect at every turn, from hour to hour and day to day. My routine and planning consumes my thoughts. So while I feel I cannot rest until I am prepared for every task, every day, every adventure…I never really feel prepared. Never at rest. There is always something tugging at my nerves.
I kept up my pattern of not admitting when I was feeling depressed, of hiding my illness, of not disclosing my symptoms even when asked directly. I kept saying, “I’m okay,” even when I was not okay because I did not trust that doctors would respond to my mental health concerns with empathy. I felt ashamed of admitting when I was not coping with stress and emotions effectively and I was afraid they would judge me or push me to try another medication. In church I did not trust that my pastors would respond with belief in the validity of my illness. I was afraid they would blame me.
It never seems to be my fault no matter what. At least that is the lie I tell myself. I either blame the disorder, or too often, the other person. So I have been trying to really recognize whether my behavior is simply a flawed, but unique, personality trait. Or whether I need to find more direct ways to master my illness’s distinct idiosyncrasies.
Learning about stigma, and how a person’s perceptions and attitudes toward someone with a mental illness is the biggest barrier towards them receiving proper treatment, deeply concerned me and lead me to seriously question how I could help make a change. I believe that my years of daily experience of what it is like to live with someone suffering from a mental illness and my passion for helping others obtain proper care have put me in a unique position to show compassion and make a lasting impact for those suffering from and indirectly effected by this issue.
I knew my confession was motivated by the hope that I could change the trajectory of my life. I wanted to find a way out of depression more than I wanted to keep hiding my compulsive self-injury. I wanted an end to secrets, an end to shame. I wanted my classmates to look me in the eye and accept me for who I was, not for girl who I pretended to be.
Stigma exists. Two out of three people who are affected by mental illness don’t seek help or treatment. The day I received treatment was the day I took my first step towards recovery. Although some days I tend to take a step back, I know I will wake up the next morning and take two steps forward.
For example, while I was feeling extreme joy for my family’s experience that day and words like depression could not have been further from my mind, it did not change the fact that it was still a part of me. Sometimes it’s present, sometimes it’s dormant, but it’s always there and I am learning to take ownership over it equal to all the other parts of me.