Last Tuesday, I sat on my psychiatrist’s couch and explained everything. I told him all there is to tell and he said what he has said so many times before, “Begin again.” That’s the exciting, daunting, stupid, fantastic news. When this happens, no matter how you got here, the only thing to do is begin again. This treatment plan, Begin Again, can feel insultingly oversimplified, but it is the truest thing I’ve learned about my illness.
I am not ashamed of my past journeys with mental illness or the paths it took me on. I am grateful to those who stood by me and believed in me. To those I brought pain and pushed away, I am sorry. In the end, we are all on this journey through life together. Let us start holding hands and learning from one another. Let us stop the stigma.
You and me. Us. It isn’t easy. We both bring our own set of challenges to the relationship, but somehow they are what has made are love stronger. It is in the difficult times that love is seen most clearly and I know without a shadow of a doubt that you love me exactly as I am.
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.