No one ever asks for mental illness to enter his or her home. I certainly did not ask for the moment that brought PTSD and depression into my spirit when I was younger. So many days when I could barely get out of bed or moments where tears were all that I knew. I remember the day that one of my therapists introduced me to running.
We all know the drill when it comes to anxiety. Our body will shake uncontrollably, our heart will race, our vision will become blurry, and it is all down to that little gem known as the ‘fight or flight’ response.
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.