I once heard of a Minnesota legislator who said during a committee hearing that he didn’t believe in mental illnesses. After all, there weren’t blood tests for them. My blood, I can tell you, began to boil.
As someone who has struggled for most of my life with the mental illnesses of Depression, Anxiety, and OCD (until my Anxiety started getting treated), this “leader” was discounting my experience. As a policymaker, this man had a say in what services would be available to those in need. Scary!
That said, I’m glad he came out into the open with his ignorance. His cards were on the table.
Since I was diagnosed with mental illness well over a decade ago, I’ve placed my cards on the table. In the early days, I remember openly writing a letter to a board I once served on that I had to step down. I had to devote the energy remaining beyond work obligations to dealing with my Depression and Anxiety. I simply did not have the ability to keep up with extracurriculars. I figured it was better for me to be open about my experience rather than make my board colleagues think I was shirking responsibilities or even quitting “just because.” A reason — a fully truthful reason, I felt — was better than partial one. The board chair called me with one of the most heartfelt and supportive “goodbyes” I had been the recipient of. It emboldened me to be even more open.
Within a few years I was blogging infrequently about my experience. People started asking me for advice on what they should do about their illness or how they could help a loved one. My usual answer was to point them in the direction of NAMI-MN, an amazing organization that has support groups, does community and workplace education, and advocates for more resources to treat mental illnesses. I’d then share my experience with the caveat that I was just one transparent guy. My experience did not apply to what everyone should do. I was just providing food for thought.
In fact, it’s worth repeating: I’m just one guy. Mental illnesses take many forms. And some people are not surrounded by the mostly supportive community that I have the fortune to call my friends, colleagues, and family. For those of you who don’t know if you have a supportive community, please consider at least contacting a doctor and / or a therapist for help. If you are surrounded by ignorance or even mental illness deniers like the policymaker noted above, “coming out” may not be helpful … or helpful yet. But you can still get help.
I’m writing these words because I just passed a two year anniversary. Two years ago today I was certain I had come out of a major bout with Depression. I had a big a hint a few days earlier, when I noticed I was enjoying (and had the energy to devote to) music and reading again. But on this day two years ago, I walked a mile into and then out of the Haleakalā Crater on the Hawaiian island, Maui. Proof that my physical energy had been restored, I would soon begin practicing yoga again and taking my pup, Franco, for longer walks. The next milestone, finding my way out of Anxiety (or at least a manageable level of Anxiety), would take much, much longer to achieve. In any case, I was proud of what I had just pulled myself out of with the support of many people (and meds).
I’m also writing these words to fight the stigma of mental illness as well as let others know who are who are struggling silently and alone that there is reason for hope. Talk therapy — often combined with medication — can often bring you out of the depths of pain and energy drain you are currently experiencing.
I think I’m pretty good at conveying the pain and energy drain, especially the physical aspects. If you’re curious, here are the four posts that described me falling into the period of Depression and Anxiety I most recently experienced: (1) through the panic; (2) the days the music dies; (3); brick-brain, frayed-nerves, drenched shirts; (4) nearly six weeks of hell.
If this has piqued your interest, I am always open to answering questions.
Take care, my friends.