Sunday, July 30, 2006
The importance of not being silent
Some of the things I talk about make people uneasy. I understand that. But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop talking. My opinions, at least 95 percent of them, are rooted in much more than impulse. I think about things, I roll them around in my head, I try to figure out what each side is thinking, I weigh things before I make a decision. So when I talk about something, I'm talking about something that matters to me, that I think is important.
I disturb some people when I talk about mental illness. I understand that. Mental illness is disturbing on all levels. If it wasn't disturbing, there'd be no problem with it. But it becomes more disturbing when no one talks about it.
As someone who suffered for half my life with debilitating mental illness, I feel that it's my responsiblity to talk about it. To not be quiet, to not let it be covered up. Because I'm incredible lucky. I can talk about it. I made it through to the other side. I survived. But so many others don't. So many others end up taking their own lives to escape the crushing pain. So many keep living, but they're living half-lives, afraid of admitting to anyone what they're going through. So afraid of disappointing their family or their friends or losing their jobs or being looked down upon.
I talk about my own journey a lot. I talk about having my first panic attacks when I was 8. Of having debilitating fears of water or religion or death. I talk about having to, compulsively, pray four times a day, read a chapter of the Bible every night, forgo all secular music and books and t.v. I talk about trying desparately to come up with a reason to go on living and coming up with one. Just one. If I die, no one would be there to feed my cats. And so, I didn't take the bottle of sleeping pills.
I talk about how my family didn't understand, even though my Mother suffers from depression herself. How they thought taking me to a pastor would fix the problem. How I faked being better for them, because it hurt too much to carry my own pain and theirs too. I talk about all the things I had to do. All the notebooks full of writing I was using to just get the pain out of me. About the cutting I did, how some of the scars people think came from me falling are actually from me cutting myself over and over. Because it feels so, so much better once I started to bleed. How people don't understand that, unless they've been there themselves.
And I talk about how incredible strong people suffering from mental illness are. How incredible strong and brave. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone made of tougher stuff than someone who has gone their entire life battling against themselves. You'd have to look far and wide to find anyone more self-aware. It's a vast misconception that the mentally ill are weak or flawed. A weak, flawed person wouldn't last a week in the sort of pain and confusion an mental illness can bring. A week or flawed person would wilt.
I also talk about how it's possible to move through it. You never get over it, it never leaves you. But you can carve a way through it, with time and medication and the right doctors. If you can find people who love you, who believe you, who support you, you can get through it. I'm not certain you can ever be cured of a major mental illness. Because I haven't been suicidal for at least three years, does that mean I won't ever be again? I don't know. I hope not. This is the longest I've gone and I'm on very good medication. But there's no guarantee that I won't have another episode again in five, ten years. I don't believe I will. I believe I've got this all behind me, at last. But I can't ever be sure and living with that uncertainty -- and going on anyway -- is another mark of bravery.
It's important that people know it's possible to survive. It's possible to survive and build a good life. I'm in the process of doing that myself. It's incredible to wake up and not be sad that you did. It's amazing to look around and see that the future isn't all darkness and doom. It's the most amazing feeling when the things you once loved start to come back to you, when you start to realize you can have them back. I feel like a kid again, seriously. Well, a teenager at least. Which makes sense,because that's when my life really went off the rails. But it's possible to have it all back and people need to know that. They need to know they're not alone, that there are other people who understand and who will help them, if they just reach out. And they have to know there are people who will not judge them, because they haven't done anything to be judged for.