Mental Illness Bites

Today, right now, every moment. I am beginning anew.

Archive for the tag “Health”

One in Four

The other day, a good friend of mine mentioned that her husband reads my blog, enjoys it, and even identifies with it. He also said that no one will post comments or answers to my questions, because no one wants to admit that they have struggled with mental illness.

I understand. I didn’t ask for help until I was in college. I didn’t want to admit that I felt like my life wasn’t worth living, even though I was otherwise healthy, well-fed, warm, and had people who loved me. We all hide our sadness or fear or anger, because somewhere along the way we learned that it makes us less than. But the truth is, something we all share cannot divide us, no matter how hard we try.

Mental health issues have been all over the public sphere in the last couple of years with the prevalence of gun violence. But when we talk about gun violence, we are talking about the 1 in 17 adults that suffer from a severe and often psychotic form of mental illness. This statistic is scary enough and certainly significant and important, but we must also consider the 26.2 percent of Americans over 18 that suffer from a mental disorder in any given year. (NIMH)

One in four people have a diagnosable mental health illness: mild depression, anxiety, mood swings, etc. When we talk about mental health, we are not simply talking about those that suffer from more severe forms like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder and the like. We are talking about people who get sad in the winter, who shake when they talk in front of people, those who struggle to manage their anger, anyone addicted to anything (alcohol, video games, exercise, food), and the list goes on. “Mental Illness” is a label in and of itself that is helping keep this issue in the dark.

So let’s stop talking about “mental illness”, “depression”, “anxiety.” And let’s start talking about the problems we all face, about what we have in common. One in four adults in America suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, but we all have been sad, scared, lonely, overwhelmed, angry, ashamed, deeply disappointed, among other things.


If you have a diagnosis and you want to talk about it, that’s fantastic. Join me! I have diagnosed mood, personality, and anxiety disorders. But what does that really mean? Sometimes I get sad, scared, lonely, overwhelmed, angry, ashamed, and disappointed. This is what we have in common. This is what really matters.

Getting mental health issues out into the open isn’t about labels and distinctions. I know that depression and sadness, nervousness and anxiety, are not the same thing, but it is important that we remove the stigma from mental suffering. I have never met a person who hasn’t suffered internally in some way. So why are we so afraid?

If you know someone who has felt any of these things, please share, comment, or like this post on facebook. Let’s see how connected we are.


A Description of Sadness

In my last post, I discussed an assignment my counselor had given me. He asked me to describe my sadness. I believe he was looking for some quantification of my depression, in order to better understand how it is for me; because truly, it is different for everyone. This is what I wrote for my counselor. This is a brief look into what it’s like for me. Everyone’s mental illness is different; some people may see themselves in my words, many will not.

     Always I convince myself there is a reason – this or that is causing my sadness and if I could just fix it, then the sadness would go away. New friends, more money, a relationship, a better job, understanding from my peers, weight loss, success, and on and on. But throughout my life I have had each of these things at one time or another, sometimes many of them at the same time and they created no lasting happiness.
The sadness is a weight, a pall cast over my day. It will never lift and I will never be free. The only way out is to fill the silence with absorbing distractions, TV or books or sleep or self-destructive habits. The company of others only makes it more difficult at these times because they do not fill the silence and I feel guilty for being such a blob.
There are other days when it feels like I could out run the sadness if I just keep moving, keep doing. Then the sadness feels more like a specter waiting in the wings. When I pause to reflect or notice my surroundings it creeps up, tears threaten. And I must begin to move again or I will descend into that other drowning sadness. The one from which it is so difficult to escape. I must stay outside myself in and out of the moment at the same time; focusing on the task, any task, only the task.
And that is the feeling an overwhelming amount of the time. The sadness can be lifted and distracted by friends, family, tasks, general busy-ness. These are the good days when I appear the most “normal,” the happiest. These are the days when it most feels like everything will be okay and life will go on.
It is the other days that I dread, that stalk me through the quiet moments and descent without warning. Life feels meaningless and pointless during those times, a merry-go-round I’m supposed to be happy riding my whole life.
And always the sadness makes me question the point of it all. Why are we here? What is our purpose? What is my purpose? If the world ended tomorrow would the universe care? I am just not sure that I see the point of existence.

I looked back through old journals and poetry written over the last ten plus years. Entries popped up again and again questioning who I am, questioning my purpose, my personality. I’ve wondered over and over how to define myself, what is truly me and what I steal from the people I spend the most time with.

“She’s afraid to think, afraid to be at rest. She must occupy her mind with stories and games and schedules she can’t possibly keep up with. If she stops she’s afraid she’ll lose her sanity and that she won’t. She’s afraid she’ll actually have to deal and the reality of her isolation makes that unbearable.”

“She’s missing pieces inside.”

“I expected to fit somewhere, to be something instead of nowhere and nothing.”

“I am almost always quick to anger. When people say things I don’t want to hear for any number of reasons, when they ask questions but then can’t understand the answers, when they ask questions to which I don’t know the answers, when they ask questions to which I don’t have the energy to explain, etc. I am short-tempered, easily agitated, quickly frustrated. I feel invaded, unable to express what I’m feeling, disjointed, disconnected, deeply misunderstood. Things I have no right to feel. And so, when I act out on these things by becoming angry, silent or frustrated I create a problem where none exists and in turn make the other person equally upset. It is my fault.” December 2003

“My chest feels like it’s closing up, it’s difficult to breathe. My head is pounding not a headache but something different, something harder to place, elusive like a fog. I feel helpless, more hopeless and pointless than I ever could’ve imagined. I feel constricted, like the room is closing in on me, like I’ll be swallowed up by it and no one will notice.” October 2003

“I have nothing that defines me. When asked what words best describe me I am stumped. There is nothing, therefore I am nothing. All I know of who I am is who I am when I am with other people.” July 2003

“I am shaking from the inside out. You don’t find me here. You don’t know me here. I am not clean. i am not lucid. I am not safe from myself from you fro anyone. I am not hiding. I am not seen. My eyes are not open. My voice is not heard. I don’t know myself. I don’t know who I am and as soon as I figure that out this will all get better. This is who I am, but who is this. Is this midnight writing to no one for nothing? Is this all i am. It can’t be. There i so much more, but no words, no place to stay, no life of my own. I have been following, pretending, moving on whims. I am not sure what is mine and what is everyone else’s. I am not sure what it is I am doing here.” April 2005

And so more themes, not knowing myself, not knowing who I am. And the sadness and confusion that goes along with that. Then there is the desire to feel physical pain, to bring the internal outward. It comes up over and over again.

My experience from month to month, even day to day, is not always the same, but the sadness has always been there in some form. This is a snapshot of my depression. Would you like to share a snapshot of yours?

Unholy Ghost

A couple of weeks ago, my counselor gave me an assignment. He asked me to describe my sadness, in writing. For those of you who have experience with depression, you know that at times when you are out of the depression, it can be hard to remember exactly what it felt like or to put it in words. I believe he was looking for some quantification of my depression, in order to better understand how it is for me; because truly, it is different for everyone.
As I sat down to complete this assignment, I was reminded of the hours I spent in my youth compiling endless lists of quotes on depression from other writers. There is a book called  Unholy Ghost: writers on depression that I have read and re-read since I was a teenager. In the beginning, every time I read it, I would highlight passages in a different color and there is a key inside the front cover matching the color with the number of readings. After a while though, I ran out of colors and it is anyone’s guess when the passages were highlighted.
My goal, though, in marking various passages was to find one, finally, that might make what I was feeling clear to my family, that might bring some awareness and clarity. I did not trust my own words to be adequate; I did not think that my family would believe the depths of the pain I felt if it came from my own pen. I would re-type passage after passage, creating a catalog of others’ pain. But I never could gather the courage to actually hand it to anyone in my family. Until a couple of weeks ago, I had never been asked to describe the sadness. I had long since given up hope of ever being asked.

So I put this to you: Ask someone. If there is someone in your life you know struggles with mental illness, ask them what it’s like and be ready for the answer. Because it’s not pretty or romantic; it’s not melancholy or artistic. And no matter what you know about them, no matter how simple, easy, or uncomplicated their life may seem, do not judge them. Simply listen. And maybe, just maybe, if the person is ready, describing it might help just a little. Or perhaps, if he or she isn’t ready, they will know that if they ever do want to talk about it, you’ll be there ready to listen.


A 7-year old caucasian boy shows how he sees himself and family in very dark colors. He suffers from anxious depression, a disorder with which his mother also suffers. From the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics Click on the picture for a link to the article.


According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four adults – approximately 57.7 million Americans – suffer from mental illness in any given year. It also states that only one-third of those suffering receive treatment. Mental Illness: Facts and Numbers

In 400 B.C. mentally ill people were treated scientifically and taken care of at home by their families. The Middle Ages brought the belief in demons as the logical explanation for mental abnormality. Exorcism was the course of treatment.


Over the next 1500 years, people with mental illness were progressively shunted into the dark, dropped in mental institutions, mistreated, and ignored by society. In the last 100 years, mentally ill people have taken up the ranks of the homeless and imprisoned, while the mental institutions are overrun, overworked, and understaffed. Timeline: Treatments for Mental Illness

Beyond the statistics and realities of what we do with people who suffer from mental illness, there is the underlying issue of how we react to mental illness in our society. For hundreds of years we have rejected what is different from us, what we do not understand: different races, cultures, religions, lifestyles, sexual orientation. Instead of focusing on our similarities, we have divided each other based on any differences we see, assume, or even simply suspect.

My husband and I just recently bought a house in a new neighborhood. My husband goes out to visit with anyone he sees. I avoid my neighbors because I have a hard time imagining what we could possibly have in common. I am afraid of rejection, of not being understand, of finding no common ground. I limit my chances for making new friends, new connections, learning new things by cutting myself off from these potential relationships.

Even though I know what I’m missing out on, I still keep to myself because opening up to new people is too risky. There are many people who don’t understand or know what to say when I tell them that I have a mental illness. Mental Illness is misunderstood because it is taboo and as a result remains shrouded in confusion, misinformation, and missing facts.

I have helped perpetuate the problem by remaining silent. Fear is always what stops us from revealing ourselves. Well, I will speak through my fear because opening up about myself is the only tool I have to help overcome the mental illness taboo.

Listen up. I will not hide in the darkness any more.

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