I have a mental illness. I cringe whenever I hear or read a story about a horrific tragedy committed by a person while in the deep throes of his or her own mental suffering. Time and again the same story is told using the same damaging stereotypes. This same story paints me and others living with a mental illness with the same brush without acknowledging that we are distinct individuals with our own histories. This same one-dimensional story only reinforces the long-held belief that an individual with a mental illness is violent, unpredictable, dangerous, unreliable, irresponsible, and utterly incapable of managing all but very basic tasks. I am not violent, homicidal, dangerous, irresponsible, or unreliable. To the contrary, I graduated from both college and law school. I even attended graduate school. As a mother parenting alone with very little support, I am adept at balancing, multi-tasking, and finding solutions to seemingly impossible situations. I know that I am not an anomaly. There are many other individuals with mental illnesses who do the same plus more every day. The problem with the same story about those suffering from mental illnesses is that it keeps us shrouded in secrecy and shame. Instead of appropriate medical intervention, individuals may use food, drugs, gambling, shopping or a host of other strategies to self-medicate which further compounds an already-complex situation. It is secrecy and shame that kept me from stepping out of the shadows to seek the proper treatment for my depression.
Words have the power to speak life or death. I can only tell my story about living with depression for 29 years. My decision to come out of hiding has been both scary and empowering. I want to be free and live unencumbered by shame. For me that freedom comes each time I speak my truth without apology or fear of the consequences associated with my boldness.
As a person living with depression, every day is a battle. I cannot fight my battle effectively while carrying secrecy, shame, and stigma. I must fight to be honest and transparent with myself about the state of my depression. I battle my disdain for taking any type of medication by taking it as prescribed. I fight the urge to consume and participate in that which is not good for me. Instead, I choose to partake in that which feeds my body, mind, and soul. I fight against an ego that hates to rely on anything or anyone. My daily fight requires energy and focus so that I can fully embrace and cherish my whole self. So, please join me in telling a different story about mental illness so that I and others like me no longer have to fight stigma, secrecy, and shame.
As always be empowered, encouraged, and enlightened.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.