Mental Health & Me

May 18, 2015 at 10:14 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Crazy, I have been told, is a pejorative word in the world of mental illness. As such, I try not to use it. It can be difficult at times, because that word is ingrained in our minds pretty firmly. So I work on not calling anyone crazy. I wonder, though – can I still use crazy to describe someone who wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline? Can I use it to describe a big party? Probably. Maybe. I think there’s a place for crazy, somewhere, but I’m working to find that line.

Yesterday I participated in Portland’s NAMI walk 2015. NAMI, if you aren’t aware, stands for National Alliance on Mental Illness. The purpose of the 5k walk yesterday was to raise awareness about mental illness and to raise funds to help with awareness, advocacy, and treatment. In the way that seeing several thousand people walking a loop in central Portland is going to naturally prompt questions, I think some awareness has been raised. However, I would probably be doing a disservice to the spirit of the cause if I didn’t use the other platforms at my disposal to help as well.

I have talked occasionally about my brother, who deals with mental illness, but for the most part I prefer to talk about how his illness effects me. His story isn’t mine to tell, and he’s a fairly private person. What I do want to try to do, though, is help with the stigma around mental illness, and the only person’s story I’m qualified to tell is my own.

First, some facts. These all come from NAMI’s website.

FACT: 1 in 5 Americans experience some kind of mental illness. 1 in 25, a serious mental illness.

FACT: Nearly 7 percent of American adults live with major depression. Just over 18% live with anxiety disorders.

I could talk at length about how our prison and homeless populations have a prevalence of mental illness, but for now I will just encourage you to check out NAMI’s website and the stats for yourself. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.

I think the biggest issue is the stigma around mental health in general – we don’t talk about it. I certainly don’t talk about it. It’s really hard to admit to having any kind of mental health problem, even though if you had a physical illness you wouldn’t think twice about saying “yeah, I have a cold,” or “oh my knee is a little bit fucked up from a random scooter accident.”

Last year my psychologist diagnosed me with mild depression and anxiety. The depression I can usually shake with some CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy – basically working to retrain your brain). The anxiety does pop up somewhat more often, and if I ever nope out of someplace, that’s probably what’s happening. I usually make up some kind of excuse, because saying “I feel super anxious and the walls are kind of closing in right now” feels like admitting weakness. It’s the same reason I have a near inability to cry – culture raises men to not disclose those things. I’ve seen it over and over in my own life and in the actions of others. Even now it’s hard to write.

I am fortunate that my problems are pretty mild, and I didn’t seek any help until there was an incident last fall that literally kept me from getting out of bed for a couple days. I think a lot of people wait until the problem gets completely unmanageable to get treatment, and if I could say anything, it would be that if you can (especially if your insurance will cover it), talk to a therapist. It was super helpful, even if didn’t love mine. Statistically speaking, there are a lot of people with some kind of mental health issue, and that’s OK. We can all work to be kinder, more understanding, and more compassionate. We can work together to help one another. We can work to be open and honest with each other. Don’t let the stigma or fear rule your life, and we can create a better future for everyone’s mind.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous said,

    I praise you for being able to state your thoughts/feelings and am glad that you recognize who you are. Sometimes the world can feel like a lonely place. You’re truly are an inspiration to me. It is always good to be able to talk to someone that is non-bias/non-judgemental and can assist you in finding your own way through your life. I recognize the feelings that you’re having, as I had them in my twenties, thirties, forties and even now in my fifties. It seems like they go in waves. Each phase of your life you’ll find new challenges, both mentally and physically. Please take the time to understand what those challenges mean to you and then push through them – in your own way. Sending you my love and hugs. Your Aunt.

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