Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Living With a Stigma : Mental Illness

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. I don't think it is a month that is celebrated very much. I mean, what is there to celebrate? Mental Illness sucks! But, what sucks almost worse than having a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bi-polar, borderline, schizoid etc. - is the way people treat you. Especially the people closest to you.  I know that living with a person who has  mental illness is hard. I mean, I actually know. My husband is bi-polar II. I have had to read suicide notes written to me. I have had to check him into treatment. I have had to learn to recognize when he is up or down, and when to let stuff go. I often do check ins. Are you up? Are you down? Are you safe? I don't love my husband any less. I don't think any less of him. And, I don't treat him like he is less of a person. It's not his fault that he has bi-polar disorder any more than it is his fault that he has Thrombophilia (a rare genetic blood disease) or severe Arthritis. It is literally NOT HIS FAULT AT ALL.

 I am of a rare breed that isn't ashamed that I also have mental illness. I am open about it. I talk about my depression. I talk about being bed ridden for months. Not because I want anyone's sympathy, but because I want to let people know where I have been. Why I didn't show up to their invite. Why I haven't called. Why I missed Thanksgiving. I want them to know - it's not them, it's me. Some people completely understand. I recently hung out with two wonderful friends I hadn't seen in a year, and had a fantastic time. It was like no time had gone by at all. They understood. But not everyone understands. I think it is hard on older generations. I think it is hard on certain members of my family, because they grew up with mental illness in our family and it scared them. I think it still scares them. I also think they are scared they will see pieces of themselves in me. Sometimes I feel like a leper. I've noticed people are very careful when they talk to me, like they might snip the wire that makes the bomb explode.  YOU MAY FEEL LIKE YOU ARE WALKING ON EGG SHELLS AROUND ME, PLEASE KNOW I AM WALKING ON EGGSHELLS TOO. Please stop. In my dreams, we all stop walking on egg shells and just start treating each other like human beings. I am far from perfect, but having a mental illness does not make me less of a person. I shouldn't be treated any better, worse or different than any other human being.

We have come so far as a society towards acceptance and education of people who are different. From civil rights to gay rights to compassion and education for people with disabilities such as mental retardation, autism, physically handicapped, etc. I hope in my life time we as a society become more accepting of people with mental illness. Only a tiny fraction of a percentage of mentally ill people are harmful, most are just average people who suffer from depression and/or anxiety. You can't catch mental illness. Although you might be lucky if you did. Some of the funniest, most famous and most talented people suffered. Robin Williams is bi-polar and is hands down one of the greatest comics of all time. Princess Dianna had borderline personality disorder and she was one of the kindest most giving and loved people of the 20th century. I like to think of Sean and me like Robin and Dianna - although that is a pretty funny couple if you think about it. Here are a few more people from NAMI's website... http://www.nami.org/

  "People with Mental Illness Enrich Our Lives"

Information about famous people throughout history who have had a serious mental illness.

Abraham Lincoln
The revered sixteenth President of the United States suffered from severe and incapacitating depressions that occasionally led to thoughts of suicide, as documented in numerous biographies by Carl Sandburg.

Virginia Woolf
The British novelist who wrote To the Lighthouse and Orlando experienced the mood swings of bipolar disorder characterized by feverish periods of writing and weeks immersed in gloom. Her story is discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr.

Lionel Aldridge
A defensive end for Vince Lombardi's legendary Green Bay Packers of the 1960's, Aldridge played in two Super Bowls. In the 1970's, he suffered from schizophrenia and was homeless for two and a half years. Until his death in 1998, he gave inspirational talks on his battle against paranoid schizophrenia. His story is the story of numerous newspaper articles.

Eugene O'Neill
The famous playwright, author of Long Day's Journey Into Night and Ah, Wilderness!, suffered from clinical depression, as documented in Eugene O'Neill by Olivia E. Coolidge.

Ludwig van Beethoven
The brilliant composer experienced bipolar disorder, as documented in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb.

Gaetano Donizetti
The famous opera singer suffered from bipolar disorder, as documented in Donizetti and the World Opera in Italy, Paris and Vienna in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century by Herbert Weinstock.

Robert Schumann
The "inspired poet of human suffering" experienced bipolar disorder, as discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr.

Leo Tolstoy
Author of War and Peace, Tolstoy revealed the extent of his own mental illness in the memoir Confession. His experiences is also discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr and The Inner World of Mental Illness: A Series of First Person Accounts of What It Was Like by Bert Kaplan.

Vaslov Nijinsky
The dancer's battle with schizophrenia is documented in his autobiography, The Diary of Vaslov Nijinksy.

John Keats
The renowned poet's mental illness is documented in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr and The Broken Brain: The biological Revolution in Psychiatry by Nancy Andreasen, M.D.

Tennessee Williams
The playwright gave a personal account of his struggle with clinical depression in his own Memoirs. His experience is also documented in Five O'Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St. Just, 1948-1982; The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams by Donald Spoto, and Tennessee: Cry of the Heart by Dotson.

Vincent Van Gogh
The celebrated artist's bipolar disorder is discussed in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb and Dear Theo, The Autobiography of Van Gogh.

Isaac Newton
The scientist's mental illness is discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr and The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb.

Ernest Hemingway
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist's suicidal depression is examined in the True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Ernest Hemingway by Those Who Knew Him by Denis Brian.

Sylvia Plath
The poet and novelist ended her lifelong struggle with clinical depresion by taking own life, as reported in A Closer Look at Ariel: A Memory of Sylvia Plath by nancy Hunter-Steiner.

The mental illness of one of the world's greatest artistic geniuses is discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr.

Winston Churchill
"Had he been a stable and equable man, he could never have inspired the nation. In 1940, when all the odds were against Britain, a leader of sober judgment might well have concluded that we were finished," wrote Anthony Storr about Churchill's bipolar disorder in Churchill's Black Dog, Kafka's Mice, and Other Phenomena of the Human Mind.

Vivien Leigh
The Gone with the Wind star suffered from mental illness, as documented in Vivien Leigh: A Biography by Ann Edwards.

Jimmy Piersall
The baseball player for the Boston Red Sox who suffered from bipolar disorder detailed his experience in The Truth Hurts.

Patty Duke
The Academy Award-winning actress told of her bipolar disorder in her autobiography and made-for-TV move Call Me Anna and A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic-Depressive Illness, co-authored by Gloria Hochman.

Charles Dickens
One of the greatest authors in the English language suffered from clinical depression, as documented in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb, and Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph by Edgar Johnson.

What an impressive list! So, in conclusion, I am going to go on embracing who I am - mental illness and all. I am so much more than a condition, I am a human being just like you. Know that I work tirelessly at how I act and behave. If you can't accept me for who I am, then that is your problem, not mine. Thank you to everyone who supports me and loves me. Happy Mental Illness Awareness Month! Maybe, just maybe, it is worth celebrating.

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