In the past few years I’ve read some great books that tackle tough issues. It’s a growing trend and one I’m happy to see. If you’ve followed this blog you know that I read and loved Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos. The main character suffers from depression and anxiety and his journey is inspiring.
There’s still stigma attached to mental disorders but nothing like when I was young. The medical field has come a long way as well. If someone had handed me a book like Rosko’s or Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why when I was a teenager, I might have understood myself better.I can say now that I suffered from anxiety as early as eight years old. My grandmother lived with us at that time. She had lost both of her legs as a result of diabetes and relied on my mother to take care of her. When I was in fourth grade I was ill — a lot. I’d go to school and get sick to my stomach, throw up and call for someone to pick me up. As soon as I was home I would begin to feel better.
Many thought I was faking and I didn’t understand what was making me ill. My grandmother passed away just before I started fifth grade. I remember falling ill early in the school year and going home. I think it happened only once. In hindsight, I believe anxiety affected me – it was worry for my mom and grandma that pushed me into illness. When I made it home and made sure they were doing all right, I felt better. After my grandmother died, my worry decreased.
Depression crept into my life as I got older. I became the caretaker for everyone. My friends turned to me for advice and comfort. They had this image of me that I couldn’t reconcile with my self-image. I recall having a birthday party at my house, I think I was 15, and one of my best friends (we are still friends to this day) told me she wished she could be more like me. I was flabbergasted. When I asked her why, she said, “because you are so strong and confident.” I wish I had felt the strength and confidence she saw. Around the time my friends were counting on my strength, a beloved aunt commented, “You can always count on Missy to make you laugh.”Now these things in themselves should bolster a person. I felt pressure. What would people think if they saw the scared, sad and twisted person behind the facade? It became increasingly difficult to hide it though. By January of my senior year I had shunned outside activities. I went to school but didn’t go out socially. A couple of friends practically forced me to go see a movie with them one night. It was a turning point of sorts. I became social again, but anxiety followed me everywhere. I didn’t like myself.
After graduation I turned to the party scene. I had a high tolerance for alcohol and I could really put it away. When I was drunk, I lived in the moment. Booze dulled the emotional and mental pain. That’s no way to live.
I was in my early 20s when a doctor diagnosed me with anxiety and depression. It took nearly ten years to find a medication that actually helped me. To this day I struggle.
When my father died in 2011 it was the end of a tumultuous couple of years and I bottomed out. I was suicidal and knew I needed help. The psychiatrist who monitored my medications referred me to a behavioral health facility. I’ll never forget the exchange I had with the intake counselor:
Her: “Have you ever thought about driving your car off the road?”
Me: “Yes. But my mom needs the car so I’d never actually do it.”
Her: “So you care more for your car than for yourself?”
Me: “I guess you could say that.”
Her: “Excuse me. I’ll be right back.”
She left the room and returned a few minutes later and told me they would like me to stay with them. I agreed. That was the strangest and most surreal week of my life and yet it opened my eyes to my illness. To that point I’d admitted I took anti-depressants, but I hadn’t accepted the hold that depression had on me. The official diagnosis: Severe Depressive Disorder, acute at times. I can look back at my life and identify times when I had suffered mental breaks, though I didn’t realize that’s what was happening.
When I wrote my author bio, I mention my struggle with depression and encourage people to embrace the crazy inside. It’s like addictions, you can’t get help or help yourself until you admit you have a problem. I recognize it now and have made changes in my life to better deal with my illness. Of course, it’s impossible to control everything and I occasionally experience a loss of focus. My support network is remarkable and have been there all along. I just didn’t know how to open up and let them help.
I’m glad authors are embracing the tough subjects and putting them out there for people to experience. I think they are helping readers better understand abuse, mental health disorders, bullying and a plethora of other issues. I also believe these authors are showing people who suffer that they aren’t alone and help is out there. Those works of fiction just might save lives.
If you are having difficulties coping with day to day life there are resources that will help. Here are just a few:
- MentalHealth.gov has a blog, depression & suicide prevention resources and a treatment locator.
- US Department of Veterans Affairs is an authoritative mental health information and resources for Veterans and their families.
- NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
- Founded by Glenn Close, Bring Change 2 Mind works to end the stigma and discrimination of mental illness.