I've dealt with mental illness my entire life. Unfortunately, I was only recently diagnosed at the age of 44. Now, the anxiety, eating disorder, and depression are secondary to what is involved in teaching family and friends that my symptoms are not only "in my head," but more importantly real and very crippling.
For them, learning that mental illness is not a result of "a few bad days," will be as challenging as it is for me when I'm trapped in a fog of crushing emotions. The months and years I have spent with a pillow covering my head to block out the choking world around me is not comparable to what my aunt went through when she was changing careers. It is my job to explain this to them.
Somehow, while I work to accept the reality of my diagnoses, I must also convey to those who are part of my life, that although my illness has appeared to them as a series of unfortunate events, it has dropped me to my knees and sent me careening into a fiery hell of anguish only understood by those who have seen the divide between reality and insanity.
At the age of four, I would wake in the middle of the night; my legs trembling; the bile in my stomach churning up into my throat; my arms paralyzed by my side; a small scream escaping my young lips as I begged God to take me to heaven; as I prayed that the all-consuming fear would go away so that I could catch my breath. How does one explain this to anyone when it has been entrenched within since before time began? Doctors told my mother that I was simply "high strung" and that I would "grow out of it." I didn't.
As a teen, I swung between the joy of new love and the devastation of a broken heart. While my friends healed theirs with sleepovers and girl talk, I sought relief from the stabbing pain through alcohol, drugs, starvation, purging, and the occasional failed overdose. Darkness consumed me while thoughts of death played on a steady reel in my head; the shadows under my eyes concealed by the mania that spontaneously burst forth. My psychiatrists have now explained that my social mask was my trick; a clever disguise which hid my disorders and allowed them to feed and grow into creatures of madness. My doctor, then, told my parents that my behaviour was a result of "girl hormones" and that I would "grow out of it."
Adulthood has been a pendulum of highs and lows; the lows dipping to such frequent depths that those in my life simply assumed that I needed "a lot of sleep." The hours spent supine, prone, inactive, inert were accepted as part of my personality, as my mother would joke that I "never outgrew my naps."
Thoughts of driving my car into a brick building or walking out into oncoming traffic were so common, it had never occurred to me that others did not also think this way. Wasn't it normal to drive over a bridge and imagine veering into the barrier that would take me over the pavement into the raging waters below? Again family realized my unhappiness but stated that it was because I was "ungrateful" for my life, and just generally "miserable." Even now that a "team" of mental health professionals have diagnosed my EDNOS, GAD, and major depression that stems back to early childhood, my family struggles to understand; to put the pieces of the puzzle together; to seek ways to avoid being blamed for my lapse of restraint; for my footfall into insanity.
Many are praying for me. I am grateful for that. But an answer to my prayer would involve a mass realization that mental illness would be easier to shoulder with many hands on board.
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