My mother said long ago, “Everybody has something”. She meant that we all have something to deal with, whether it’s an illness or a physical issue or a crummy family life – something. More and more, we’re becoming aware of how many people’s “something” is mental illness.
This is Mental Health Awareness Week. Only when I’m feeling better can I see how depressive episodes have affected my life. I’ve always had a tendency to lean toward depression; a lack of quality sleep doesn’t help. But I’ve been able to keep it largely at bay for a long time. Taking cognitive therapy was one of the most helpful things I’ve done; I use those tools every single day. And something I’ve noticed is how people rarely give someone the benefit of the doubt for behavior that might be caused by being anxious or depressed or even manic.
Someone with depression might withdraw for many reasons. Perhaps they feel they are a downer to be around and would rather keep their negativity to themselves. If it’s a recurring condition, they know they’ll be able to ride it out. They might not even be aware that depression is behind some of the decisions they make that seem odd or unusual to others.
Sometimes it’s a case of a mild, occasional encounter with mental illness. Other times, it’s a potentially catastrophic slam into the back of a truck. I’ve experienced both types. A severe bout with depression put me in the hospital for several weeks in 1988. I had stopped eating and taking care of myself. They call it a nervous breakdown. Most people were sensitive and caring throughout my recovery. Those who weren’t, don’t matter anymore.
It was an intense and harrowing experience, and one that I don’t talk about to many people. (See the movie Girl, Interrupted for an idea.) But I’m telling you in broad strokes because some people think there’s a “type” that’s vulnerable to mental illness. I’m here to tell you that type is “human being”. That doesn’t mean everyone will experience it but it does mean that anyone can.
I will tell you one deeply personal story about that time. My Dad wanted to take me to dinner once I was well enough to go on supervised outings. I only had short-sleeved tops and I was embarrassed by the hospital band on my wrist, that I couldn’t cover up. I convinced myself that everyone in the restaurant would judge me for being an in-patient, as if they could all instantly tell why. Dad got up and left my room. I thought maybe he was frustrated with me. But a few minutes later he came back in, held out his arm and proudly showed me that we had matching hospital bands. My anxiety was erased. That night, we had a nice dinner as a matching set of patients.