Mental Illness: The Stigma
Did you know that 1 in 4 Americans struggle with some type of mental illness/condition? May is Mental Illness Awareness Month, and because of my own struggles with depression, I decided to take on this writing assignment. Many people are unable to admit that they have problems. However, it is the people that can ask for help and admit that they have some issues (like most people do) that are the brave ones.
My Personal Experience
When I think about my experience with depression, I try to think back to when it first started, or when I first remember dealing with it. Kids truly are resilient and I think that I didn’t really begin to notice any problems with mental illness until I was a teenager.
It is easy for people to blame their environment or their families for their problems, and that does play a role. All people are products of their environment to an extent. My childhood and family was not perfect, but I am not going to spend my time writing this article to throw them under the bus.
With that said, I would like to note that I have met people in this life that had every opportunity, a good family, support, and a choice of any school they wanted to go to, and they grew up to be petty, spoiled, deviants and criminals. I have also met people who were exposed to things a thousand times worse than I was, and they grew up to be some of the most beautiful, and genuinely good people that you could ever know. The bottom line is that it all seems to be a perfect storm of events and timing. None of us are perfect.
I was about 12 or 13 years old when I saw the first signs of a problem. It started with some Obsessive-Compulsive behavior that I later learned stemmed from severe anxiety, which is the root of my (and many other peoples) struggles with mental health.
Everything in my room had to be perfectly aligned and exactly how I placed it, usually squared or put in rows. I would become agitated or lose my temper is anyone touched anything. I got to the point that no one would even go in my room and if they did, I would pass my anxiety onto them because they were afraid of upsetting me.
I slept little because my brain was always going 100 miles an hour, causing me to develop insomnia, which in turn can lead to depression.
Later in life, as a young adult, I began drinking heavily and turned into a bad alcoholic. I drank daily until I was extremely drunk. I drank like this because it slowed my mind down, numbed me, and took away the constant and unexplainable fear that severe anxiety can cause. Unfortunately, the alcohol caused me to develop a physical dependency on it, and I was in worse shape than ever. Combine alcohol (which is a depressive itself) with issues that you have not dealt with, and anxiety, and you have a recipe for disaster. To make a long, sad, and embarrassing story short enough to fit in this article, I will tell you that I hit rock bottom in ten years, did many things that I am not proud of, and hurt some people along the way. Some I have been able to make amends to, some I will never be able to apologize to, and some will not accept my apology. That is just how it is. When I woke up in jail, bloody and not knowing how I got there, it was the beginning of the end of a horrible life, and the start of a brand new one full of possibilities.
The End, But Not Over
I have been sober for 6 years now. In that time, I have attended counseling, learned about what my personal issues are/were, learned how to recognize them for what they are, used medications prescribed to me early on to help get me where I needed to be, and have stopped using those same medications today.
What I learned is that whether you are sober or not, whether you take anti-depressants or not, or whether you ask for help; forced to accept it or got to jail, is that you will not change unless you want to change. Your issues, other than some cases of severe chemical imbalances, will not go away unless you admit to them, face them, and do something about it.
The downside to going to counseling and changing is seeing how many people are out there that need help or think that they are perfect, and that everyone else is the problem. Seeing this behavior exhibited can be very frustrating.
Let us get back to the positive aspects of this article, though. In the last 6 years, not only have I been sober and conquered many of my own personal issues, turning some of them into a positive, I have also been a fire fighter, one of my lifelong dreams. I became a published author, another lifelong dream and something I love doing more than anything. I am a proud Father of four boys that love me and have a relationship with me, I am a full time student majoring in…you guessed it, psychology. My plan is to become a Duel Diagnosis Substance Abuse Counselor and volunteering my time while writing for a living. I am living life to the fullest and I am still not perfect, but I do my best.
My main affliction is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which causes depression in people because you always worry. A symptom called Invading Thoughts, come into your mind and cause you to stress about the most ridiculous things and circumstances. Though I no longer take medications, I combat it with exercise, writing, and faith in God, talking about it, helping others, volunteering, and continuing to go to counseling. Instead of worrying or hiding my fears, I confront them, talk about them, and am open and honest about it when I am having a bad day. It gets better and so does life.