I think perhaps sometimes, people may find me strange for calling myself “mentally ill”.
“I’m a madwoman,” I say. “And I’m okay with that.” (Even though sometimes I’m really not, and that’s okay too.)
In my experience, those who deny and pretend as though they aren’t living with an illness are working against their own progress and potential.
Though I would certainly never blame those in denial - I have been there, said that, done nothing before. It’s what we’re taught to do.
Every time I succumb to denial and guilt myself into thinking I should be able to treat my mental illness as if by magic, I recall all those moments I’ve been told to in the past:
- “Just suck it up and snap out of it.”
- “You just need some self control.”
- “Why are you being so selfish and self-centered?”
- “Can’t you just try harder?”
- “Your life isn’t even that bad, so many people in this world are worse off that you are.”
- “You’re not REALLY sick.”
- “Yeah, I’ve had a panic attack once.”
- “Why are you making this into such a big deal.”
How fucked is it that writing all of these things out caused my chest to tighten and my airways to close before I focused on my breathing for long enough to find relief?
Anxieties seize me around the neck and sit on my chest, I just learn to live with them and stop denying that this shit exists. Admitting is a constant struggle that I have to work up to every day, especially when my life is turned up to 11.
Last week, after spending a day in bed feeling physically ill and debilitated by anxieties triggered by such things as life and death, I decided I needed to stop feeling guilty for needing to call in to work sick. I decided it was time I stop tell half-truths and start telling full-truths.
So in a burst of courage, I wrote an e-mail in which I essentially “came out” to my managers as anxious-depressive and in therapy and working very hard not to let my illness get in the way of my work but some days are hard and they just happen and there’s nothing I can do about them except try to work from home or take a break. And could they understand? Because that was all I really wanted - was to be understood.
And although I usually edit everything before I send it about fifty times over, this time I didn’t. I wrote it, and I hit send - then promptly agonized over it all weekend.
But one by one the following week, I began to talk with my coworkers. They called me things like “brave” and “talented” and expressed how much they understood and valued me. They accept and want to help me. Some have been touched by mental illness themselves. They acknowledge the stigma and nod reassuringly when I tell them, “I don’t want to be treated any differently, I just want to open up a dialogue and not be ashamed about it anymore.”
And they totally fucking get it.
We don’t have to be silent anymore. People want to understand. They have the capacity to change.
We are intelligent, worthwhile, beautiful human beings. We are mad, and we are living with it. We are working with and against it because we don’t have to fight it anymore.
Fucking own it. Scream it out loud.