June 6, 2011 by Nicole
In the last few months, the Grand Rapids Press has been running a series of articles and editorials dealing with mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. While I don’t read the paper on a regular basis, I have been following this particular series of writings because as a person who suffers from dysthymia–which is a form of chronic clinical depression–as well as anxiety, it encourages me to know that someone is working to help address the stigma often associated with the mental illnesses that affect so many people.
In my own life, living with dysthymia has been a difficult struggle. On the outside, most people see me as a cheerful, happy, and pleasant person–I think that that “veneer” is one that many of us who struggle with depression have successfully cultivated as a coping mechanism, and one which masks someone who people would be incredibly surprised to see how much darkness, sadness, and intense loneliness we experience in our daily lives when no one else is around. What many people don’t know is that depression, insofar as such a disease goes, is a great time waster. If you allow it to, it will sap your energy, keep you isolated and alone, and eat up time that could be better spent with people who love you or activities that you enjoy. For me, it is a daily fight to get out of bed and not sleep all day, to remember to eat meals, to make myself go outside and enjoy the weather, or even to spend time on the hobbies I enjoy–like making soap and practicing my viola.
I was fortunate enough to have finally been correctly diagnosed with my illness about three years ago. Before that time, I spent approximately twenty years in denial that I was even sick. I figured that what ever it was that was making me feel so lonely and depressed all of the time was something that I should have the ability to “snap” myself out of, and that I should be strong enough to deal with by myself. The scary part is is that it took one major anxiety attack, serious mental and physical exhaustion that threatened to land me in the hospital, and a loving, supportive husband and very concerned boss to make me slow down and get help.
I am one of the fortunate ones. My heart aches, though, for so many other people who are scared or ashamed to ask for help or admit that they have a problem for fear of being labeled as a “psycho” or a “nut.” The worst part of our disease is that while a person who experiences physical pain can go to the doctor with no fear or risk of embarrassment, there is still a great deal of stigma attached to going to a mental health facility or receiving medical treatment for their problems; I have done both, and as a result, I have a much better quality of life.
You would never dream, for instance, of looking at a cancer patient or someone who lives with diabetes and saying, “Hey, it’s just cancer/diabetes. Snap out of it.” But sadly, that’s still the attitude toward people with mental illness.