In my book, Inside Voices, my main character, Penny Osborn, has a few unique but unfortunate gifts. She hears voices in her head that are not her own and has horrific visions of the future for which she has absolutely no control over the outcome. Already mentally shaken from these episodes, the trauma Penny endures further exacerbated when she witnesses a tragedy unfold in front of her, hurling her into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that includes survivor's guilt, anxiety, and depression.
To help take the focus away from her nightmarish memories and the fear her premonitions incite, Penny tries to stay occupied with work, running, playing guitar, and being with her dogs.
Those of us experiencing mental illness find different ways to cope. Penny used running and playing guitar as outlets. And like many, including Penny, we often keep most of our troubles to ourselves, ashamed of our inability to let things go, unwilling to ask for help. After all, we will "get over it," right?
Why the shame? Why the stigma? Why is this illness different from other types?
My husband has allergies. Animals, especially cats, causing him to break out in hives and make his eyes water and itch. He starts sneezing. His ailment can quickly escalate into having trouble breathing, requiring an inhaler to alleviate and regain control of his breathing. Or worse, he can come down with a bad cold or even pneumonia. The irony of a veterinarian marrying a guy like that is not lost on me.
I do not suffer from allergies, and for that, I am fortunate since being a veterinarian requires me to handle with animals all day long. However, I do feel for my loving husband when he struggles with his allergy "disorder."
I would ask him, "Did you take your medication?" and receive either an excuse on why he didn't or respond that the pills "don't do anything."
Then one day, while on an airplane, a flight attendant sprayed something in the cabin. My eyes began to water uncontrollably, burning like the fiery depths of hell. I removed my contacts between uncontrollable sneezes, rendering me almost blind had it not been for my coke bottle glasses.
It was horrible.
My husband said, "That's how I feel around cats."
O-kaaaay. Got it.
For those that have been blessed with a healthy immune system or have not experienced a condition or adverse event, whether physical, mental, psychological, or spiritual, it may be challenging to understand the concept of living every single day with a disability.
The face of mental illness can be deceptive, hidden behind big smiles, wide eyes, and exuberant expressions forced into place to avoid detection. One in six individuals in the U.S. (one in four worldwide) has a mental illness, the face of which may be a busy mother, college student, a veteran, or even your neighbor next door.
From someone who struggles with mental illness (yes, M.E.), talking to others can be very helpful, even cathartic. With the right person. Someone who has walked or is walking in those shoes. Someone who knows that the mental cross you bear will be light on some days and too heavy to carry. Someone who will see you as YOU and not as an oddity.
From the outside, my life looks terrific. An awesome family. A good job. The best dog.
I had my first book published and have several more in the works. There is no doubt I have my hands full and very blessed.
I mean, what do I have to be worried about? I have a family that loves me, and I adore, a job I love, a roof over my head, food on the table.
I need to stop being so sensitive. Try harder. Cheer up!
Those thoughts lead me to...If I get help, I will be admitting to my incompetence. My failure. How embarrassing if anyone knew.
Everyone gets down now and then. However, not everyone can pick themselves up at the same rate. Not me. Or you. Or my fictional character, Penny.
If you are suffering from allergies, don't you want to go to a doctor for relief?
If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, don't you want to know how you can feel better?
This was absolutely not easy to share with you. But if it helps one person take a step towards healing, then it is worth it.
If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out. Talk to your general practitioner for options available in your community.