If you’re suffering from mental illness and struggling with the isolation and stigmatisation that unfortunately accompanies having a sick brain, I want YOU to know right now that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel, that there is hope, and that there’s an abundance of help. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I repeat: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
How can I make this declaration with such sweeping confidence? I am not a medical professional. I am not a therapist. I am not a social worker. I am not a counsellor. I do not have a graduate degree in Psychology, Cognitive Science, or Neuroscience.
Who the hell am I to tell you that you’re not alone?
I am someone afflicted by Mental Illness. I’m Lauren, and this is my World. I’m a 30-something who’s never been married and has no kids, and, while relevant in one sense of ‘alone,’ it’s my sick brain that makes me uniquely qualified.
I’ve been to hell and back so many times that the arresting sense of impending descent back down no longer fazed me. The feeling of Hell itself conquering Earth permeated my life so profusely that permanent residency seemed my inevitable fate; any former experience of heaven or purgatory were but temporarily illusions. Hell had come home to roost.
Mental illness has no shame, and it will stop at nothing to get its way. Stealthy and determined, an illness of the mind is so twisted and audacious that, somewhat like a cancer, it’s able to persuade its host to act counter to all survival instincts and become an instrument hellbent on intensifying one’s downward spiral endlessly into a black hole, ever re-defining “the bottom.”
I know what it’s like to be trapped in the darkness, plagued by defeat, and exhausted by everything, even sleep. I was caught in an endless loop of desperation and exasperation. Severe depression stole everything from me. Everything— friends, family, work, even my last remaining and dearest confidants, alcohol and drugs. Yes. I felt nothing. I craved nothing. I wanted nothing. Depression took and took until it finally stole even my desire to drink and use.
I was a shell of a person, devoid of the ability to emote, disconnected socially, incapable of sensing hunger, possessing no barometer for personal hygiene, lacking any desire to live, yet— this is the kicker— void of the desire to die. I spent months that became years just existing — desperate to find my way out but stripped of any sense of direction by an ever-malfunctioning compass.
I want to share my experience. I want to help others so that they don’t have to go through the hell I did. I want to raise awareness. I want to fight the stigma. I want to be able to talk about how my illness affected me without feeling like I’m being judged or that I’m making people uncomfortable. I want to be able to PROUDLY proclaim that I’m a fighter and survivor of a chronic, life-threatening illness, not shamed into a recurrence of my deadly disease.
Cancer survivors are celebrated, not stigmatised. Tanning-bed fanatics with skin cancer. Smokers with lung cancer. Do they hide in the shadows, afraid to mention anything about their struggles or medications? No. They are empowered— not stigmatised— for the most part, that is. Moreover, consider the implications for someone suffering from mental illness that’s found to be caused by a brain tumour. Why should this patient be treated any differently because the source of his illness has a physical manifestation that can be seen and held? Malignant or not, you can bet that this patient will be treated differently than the patient whose illness is rooted in chemical or structural differences in the brain. WHY?
Why do chemical imbalances involving neurotransmitters mean that I cannot discuss my illness openly? Why do we stigmatise that which we do not understand?
Be the Change.
Note: This is only the beginning for me in speaking out on mental illness. I have a lot to express, and I’ve only just begun to write, so please forgive me if this post lacks flow and detail, jumps around, and hits on a number of complex issues. It’s more important to me that I get this out to the world NOW rather than holding onto it in an attempt to massage it. I suppose that’s the nature of a blog, though, right? I can wait to polish and organise the content for the book. For now, it’s vital for me to publish my impassioned thoughts as-is. If you have a problem with it, blame my sick brain.
Fight the stigma.