This is My Brave: My Battle with Mental Illness

For three months I faked it.

I smiled, went to work, played with the kids, visited with friends, went to football games and spent quiet nights binge-watching House of Cards with my hubby. My life was blessed, I had everything I ever wanted. But inside I was a mess.

Sure I had good days, but I also had really bad ones.

On the bad days I’d hear people say “snap out of it” or “Just laugh a little you need a better sense of humor.” On the good days I’d hear “Oh you are so together, how do you do it all?” That was almost worse, because keeping up the façade was becoming harder and harder. Then one day I just couldn’t anymore.

I broke into a million pieces.

For those of you that don’t understand the nuances of mental illness, or wonder why your wife is curled in the fetal position crying for what appears to be no reason, or why the person who seems to have it all together is crumbling inside, here’s what it feels like.

You jump into a pool.

Each time you try to swim toward the surface a hand grabs your ankle and pulls you back down. You can see people on the edge of the pool laughing, smiling, waving at you to come up for air, but each time you try you are pulled back down again. Eventually after so much struggling you give up, you sit on the bottom of the pool watching as life floats by. Unable to join in the fun, and unable to reach up to the light you always see. You are trapped in darkness and soon the light at the top of the pool become fainter and fainter. Your lungs, deprived of oxygen, begin to fill with water, and soon you are consumed. Not one person reached down to pull you up, not one person jumped in with you. You were all alone, and suffering in the darkness.

 

Mental Illness

 

For those of us with mental illness that’s how we feel EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

So often those at the edge of the pool become frustrated or angry because you “just aren’t yourself today”.

I know you want your wife, daughter, mother back, but the person you know is just a farce. There’s so much more and you aren’t ready to face it, and those of us suffering live in shame. We have disappointed you yet again because we let Pandora open the box and all the crap came streaming out. Even though it may be once in a great while when the storm hits, it decimates everything in its path.

In an effort to squelch the storm we pop pills and see therapists, but the reality is mental illness is never cured.

It’s wrangled like a beast in a cage. It lurks under the surface always ready to escape. Those of us with brains in overdrive, we see life differently and experiences are magnified exponentially. There are days when we can’t stop the beast from emerging and on those days we need YOU – the spouse, brother, sister, mother, father and friend. We NEED you to reach out to us and hold our hand.

Reassure us that the monster inside is only a small part of who we are, that we are so much more than our illness. This monster will not take us and we will not live in fear and worry. Tell us that you will help us slay this monster, and that no matter what happens you will always love us.

I can tell you this as I have battled my own monster. I have attempted suicide 5 times in my life, the earliest being in High School. I’ve had my stomach pumped 3 times, my wrists bandaged twice. I’ve popped countless pills and visited a plethora of therapists. After four months of faking it I finally sought help, and I started taking medication again.

Luckily I had a support system I could turn to: my husband, friends and family were all there to reach out their hands so I wouldn’t drown in the pool. Of course I had to reach back, which is sometimes the hardest part, but once I did I found the light again. The darkness is gone and I’m back to a better version of myself.

But there are people out there that may not be as lucky.

That’s why we need an army.

Those of us with mental illness need our family and friends to stand with us on the battlefield. Even if you don’t understand it or “get it” please just hold our hand and stand by us as we fight this fight. We are strong, but sometimes the monster is stronger and it takes many warriors to wage a war. Even on the days when we appear to have it all together the fight still wages on and we still need you. Together we will defeat the monster of mental illness, so that no one needs to wage this battle alone.

The monster can’t take another victim.

**

In May of 2015 Iowa City will host the This Is My Brave show, a theater experience which will change society’s perception of what it feels like to live with a mental illness. The show is a live presentation of touching personal essays, original music, and poetry performed by individuals living with {or affected by a close friend or family member living with} mental illness. If you are interested in auditioning for the show or would like to donate to our efforts please visit our website at www.thisismybrave.org.

Mental Illness

 

In 1990, the U.S. Congress established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) in recognition of NAMI’s efforts to raise mental illness awareness. Since then, mental health advocates across the country have joined with others in their communities to sponsor activities, large or small, for public education about mental illness.

MIAW coincides with the National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding (Oct. 7) and National Depression Screening Day (Oct. 9.)

Brook {without the "e"} is a spunky faux redhead and former UI grad who has decided to call Iowa City her home for over 10 years. She met her husband on the internet, and they spend their days playing superheroes with their two boys, Edison (2007) and Grant (2010). She juggles mom life with a full-time job as a marketing consultant, competing in triathlons and writing her heart out on her personal blog www.redheadreverie.com. She believes life is a journey, not a destination.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. My husband also suffers from severe depression and I often feel helpless on “the bad days.” It’s good to know just being here and reaching my hand in the pool is what he needs. The worst thing is the “snap out of it” comment, as if you can just swirch it off. So many people don’t understand mental health issues and it is admirable that you are helping bring it to light.

    • Thank you so much, and you’re husband is very lucky to have you by his side. Sometimes all we need is a hug and a steady shoulder to lean on to make everything better. 🙂

  2. I have felt this way pretty much my whole life, but because I am a good actress, I have been able to even fool myself. It is very difficult to explain that you have everything you want and need in life, but that you cannot enjoy it. Thanks for this post.

    • Laura sometimes the best thing we can do in order to heal is to stop faking it. After the past four months of hiding everything it felt like a HUGE weight was lifted when I finally started confiding in people. Know this you are not alone.

  3. I think I’ve suffered from depression from the age of 10 and on. One of my parents experienced it when I was very young and I tried so hard to keep everyone else in my family happy. I was scared and thought what was going on must somehow be my fault. Now, many years later, I can say with tremendous gratitude, my parents are well adjusted, stable as can be. I, however, still suffer from depression and anxiety, for which I see a therapist and psychiatrist for medication management and counseling.

    • Kathleen I’m so glad your parents are doing well. The thing about depression and anxiety is they are always there, but here’s something I know for certain those of us that have been through this roller coaster are fighters, and we will keep on keeping on.

  4. I’ve battled it most of my life. I had no idea what it was in high school, it wasn’t until I was in my 20s and found myself crying everyday for over a month that I finally asked for help and found out it was depression and anxiety. I’m in my mid 40s now and it’s still a struggle, especially with 2 kids (one on the autism spdctrum) and my husband just cannot relate to how I feel. I would be interested yo know who your therapist is as I have not seen one in years.

  5. I’m thankful that God brought me to this article. As I myself am drowning. My problem is I’m tired. I’m tired of sitting at the buttom of the pool, to see if anyone is actually there reach out to help, and if they do, will they stay? I’m tired of putting on my smile when inside I feel like I could just burst into tears. I’ve been medicated since I was about 16. Yes I have good days, bad days, and what I like to call survival days. The good days, are made of memories that I cherish with all my heart. The bad days, I hate myself so much that I do think of suicide, because I’m afraid if my mind can think certain things, than for the sake of others, I’d be better off, as would they. On my survival days, it’s just go, do this, do that, what can I do next, so I feel normal? I’m tired. I’m tired of being fake. I’m tired of appearing strong when I feel like I’m dying slowly. I don’t know who I even am anymore. My disease is becoming more transparent to others, as I feel I am losing this battle. It interferes with my children, my job, my clients. I feel so alone, because I hate myself for this disease. If there was one wish I could have granted, it would be to not be a victim to such an illness that pulls you in every direction possible, like a riptide at the bottom of a pool that shouldn’t be there. No matter how many pills, how many good days, or bad days, even if you reach the top of the pool, you still feel bad because you don’t want to be a burden to others. Mental illness is literally a rippling effect, from a smile, that you wish would last, and not become a fake one, to tears and needing someone, then feeling the guilt and shame you have just put onto another. To taking pills just to feel normal then becoming angry, because you need a pill to feel normal, when the person next to you doesn’t. Causing you more pain, of worthlessness, and more confusion than ever before. Why? Why do things like this exist? Why can’t we all be equal? You start to lose faith. Without faith, you lose hope, without hope, you lose strength, with out strength you no longer believe.

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