(an email i received from a friend who asked me to share their writings anonymously here).
By Sue E. Generis
I am a human being in pain. It is the kind of pain that comes from deep within the confines of my mind and wraps itself around me like a boa constrictor preparing to feast. There is no defense and with each breath I can feel myself losing more and more of my strength to fight for my life. A part of me doesn’t even want to fight and instead surrender to the ultimate snap that will bring about a quick and easy end.
This is the pain of mental illness. Unlike its physical counterparts, there is nothing to cut, no drug that can heal, and no end in sight. It is a lifelong condition that is going to do better at consuming me than can any cancer. The pain it creates is hidden but constant.
Where did it come from? If you take a lifetime of serious emotional trauma, mix in a dose of rejection and abandonment, and then throw in a match, the resulting flame out of your thinking processes is the end result. Doctors call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Psychiatrists call it whatever symptom is manifesting – from paranoia to mania. Hope comes in the form of pills that deaden you to your emotions and leave you lifeless in a sea of chaos.
This “thing” has been eating away at my brain for as long as I can remember but I always managed to survive without even knowing I was sick. What I felt was presumed ‘normal’ and not until my body systems started to fail was there even a hint of a serious problem. When troubled, your mind can turn on its host and any number of unnamed symptoms can manifest. With me, at first it was a battery of failures all mimicking the symptoms of stroke, multiple sclerosis, or a brain tumor. A quick emergency MRI resolved all those issues in favor of psychiatric disease. Drug therapy worked for a while until my body turned again on itself again. Different stronger drugs were employed leaving me functional physically but flat line emotionally. I fight to feel human but either I get the privilege of being manic and up or its opposite, down so low that the world is just a dark and evil place. Many are the times I just don’t care whether I live or die and even wish for a quick and immediate death.
Work has been my salvation. Through my career I can focus my energies on the lives and problems of others and forget my own problems. After all, the people whom I help are in far worse immediate stress than am I. They need help and in helping them, I heal myself.
The days or months that go by without a phone call while savings and food begin to run out, tightens the grip that mental illness has upon me. It is not that I need a reason to be down on myself or to doubt my own sanity. That comes naturally. Being without work and a raison d’etre fuels the cancer eating away at my brain. I begin to feel worthless which only feeds the pain in my head.
You can call it depression if you want but that would be a gross understatement. We all feel sad, scared, worried, panicked, or shamed. These are normal human emotions and while you cannot control your emotions, you can control how you react to them. With me, these emotions are always there, always banging and clanging about and each turns red hot with each passing day.
I haven’t yet quit. Every morning I wake up with a heart full of hope but within hours, reality kicks me in the head and reminds me that another day has gone by with no progress or healing. Over time, this wears you down and out and leaves your hope frazzled and nearly empty. I have no doubt there will come a day when hope will be gone and only a prayer for an end to the suffering will remain.
These things I share with you because it needs to be said. We live in a society that turns up its nose to mental illness and shuns sufferers thereof. For this reason, I have had to keep my demons locked in a cage, suffer along and in silence, and make sure nobody knows of the constant harangue in my head. My secrets have held and I am treated as a normal healthy human being. If only people could see and deal with the constant crisis in my world maybe I could get through the day in peace. Having to hide from the monsters that haunt me is bad enough. Having to hide them from others is doubly difficult. After all, how does a normal person behave?
I look around me as I walk through life and wonder of how others can deal with the stresses. No matter how bad it gets, I always know there is someone out there who has it worse. I see these people and use their experience as the reigns that restrain the horse from getting out of the barn. At the same time, I see folks who seem so happy and at peace and I long to share that joy. But financial distress can so ignite passions uncontrolled that the strongest of drugs cannot always make the obvious disappear. Besides, being flat does not obviate or alleviate the problem. It just makes you care less.
Mental illness is a disease that not only attacks the body of the sufferer but it too impacts those you love the most. Spouses and children see the mood swings, suffer the out of control emotions, and become afraid. They fear your responses or of setting you off. They cry and hurt helpless to bring peace to their loved one. They are the great mirror that you have to look at when you are judging your own existence. In them you see your pain and how they hurt. The boomerang effect only heightens the pain from which you suffer. It is a vicious cycle that compounds itself exponentially. They just don’t know what to do to help and you are disabled from allowing them to see the demons inside. They react, you respond, and the end result is everybody suffers the pain and gets no relief.
I am not alone in this world nor am I suffering worse than anybody else. Clearly there are people in far more pain and in more dire circumstance than am I. What I do know is that I am nearing the end of my ability to cope. Where is there a place where I can find hope because my own supply is gone.