(May is National Mental Health Awareness Month) A personal story from someone…

willing to share in order to bring awareness to Mental Illness – and I am grateful.

I grew up getting to know the term ‘mental illness’ and what it entails. When I was younger, I learned that it isn’t just sadness, anger, or an extreme of any one feeling. To me, mental illness is like any other illness, a selfish thief who robs people of life’s opportunities, often more than once, and can even decide to stay indefinitely.

My uncle suffered from an impulse control disorder and chronic depression. My dad suffered through bipolar disorder and heavily self-medicated through alcohol abuse. When I was in high school, I quickly learned that my best friend, my own sister, too, had been silently suffering from bipolar disorder.

Mental illness is not easy to write about, especially when it involves the people you care most about. It isn’t easy to write about because mental illness can be violent, even when it is silent. Because of this, it has the ability to destroy relationships between those who cannot convey and those who cannot understand.

I struggled for years trying to understand and forgive the verbal, physical, and emotional hurt my loved ones with mental illness, namely bipolar disorder, inflicted around me. I came to truly hate them before I realized it was not them who I hated, but their mental illness. I’ve watched my sister struggle through cyclical months of severe depression and mania, constantly battling anxiety. I tried, but I could never truly resonate the everyday fight it takes (on top of hurdling over life’s random obstacles) to conquer life.

Personally, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college when I developed acute and then chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression, and anxiety as a result of a sexual assault. There were days where I felt brave to get out of bed, to eat, shower, go outside – whatever it took to be or feel human. I felt like an ashamed, lazy, misunderstood, frustrated, and unable ghost. This is what mental illness does to people and it’s very real. Suddenly, I intimately understood my sister’s anxiety, my dad’s anger, my uncle’s depression.

Although I feel that mental illness has joined the social conversation more than not in my generation, it still carries a stigma. This stigma is in part due to the difficulty of obtaining tangible evidence and in part due to the silence of mental illness. Mental illness marginalizes its victims and medical health is not effective for the reasons prior stated. This is particularly true for college students who face the pressures of competitive academics and ‘10-year plan’ trajectories. My generation was built for the fast-track; but, many of us are silently suffering from mental illness, like depression and anxiety, out of fear of failing to keep up.

For those who have experienced, are struggling with, or unfortunately may encounter mental illness, I take my advice from my older sister who always reminds me “to be patient with yourself”. Mental illness can be unforgiving; but, there is control in knowing you can forgive yourself every time and start again.

-Anonymous

Up Close and Personal (May is National Mental Health Awareness Month)

Yes, my family has been affected by mental illness and I am writing about it today. My brother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia before passing away in 1995. This is a difficult topic to write about because it is emotional, complex and complicated. I will try to describe Raymond’s story with the detail and respect he deserves.

Raymond and I shared an apartment about the same time the disease began to take hold. In other words, his paranoid episodes were becoming frequent and more intense. I would hear him talking to himself in his room, and at times I’d hear him become agitated and angry. On a few occasions, I became annoyed and impatient with him which usually resulted in us yelling at each other and me leaving the apartment. Although these times were frightening to me, I never feared him because I knew in my heart he wouldn’t hurt me.  These episodes caused me to be anxious as they didn’t make sense nor was I able to control them. Can you imagine the fear he felt?

Months later, my parents urged him to move in with them. My mother had a special bond with Raymond. Perhaps she felt his pain as only a mother could. The next paragraph, written by my sister, describes the turning point that ultimately brought him the help he needed.

The most difficult time I remember was when Raymond was left home alone while the rest of the family went to my sister’s house for Easter. When we returned home later that evening, my father told us the neighbors had called the police because they felt Raymond’s behavior that afternoon was troubling to the children who lived in the apartment complex. The neighbors knew him and told the police he was not a danger but was mentally unstable. The police initially brought him to the station, then transferred him to a facility in Downey, California, for a 5150 psychiatric hold.  I wanted to be with my brother. When I tried to gather all his necessary belongings, I came across a notebook he kept in his dresser. I was not able to contain the emotions I was feeling when reading through his notes. The notes had many obscure writings and scribbles – I could see, feel and live through some of the pain he must have felt during his torturous mental anguish. He drew stick figures of him calling out for help wanting to escape. That was the first time I fully understood the suffering he endured.

As painful as the series of events described above may have been, it was a blessing and an answer to our prayers because he was finally able to get professional help and medication for his schizophrenia.

Raymond continued to experience small episodes of paranoia, and in 1989, after stabilizing somewhat, I asked him to be in my wedding – I was happy and proud to have him be a part of that special day.

Mental illness is a disease that comes in many forms and crosses all boundaries. My brother was a beautiful, generous and kind person. He did not choose this disease and I will not allow his memory to be defined by it.