If mental illness was more like typical illness we’d have a lot more sympathy for the suffering. If it’s a disease, then we need to stop pushing and grinding ourselves when things are broken. If I had a broken leg you wouldn’t be asking me to go to the grocery store for milk. You’d be fluffing my pillows on the couch and asking me if I needed anything. But that’s not how it works. And that’s not how depression works anyway. However, the metaphor is helpful in understanding the overwhelming hurricane of loss and sorrow that is severe depression.
We like to talk about removing the stigma of mental illness. We like to focus on mental health rather than the seedy underbelly of the suffering and disabled. And yeah, you know those questions on the employment forms about declaring a mental illness? Do you think people with depression or bipolar illness are checking “YES, but I’m a quick learner and a dedicated worker?” Absolutely not.
In my little world, I’ve been fascinated by an online friend, Thom Hofman and his Daddy, medium-well. blog. Fantastic writer, poet, dad, and bipolar human. I’ve been reading and responding to Thom’s posts for over a year. The year he lost his job at the zoo and began his time as a cashier at Whole Foods Markets. This event coincided with my own issues of depression as a result of a number of my own personal issues. When I took a job as a cashier at Central Market, a Texas-only equivalent of Whole Foods, owned by HEB. I resonated with Thom’s experience and have enthusiastically encouraged and shared his writing across social networks.
And then, recently, in the last few weeks, Thom has been very clear about his “manic” onset. And sure enough his posts have been coming more frequently, as in several a day.
And his descriptions of his mania, his highs are amazingly beautiful and heartbreaking. I’ve been there. I’ve skipped along the night fantastic, imagining that I’m about to discover a way out of my depression, or a way to cure cancer, or a way to finally become the rockstar musician I was destined to become. The glittering stars that mesmerize at 3 am. The words or phrases that capture our minds for hours at a time.
Thom is doing his part to share his beautiful story, much in the same way I have done here. And what is our risk? Exposing ourselves in this way? As disabled? As mentally ill? Well, Thom’s pretty sure it’s not going to go down on his resume anytime soon, but he fearlessly expresses his truth about his own condition and his family and the challenges they are facing. The same challenges we’re all facing in some ways. But as a depressed person, there’s another tilt against us.
Somedays it’s enough to get up, shower, and shave and make it to an Al-Anon meeting by 10 am. Luckily there’s a noon meeting nearby as well if the coffee doesn’t rouse my energy in time. And it’s not laziness. It’s not tiredness. It’s something much more terrifying. It’s my own ability to simply give up. Give EVERYTHING up. My life. My kids. My career. My ambition and dreams of having a solid romantic relationship. And heck, how about a job that I can do on good days and bad days.
And that’s the rub. There’s nothing to be done for me and my kindred sufferers. Sure, we can search for better drugs, but since the SSRI boom, there hasn’t been nary a breakthrough in brain chemistry pharmacology. So we’ve got to find a way to make a living. And if the high-powered jobs we used to have, we used to be able to function at, are a bit out of reach… Well, we do what, exactly?
I’m not whining. I’m actually just now recovering from a dark holiday season. Just Friday I would never have been able to write any of this. I would’ve been too terrified. In a moment of depression, we don’t want to be seen. Not by anyone. We want to hide. But that doesn’t get you very far in this world. And I’m not asking for help. I’m finding my way. I’m seeking guidance from my higher power, and my friends, and co-workers, and people like Thom who say it like it is.
At what risk do I write this? Does my LinkedIn profile contain signs?
Here’s to the courageous ones. Here’s to Thom and others who are working hard to contain the good days and survive the bad days. I’ll be over here, writing away about something when I’m back on top of it. And being very quiet when I’m not.
Go give Thom a bit of love. God knows he needs it. We all need it.
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