In this day and age, I am still surprised that mental illness is not more acceptable and mainstream. To me, the days of “coming out of the closet” no longer refer to sexuality or gender preference but remain a relevant term for mental illness.
First of all, admission of and the vulnerability of acknowledging my own mental health is really like coming out of the closet, literally. I mean, why do psychiatrists offices need to be so small? I literally feel like I am coming out of a closet every time I emerge after an appointment.
And then there are the vulnerability demons. They live deep down inside and emerge just long enough to sit on my shoulders like the angel and devil cartoon characters. They make me question my abilities, what others think of me and, most importantly, what I think of myself.
Denial of mental illness is fun, in fact, it can be downright exciting. Imagine the thrill that ensues when I feverishly search WebMD and Google sites only to come upon a random and strange fact that loosely ties my symptoms with a food I have been eating or a town I grew up in. “It’s not my fault” I declare to the void, “... see, I couldn’t have prevented it.” The whole concept makes the pill (literally the anti-anxiety med my psychiatrist just prescribed) go down a little smoother. Plus it gives me an out. If anyone ever questions or asks, I can blame the egg rolls from the restaurant down the street or the fertilizer used in the cornfields near my childhood home.
Mental illness is a touchy subject, and what I mean by this is that I love to speculate, armchair diagnose and label people I know. I sit with my hands pinched and covering my mouth when I watch movies that objectify the concept of a mentally ill person. How scary! How crazy! And yet when it comes to my own mental status, I want to keep the subject taboo. I fear the sharing, the admission, the pensive looks from others, the shame.
So, here I am being the most vulnerable I have ever been. I have been diagnosed with a mood disorder. And yes, I want to play it down and just refer to it as a mood disorder, it is so much more palatable. I want to say that I get anxious and depressed. However, what my doctors have determined is that my mood disorder is related to my traumatic brain injuries. The reality is I was ignorant to my other symptoms. My energy, my rapid speech, my racing thoughts, my random connections. I never saw them as symptoms of anything detrimental to my functioning, I always assumed they were just a part of my outgoing and dynamic personality.
As it turns out, they kind of are… but they are also a sign that something else bigger was in play. It became glaring when my boss had a quasi-intervention with me. She informed me that I was not finishing projects, overly “passionate” about certain things… to the point that I was not doing my job adequately.
I’m Sorry. What? How could you be telling me, the hardest worker I know, that I was too passionate to truly fulfill my job duties?
Once again, I called bullshit on someone else's assessment of my abilities and swept it under the rug.
Then I saw my psychiatrist. She has been following me for anxiety and depression, so I figured what the hell. Let me get someone else on my side and tell her what ludicrous bologna my boss just told me.
Yet, to my surprise, she didn’t jump into the “Cathy-band wagon”, but prompted more questions. Most of which unearthed the diagnosis of Cyclothymia, a milder version of Bipolar. It sure did explain a lot and answered so many questions I didn’t even know I had. It also shown light on my new reality, one that included an apology to my boss. If I had known earlier, I would have attempted to manage it better. I know now and I am trying. She accepted my apology with a teary hug. At that moment I knew that she had already known. I wasn’t telling her something new… I was coming to terms with it myself. And that was the relief she needed.
So does today count as a manic day? Let's recount the events…
First I went to see my gastroenterologist who suggested that I try a liquid diet for a week to settle my stomach from an infection. I heeded to his advice for exactly 14 minutes until I pulled into the Albanese Candy Shop parking lot, armed and ready, wallet in hand. 10 minutes later I “downed” an entire bag of candied nuts before I even got back on the road.
From there I pissed off two separate drivers who proceeded to honk and deliver the finger to me because they clearly did not like the way I drive.
After that, I brought my bag of “Show and Tell” to a friends house so I could explain in great detail that I am devilishly crafty and will be super busy working on all of these hobbies during every moment of my free time.
I didn’t have much of an appetite, but since the milk chocolate pretzel balls from Albanese were still in the car, I had better dispose of the evidence. Which I did in 3 minutes flat, promptly delivering me an enormous stomach ache.
I drove to the grocery store and bought 6 bags of peeled and deveined shrimp, they were on sale and it really would have been a tragedy not to take advantage of such a windfall.
Back in the car, I wrote myself a note on the back of the grocery receipt of all the things I had to do for work the next day, which I promptly began to chip away at the moment I got home.
Doing the math, I would say “Yes”. Today was definitely a manic day. The energy is great. The ideas that flow are so overwhelming I find myself writing them on the mirror of the bathroom the moment I emerge from the shower.
It is also incredibly exhausting for others around me. I take medication to stabilize my moods and for the most part, they work. Too much and I feel boring and blah inside, clearly too little and I end up buying an entire section of the grocery store.
Am I different from who I was? No. I am the same. I just have an illness that I need to manage.
Should others treat me differently? No. I am the same. I just have an illness that I need to manage.
Should I hide my reality, feel shameful for my fluctuating moods and apologize for my peak moments of creativity (like this one)? No. I am the same. I just have an illness that I need to manage.
I am coming out of the closet for all of you to see. Some of you may be surprised. Some of you may not be shocked at all (I knew she was a little off, you might mutter to yourself) and yes, you are right. I am a little off, but no more than I was before when we met and you decided to be my friend. So what should a little mental illness diagnosis do between friends? Nothing.
Accept me. Accept my illness. I am the same…. Just a lot faster at doing a whole bunch of shit than you are!
~ Cathy Braxton, CDCS
Chief Education Officer
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