Confessions of Mental Illness

When sharing my mental illness, what I’ve come to expect are words of acceptance, encouragement, and support mixed with contradicting non-verbals, looks of unacceptance, caution, and at times even fear. I’ve been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, and PTSD. I’m a successful career woman, a retired US Air Force veteran, a trusted professor, and a higher education administrator. What people need to know is that many of us with mental illnesses are functioning, even successful individuals.

We learn from the onset of our illnesses how to adapt and overcome the challenges of our diagnoses. What that means is that it is covered up, in hiding. That doesn’t mean it’s not there, that we’re not struggling with it and the symptoms it brings. Just a month or so ago I, with the approval of my psychiatrist, cut my medications in half. I feel like I’m at a place where I am physically strong and mentally prepared to deal with my symptoms in a more holistic way.

The problem I’m running into is that those closest to me are honestly not supportive. It’s not that they don’t love me or want to support me, it’s just that they don’t understand. I understand and don’t blame them because before I was diagnosed, I didn’t understand. Even after I was diagnosed I thought I could control my symptoms on my own, through exercise, through meditation, prayer, counseling, etc. Yes, all of these things help, but in the end, after a great deal of struggle; I’ve learned that I need medication. It’s hard to accept, but it’s my reality.

With the amount of medication prescribed previously, I’d become numb. When I was sad, it was difficult to cry, and when I was happy, it was difficult to smile or laugh, well at least genuinely. With my recent reduction in meds, I’ve begun to feel joy. I even caught myself singing yesterday—out of tune, but nonetheless, singing, but there are side-effects. Some of the symptoms are returning. I am easily agitated by noises and by environments that I can’t control, like crowds, gatherings outside my house. This makes it difficult for me to commit to anything. I don’t know from day to day how I’m going to feel. It’s difficult to go outside my home where I can’t control the things that make me anxious and irritable.

I have wonderful friends and family, but it’s still difficult for them to truly understand why it’s hard for me to say what I’ll do or not do in a month, a week, a day. They are frustrated to see me staying in the house, sitting on the couch, and not being as active as I once was. It’s hard for them to understand why I get so irritable when there’s noise. I’m sure that to them it just seems as though I’m being difficult. My initial response to their frustration with me is to push back with anger, but I’m working on responding with love and understanding. Hopefully my non-verbals synchronize with my words.