I’m Out. Now What?

Yesterday, I told the story of my suicide attempt and revealed the extent of my mental illness. It garnered positive feedback from friends, family, and other bloggers.

I have a few more things to say about it.

Revealing the intimate details of my struggle was both easy and intensely difficult. It’s easy because I truly believe that my story could save a life. When I was running a support group in Santa Barbara, I heard a lot of people ask “Why me?”. Even in my worst moments, I know some things about myself. I know that I am intelligent, articulate, and appear confident (even when I’m not). I’ve always believed that if I am the first person you meet with a serious mental illness, it’s a fairly good impression. Stigma is real. If I can help combat stigma and make life easier for someone else fighting this battle, then doesn’t it become my responsibility to do so?

Also, I know most of my readers are friends and family. I’m sick of hiding who I am from people who are close to me and the bearded gentleman. It’s exhausting to constantly be twisting the truth to make it sound okay. When someone hugs me and asks “How have you been?”, I want to be able to say “I’ve been struggling but I’m trying some new medications.”. I think hiding is the same as lying and I respect our friends and family enough to not lie to them.

The difficult part is that there are people who will not agree with me being open about my illnesses. There are people who will look at me differently. Someone will now be keeping a watchful eye on me to see if I’m doing something odd. There are people who will try to baby me and there are people who will suggest that I go off my medications and try natural therapies. Please don’t ever do that to someone with a diagnosed mental illness. It’s not safe and it invalidates the work we’re doing to get well.

I’ve been advised that my son’s father could use anything I post online against me in a custody case. That scares me most of all. But I can’t live my life in fear. I can’t live my life worried about what other people are going to think of me. All I can do, the best I can do, is just live. Because, in reality, that’s what mental illness tries to take from you. It tries to steal your life and then it tries to kill you.

It occurred to me late last night after I made my blog post, that I should have made a clarification. My mental illnesses, I suppose with the exception of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, were not caused by stress or abuse. My illnesses are biological and genetic. It’s highly unlikely that there is anything I, or the people around me, could have done to prevent me from living these nightmares. I was genetically predisposed to mental illness. There are neural receptors in my brain that don’t play nice on the playground. The life stresses I’ve been through including abuse, loss, and grief didn’t cause mental illness. The exception is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A lifetime of emotional and sexual abuse set me up for that. PTSD has been my biggest challenge. The symptoms, nightmares, insomnia, and a supercharged central nervous system that never quite lets me relax, are always present to some degree despite being medicated.

I also want to talk about medications. There have been people in my life who balk at the notion of being medicated. When I say medicated, I do not mean doped up or high. I don’t mean drooling or dragging feet. I don’t mean I get any sort of enjoyment from it other than feeling semi-normal on the regular. By average standards, I do take a lot of medications. But each one has a specific purpose and dosage. Even though I take 13 medications (a few for other things like hypothyroidism, arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome), I can tell you the exact symptom that each one treats, the dosage, the time taken, and the side effects if there are any. I have an amazing psychiatrist who is an expert in psychopharmacology and has taken a lot of time caring for me and finding the best treatments for me. He believes in alternate therapies too so I’ve tried cranial stimulation, vitamins, supplements, and iPhone apps for meditation. He takes a holistic approach and I appreciate it. In fact, I appreciate it so much that I make an hour and a half round trip for his appointments.

Closer to home, I recently started volunteering with the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). I don’t have a title (yet) but I’m doing something along the lines of a publication editor and designer. They’ve also asked me to join their In Our Own Voice program which does community outreach through public speaking. I’m really excited to be working with NAMI because I’ve respected the organization for a long time. My meeting with the directors was what made me start thinking about going public. In my interview, my illness was open knowledge. I got to joke about it comfortably. People who have mental illness and work with them tend to have a great sense of humor, especially dark humor.

It was refreshing. I started thinking about why I couldn’t have that in my life all the time. I thought about what was stopping me, namely potentially loosing Mini-me in a custody case. Potentially. That word stopped me cold. I was making a decision based on fear. If you read this blog, you already know I don’t buckle to fear. So, I put on my superpower and ran the idea of coming out past the bearded gentleman. He’s an extremely logical sort whereas I am the extremely creative non-linear sort. He gave me the kind of advice I’ve come to expect from him. He told me that if it was going to make me feel good, I should do it.

And so I came out to the internet, our family, our friends, and goodness-only-knows who else. It’s almost 24 hours later and I feel damn good about it.

And for the art of the day, I give you Schizophrenia. It’s a sculpture some guy (on Reddit, of course) made out of 124 pieces of stainless steel.

Schizophrenia, made from 124 pieces of stainless steel. Artist unknown (he posted it to Reddit).

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