In my last post I spoke about stigma amongst us who live with mental illness.
I am no longer keeping my personal journey secret. For too long, I kept how I was really feeling from everyone, including myself.
As a trained professional in the field of social work, I realize how difficult it can be to ask for help. I am no exception. For years I have assisted others through many difficult life experiences, yet I was ashamed to ask for help for myself. I knew there was no shame in asking.
But for too long, I lived life through the eyes of others. Others seen me as strong, confident, and having “it all together”. Meanwhile, I silently lived in pain. The pain can be difficult to explain to another. It’s emotional pain, a darkness that blocks out most of the bright spots in one’s life.
However, I knew firsthand that the decision to make the first step in recovery, asking for help, can lead to a happier journey in life.
I began to be honest with my family doctor after the death of my father in 2011. There was no one else I shared my “secrets” with. At the time my daughter was eighteen years old. In hindsight, I believe I felt “safer” to come from behind the shadows. With no regrets or blame I chose to live in “tolerable” pain to avoid the possible unbearable pain of losing her.
Society does not always look favourably on people who live in recovery from alcoholism, let alone Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Depression. In addition, I was afraid that I would have people’s sympathy. I did not want sympathy, I just wanted people to be aware.
However, at the time there were people in my life that could not seem to get that I was simply unable to function at the speed or accuracy that I had once lived. They had accepted my alcoholism, and they supported my attendance to AA (I have been in recovery now for twelve years). The reason I believe they understood this part is that they too were on a journey of recovery.
Yet the diagnosis of Depression and PTSD were beyond their perception of that being a part of me as they had previously seen me. Again, the diagnosis for me came after I was honest first with my doctor and then my psychiatrist. However, I knew for most of my life that I was living each day under the thoughts of someone coming up behind me, or that someone was going to assault me sexually. I am now honest in saying that this perception of how life was for me is a result of years of being mistreated in both sexually and physically violent ways. So at 49 years of age I came out of hiding, and sadly the results were not always supportive. I had people say that I needed to simply “get over my past”, and one person said that I WAS USING MY PAST as a crutch, and I was referred to as lazy and a non-contributor.
I can assure each of you that I did my very best. I had days when it felt like my legs were cemented to the bed; I simply could not get up. I continued forth the best that I could, and convinced myself that “they” were right. I was lazy; I was not good enough. So from the reactions of a few close people in my life, I limited who I told. Some of my dearest closest friends had no idea of the pain that I lived with each day.
A few gathered something was astray when I began to post advertisements for Bell Let’s Talk on social media. However, only one of them actually messaged me to ask if I was okay.
Don’t get me wrong, I realize people are busy with their lives, and they too have their own struggles in this world. Upon speaking with them after a terribly sad year, many of my friends said, “I never knew,” or, “You are viewed as so strong so resilient.” Given that I am alive today and doing much better I can say that they are right. I am strong. I am resilient.
One of the major influences on my journey this past year is my precious twenty year old daughter. She stood by me every step of of the way, including my darkest days. She had lived with me all of her life. She states that she saw changes in me, but like most she saw me as a strong, reliable, competent and confident woman, and she did not question my woes.
Mental illness can be an isolating diagnosis, as many do not tell, and many will not ask. We do not want to “burden” people, we simply want acknowledgement of the pain. We do not expect answers from our friends, just someone to care enough to hold our hand through the darkest valleys.
People are often scared that they will ask the “wrong “questions. People are afraid they will make things “worse”. I say, as does Bell…let’s talk. Having people simply check in to ask, “How are you coping with life these days?” is so tremendously helpful.
Life is a series of peaks and valleys for all of us. Yet for those of us who live with mental illness it can feel like we’re in a deep valley even on sunny days when life is going well, objectively speaking. It can be so difficult to explain to someone that everything appears “dark” even in the sun. However, that is what stigma does. It isolates us. Therefore I say that by simply asking just one person today how they’re doing could actually change both their life and yours.
I would love to hear from you about your experiences of how you cope, and of how you hope to address the issue of mental health and/or addiction with yourself, and with those you love.
About Charlotte Edwards
I am a mother, a friend, and a co-worker. I work as a social worker and each day I live with the effects of PTSD and the struggles of being in recovery from alcoholism.