A personal history
Hi, I’m Dana and I am “mentally ill”.
That is a hard thing to say, even in writing.
I suffer under the same self-stigmatization as most emotionally befuddled, spiritually scrambled people who have “hit the wall” in life where we have to realize that we have lost control. And, where the reality of existence is not what we have thought and we are not the persons that we had imagined or were told to be.
It doesn’t matter that I grew up in a family, each of whom had their personal demons. I had convinced myself that I had been the “lucky one”. That, because I was a man and had a positive attitude, I was not tangled up in the whole “mental illness” thing but could understand that some people couldn’t resist it or that I just didn’t have it as bad.
(This is the point where generations, gods, humanity, and the universe starts rolling with laughter.)
Despite the fact that marriages and relationships, jobs and finances, and homelessness and living places had always ended up as generally short-term situations, I figured that I was just rebellious (think James Dean or Marlon Brando) and maybe a little “crazy”. After all, “I was a man and I had a positive attitude”.
In 2006… at the age of 57+… on August 3rd… married (the 3rd time) for 17+ years and paying a mortgage for almost 10 years… working at a good paying job for 2+ years… my soul revolted (I did call it a “soul revolution” at the time) and I was sure that I was having a heart attack. After spending a night in the hospital for observation, being told that my heart was fine and referred to my primary care doctor, I knew something was very wrong…
I’m going to interrupt for a few thoughts on mental health/illness.
“Illness” is, in itself, a stigmatizing term. It signifies a weakness (moral or mental) or even contagion. And when I have been in the throes of anxiety or depression, I have felt weak and somehow “contagious”. But, being treated as such and given too much leeway to be “sick” and being isolated can reinforce those feelings. There is a delicate balance here that has little to do with physical illness since each brain and “soul” (if you will) is shaped by genetics and the process of living. And a physical disease is often easier to understand.
As for me, I would rather be “crazy” or “madman” or even “idiot” than be “ill”.
But, that’s just me.
So…I went to my primary care provider and was given anti-anxiety meds and an appointment with the psychiatrist.
“Agoraphobia w/Panic Attacks” was the diagnosis. I had to quit my job. For almost a year, I took those meds and had to have my wife close by my side if I left the house. (Looking back at this now, it’s hard to believe I was that way.) After some time (between the meds and all, time is warped in my memory), talk therapy, and a change in meds, I became better able to handle the presence of strangers and groups most of the time.
And, “Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)” became the primary diagnosis.
And my wife left me. We separated for a while before the divorce, but since the Doc couldn’t give me a pill to make me “normal”, she decided to have a life of her own. Which she deserved for getting me through the rough part.
Severe “Depression” cropped up and got added to the pile a few months later. A change of meds and continued talk therapy and psycho-social rehab (PSR) groups to learn coping skills began to really help.
I got my life in some control, a lot humbler and knowing that I had just learned how to navigate some of “the wall” but would never, probably, knock it down. I got a temporary caregiver job and then some part-time semi-volunteer jobs. Sadly, the impulsivity (especially financial) of my earlier life returned and creditors and vendors became a blight once more.
The anxiety grew slowly as I realized that I had done it to myself again.
Back to the clinic for therapy and PSR but still enough coping skills to not need meds. It is good to realize the value of deep breathing, gratitude and having the ability to control some of my thoughts among other things.
Last year my therapist suggested, more in passing than anything, the possibility of PTSD and ADHD. I sort of blew it off since I had never been the victim of violence and I thought that ADHD was just a “kid thing”.
Fast forward to 3 months ago. I spent an hour trying to file some papers in a folder. Some of the papers were in another room, so I filed what was there, went to find other papers, couldn’t remember which folder I had been using, finally found and filed, realized there were more papers that I wanted in the other room, went and found them, came back and couldn’t remember which folder again. I laughed and found the folder and put it away ( I”m not sure that I could find that folder again or what I put in it now).
I know many people my age would grab a glass of wine, sit down and tell themselves that they were “just getting old”. And I have to say that this crossed my mind. But, I got on the web and typed in “scatterbrain”. One of the things that came up was ADHD. ADHD described my life. Although much of the information is aimed at children (and would have pertained to me as a child), it does continue into adulthood for many. I took my thoughts to the psychiatrist, who confirmed my thoughts after some testing. Now I feel that I am dealing with a deeper, more real part of my psyche. Also, I have begun publishing some of my writing.
(This is a humorous video that made me laugh and cry due to its accuracy.)
My life has been messy. Anxiety and depression are a part (comorbidity) of ADHD and I have found explanations for much of my behavior — not excuses, but reasons.
“Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” is worse terminology than “mental illness”. Other than it being about attention, it is a bad descriptive. I may write on this some other time.
And the PTSD? Well, that has not been officially diagnosed, and it is long ago, scabbed by time. Trauma does not require physical violence or a purposeful cause.
I hope that I have informed and/or entertained you. Thank you if you have read this far. ~ Dana