Friday, March 14, 2014
A friend who also suffers from depression recently told me how amazed she is that I am able to share so openly and publicly about my illnesses. Well, this is why I do it:
1. To help those suffering from mental illness feel less alone;
2. To enlighten the loved ones, friends, family, colleagues, and caregivers of those suffering about what it feels like for someone with mental illness;
and perhaps most importantly,
3. To normalize mental illness as the biopsychosocial disease it is.
Number 3 is particularly important because for so long those suffering from various mental illnesses (which includes addiction) have suffered in the shadows. For fear of the stigma attached to mental illness and addiction, many have gone untreated and misunderstood rather than seek professional help.
The image we often hold of the alcoholic or the addict is not a particularly nice one: brown paper bags, dirty streets and alleys, wife beaters, drunk drivers, the dissatisfied house frau drinking her woes away with a martini in the afternoon while her baby cries unattended. Ask anyone in AA why the first step is so darned difficult yet powerful to take - saying, I'm an alcoholic.
The image conjured up by the words mentally ill is no better: straight jackets, padded rooms, Nurse Ratched...
But, having depression, anxiety disorder, substance use disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-partum depression, etc. is not a character defect. They are brain diseases like diabetes is a metabolic disease or asthma is a respiratory disease.
I am not ashamed to say in public, "I have asthma and I have to carry an inhaler." Nor should I be ashamed to say, "I am an alcoholic with depression and anxiety disorder and I carry my Where and When*."
So that is why. The more of us that come out and say in a matter-of-fact way, e.g., I am an addict or I have bipolar disorder, the more we normalize mental illness and help it to be seen for what it is, and the more we help those who need it!
*Little book of Alcoholics Anonymous that lists local meetings - places, days, and times.