Stigma and Mental Illness
Quite some time ago, Paul Tedesco, a strong advocate for mental illness, shared his experience with depression in Moods magazine in order to help others better understand this surreptitious illness — to know that they are not alone, and to help remove the enormous stigma attached to mental illness. His honesty and articulate story both educated and evoked a multitude of emotions. It was extremely well received.
Over the years, Paul has continued to share his feelings and emotions associated with depression through Moods’ website, blog, and printed publication. He recently sent me the following poignant piece, which candidly portrays the often distorted thought processes that so many of us experience when depression takes hold — the cognitive and emotional changes that occur when those “psychic demons” come calling. I instantly related to his words, as I, too, was once swallowed up by the perpetual suffering precipitated by this insidious illness.
His last sentence so nicely sums up the enormous need for better education and the removal of stigma towards mental illness.
Be sure to click on the link he also sent me at the end of his article — a very meaningful, educational and inspiring video created by an amazing group of people in Newfoundland.
When I Emerge from an Episode of Depression
By Paul Tedesco
When I emerge from an episode of depression I feel a mixture of relief and fear — relief that I am feeling better and fear that I may relapse for reasons that are incomprehensible.
At the moment I’m on the proper balance of medication and I see a psychiatrist and a psychiatric nurse, as an outpatient, once a week. They both complement one another.
Psychoanalysis along with drug therapy and a practical cognitive approach over the last year have gradually caged my psychic demons. I feel obligated to more clearly explain and expose my personal demons — sort of poking a stick between the bars of their flimsy cage.
My first demon is invisibility. It jumps on my back and sucks away my identity. I become invisible and nameless. I’m not a husband or a father. Any sense of self is pounded, tenderized and gobbled up. I am detached and isolated. The next demon has large teeth and isn’t shy about using them. Deep strips of self-esteem are torn away and I am rendered worthless — an unrecognizable skeleton. The next two are inseparable and a deadly potent mix — anxiety and sadness. They both feed on one another to the point of becoming indistinguishable — there is strength in numbers. Sadness renders me hopeless and empty. Life offers absolute zero joy, an endless emptiness. Social isolation feeds lethargy, and an inability to participate in daily life breeds anxiety — a demon who I particularly despise. It leeches into and saturates your thought processes and distorts time and reality. It slows it down to a painful crawl and time itself becomes an endless void. The past, present and future become one poisoned fang. The past offers regrets, the present offers pain, and future is a painful repetition of the past. I basically drown in my own miserable existence. Life’s daily problems become insurmountable calamities. If all this isn’t enough, my family has to stand by watching the carnage slowly unfold — an unbearably painful spectacle.
I try my best to appear “normal” and hide my torment from my family — trying to give them a break. I’ll lock myself in a washroom and take deep breaths and try to assure myself that things are okay and compose myself but the charade inevitably crumbles and the tremendous burden of helplessly watching and worrying settles right back into my family’s tired, worried laps nourishing tremendous guilt on my part. I want to return to being Paul, the husband, the dad. A source of strength, certainty and, dare I say it, a shoulder that my family can lean on.
Healing from depression is an elusive and subjective process that, only in retrospect, has a beginning, middle and end. Between therapeutic chats and plainly written prescriptions making vague promises of recovery my demons demand their due and are paid in full. This dam disease is relentless. It doesn’t play favorites. It doesn’t care about social standing or moral character. It shows no mercy. It arrives quietly and destroys lives. It’s deadlier than Ebola and no amount of protective gear or precautions can stem its spread. Its only weakness is public awareness that depression is a disease — there be no demons here.