Why Write About Mental Illness

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By Paul Tedesco

why write about mental illness?I’ve been asked repeatedly: Why do you write about your mental illness? It only invites unwanted criticism and name calling. Being known as someone who has depression and anxiety must carry with it a personal burden, a steep price of added suffering and torment – one extra hill to climb out of.

The problem with well-aimed and ill intended slings and arrows is that they always seem to be hurled when I am least expecting them and they always hit their mark – bull’s eye. It’s uncanny how accurate the throw and so well timed to inflict the most damage. I can’t deny that they hurt and the pain lingers.

I get caught up in the “whys” and “wherefores.” Well, more truthfully, I obsess on them. Obsession isn’t a part of my particular illness rather a handy personality trait that, in my mind, serves me well and not so well.

A momentary glimpse into the dark heart of fear — ignorance is all I get. A compelling need to lash out and inflict pain and anguish on anyone who dares to stumble by – it’s like a drive by. I have to suspend initial disbelief. I have to, in the confusion and upheaval, try to recall what was said and why it was said at that particular moment in time. Often, who said it is more of a surprise. It’s similar to getting told really bad news. You either get it right away or need time to digest it. I fit both profiles thus the obsession.

I run the insult through my mind again and again. I essentially breathe life into this dead and rotting thing. I give it a place to flourish and grow. It grows tiny webbed feet and context in my mind. It offends by its very existence. It’s ugly yet oddly attractive, thus the true danger and malignancy.

Prejudice, stigmas and bigotry take the path of least resistance – they are free of the chains of clear thought, consideration of the differences of others and plain fact. They are free to spread and indiscriminately injure and wound. They are escaped prisoners that need rounding up. They are the bullies that need to be grabbed by the ear and told. Whether they listen or understand or change their nasty ways remains a mystery to me. I mean, if you’re stuck in a revolving door of fear and ignorance long enough eventually you have to jump out, shake off the dizziness and reorient yourself — perhaps desperate optimism or naive hopefulness on my part. I’m sensitive yet thick when I need to be.

Basically, the good experiences outweigh the bad – they unfortunately don’t out number them. For example, I had recently published an article in Moods magazine. I showed a close friend. She just began reading and burst into tears. She gave me a long tight hug and told me her son was depressed and she was deeply touch by my experiences with depression. She told me that the article contained many similarities and related to what her son was experiencing. She thanked me. I was blown away by her heartfelt reaction. I’ll never forget it. These types of things stick with you and go to the heart of my stubborn motivation and thick reptilian skin.

When I review what I’ve just written I can’t help but feel a pinch of self-aggrandizing, that my ego is growing and getting away from me. That being brave, open and vulnerable is for that other guy who suffers daily in self-imposed silence. The guy without a voice who has the quiet courage to leave his house every day and endure the mean spirited off handed comments from bored, ignorant and fearful colleagues. The guy who doesn’t quite fit in. He eats his lunch on a park bench because the lunchroom is annoying and, more often than not, threatening. That guy who keeps to himself and is strangely quiet and lives in fear that his dark secret will somehow get out. That someday someone will catch him taking his medication. That the jabs and ribbing will one day become more than he can stand. Courage, bravery and raw endurance occurs daily in utter silence. You are not alone!

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