I am fortunate in this way though: I have never wanted to kill myself. At times I have desired to not exist at all, but in that there is a gap. I lack the actual will for making this life end. I have thought about how it could be done, but this is always just an intellectual phantom because I have never felt the will to take my own life rise within me. Yet, in these moments, it is very much like being physically dead while the mind still whirs. I am frozen by the cold. I am under the ice. I am not waving but drowning.
Both of these states can last for months and they can shuffle themselves like a living pack of cards, the outcome of which I can not easily predict.
As to the cost, it feels like each time I wake up I am in effect gambling on what the brain might decide for me today: daily function can be a struggle. I am made tired just watching my own frenetic moods, and that allows for little energy for anything else. I organize things almost obsessively. Organization, you see, can help me extinguish anxiety which in turn can save me from depression.
I’ll also check things with a compulsion that often spoils rather than makes better: I have been attempting to write a novel now for the past two years. Just when I am close to finishing, I convince myself the novel is lacking and, in a manic frenzy will rewrite only then to repeat the cycle when the next depression comes. I am slowly winning this fight, but it is a grind that to others must be mystifying.
Other facets of my illness include anxiety to the point of ridiculousness over trivial things like catching public transport, paying my taxes, meeting friends at restaurants, going on holiday and, perhaps most encumbering of all, being emotionally and physically close to people.
Thankfully, though, there are people that have been trained to understand the symptoms of illnesses like mine, mental health practitioners who can offer guidance, behavioral therapies, even medication should the case warrant. Yes there is a strong support system, if people are only aware of it.
You can understand, though, why when faced with the prospect of headlines about “mental health patient” costumes, blood spattered and meat cleaver in hand, they make me catch my breath and wince.
I am not the homicidal mental patient that the media so often invokes to reduce tragedies to simple explanations, and yet my mental health issues would put me sailing, at least in the minds of the uninitiated, in fairly similar waters.
Also, this kind of stigma has real impact. It could prevent a young person with an emerging mental health issue from seeking help, believing they are now beyond it or are not worthy of being helped. I used to feel like that. I know how isolating it is.
In turn, this could feed into the neuroses that drives a sufferer deeper into depression, substance abuse and poor physical health that, in Britain alone, is thought to lead to 33,000 people dying every year. It could even contribute to the one death every two hours that in England alone comes as a result of suicide.
So for those who complain that such costumes are just a bit of fun, I readily say I agree it is important that we not be over sensitive and recognize that for many people they are just that: fun. No offense intended. I hope that many of you will have a great time this Halloween and then return home, pack away your costumes and recall the night of celebration with fondness.
I suppose, then, this is a plea to spare a thought and remember that for those people like me, mental illness isn’t a costume we can take off; it’s a reality for every day of the year.
With understanding and support though, mental illness can be managed.
If you would like more information relating to mental health and mental health services, here are a few links that might be of use:
Top Photo Credit: Thinkstock; photos in post:The Blaze
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