I Don’t Want to Talk About Mental Illness

To be honest,

I don’t really want to talk about mental illness.

 

I don’t want to talk about mood disorders,

or psychotic disorders,

or eating disorders,

or personality disorders,

or obsessive compulsive disorders,

or addiction disorders,

or post-traumatic stress disorders.

 

I don’t want to talk about any of them.

 

Nor do I really want to talk about the 13% of children aged 8-15 receiving a mental disorder diagnosis each year,

or the 1 in 5 adults experiencing a mental illness each year,

or the 1 in 20 adults living with a serious mental illness.

Every.

Single.

Day.

 

I don’t want to.

But I need to.

 

I need to join in the talk about these illnesses-

illnesses that for those unaffected,

or for those who are brave,

are discussed openly,

without fear of stigma…

 

but unfortunately, for many,

when these illnesses invade lives,

they are only discussed in hushed, desperate, tearful voices

in the dead of the night.

 

So, I don’t want to talk about mental illness…

but I need to.

 

I need to talk about mental illness,

because I need you to understand

how fortunate you are

if somehow your genetics,  

your brain chemistry,

your biology,

your environment,

didn’t combine and wreak havoc

in your life.

 

What I really would love to talk about is my daughter…

my first born,

who I wanted so desperately.

I would love to talk about that November day in 1992 when she was born–

how healthy she was,

how she slept through the night before she was 2 months old,

how inquisitive she was,

how we took her everywhere with us.

 

I want to talk about how she knew which way to hold a book before she turned one,

and how at thirteen months she said “oh pree” as we walked through our neighborhood aglow with Christmas lights,

and how she would wave ‘bye-bye’ with her hand facing herself.

 

I want to talk about how at 15 months, she sweetly kissed her baby brother on the cheek and gently covered him with blankets,

and how at the age of 28 months she welcomed her baby sister home by ‘reading’ books to her.

 

I want to talk about how incredibly shy she was in public, but yet couldn’t stop talking when she wasn’t,

about how her preschool teacher pulled me into the classroom to show me the picture of an airplane she had drawn,

about how she was chosen to be the present in the Christmas Nativity play, and how she carried the American flag at her preschool graduation.

 

I want to talk about how she tore through books voraciously,

about how she played the piano and violin.

about how her 4th grade teacher commented that

“she has obviously set high standards for herself and consistently works to achieve them”,

about how her 5th grade teacher wrote,

‘Someday I can just imagine hearing…”Join us in visiting one student extraordinaire, one artist of great distinction, and one writer without peer…”

about how her 6th grade teacher wrote that her poetry book

“is the best I have ever seen”,

 

I want to talk about how in middle school she found her athletic niche playing volleyball,

and about how she made varsity as a freshman.

I want to talk about how talented she was at sketching, and drawing, and painting.

I want to talk about how she graduated magna cum laude from high school.

 

I want to talk about how she became a D1 athlete,

about how she started all four years, amassing over 1,000 kills,

about how she graduated with honors.

 

I want to talk about all of this.

 

But you see,

I can’t talk about any of this

without talking about mental illness.

 

So, it’s not that I want to…

it’s that I need to.

 

I need to talk about how what I thought were normal teenage personality and behavior changes masked the symptoms of a mental illness.

I need to talk about how I felt something was wrong, but couldn’t put my finger on what.

 

I need to talk about that moment in 2012 when our world was turned upside down and the realization came that nothing would ever be the same.

I need to talk about shattered dreams and aching hearts.

I need to talk about questioning God and demanding answers.

 

I need to talk about the arrant and utter devastation that accompanies the diagnosis of a mental illness.

.

I need to talk about feeling powerless

and hopeless

and overwhelmed

and

alone.

 

Completely.

Alone.

 

I need to talk about how it feels to be drowning in darkness…

and I need to talk about how it feels to finally see a glimmer of light.

 

I need to talk about how it can and does get better…

after acknowledgment and acceptance and hard work.

 

I want to talk about what it feels like watching your child manage her illness day

after day

after day.

 

I want to talk about how she has become stronger

and braver

than I ever could have imagined, using her experience to advocate for others, 

 

And I want to talk about how we have become closer because of it all.