I am like a purse.
I look okay on the outside, but you would never believe what is inside.
But let me tell you, my journey has been brutal! I planned my suicide many times and overdosed on alcohol and prescribed drugs on multiple occasions. I used to pray that I would get a fatal disease or that someone would push me in front of a subway train. Not long ago, I was searching our garage for a rope, ladder, and strong beam.
I am extremely lucky to be alive.
The good news is that I now wake up most mornings with joy and inner peace. That’s not to say that my life is anywhere close to perfect or that I don’t still struggle. There will always be another life lesson that will come with some sort of pain or challenge.
My mental illness has been with me as long as I can remember. As a young girl, I was obsessively worried and insanely jealous about not having enough—toys, nice clothes, food, money, whatever. Being the third child of four, perhaps I received less attention than I wanted. Who really knows? Was I mentally ill in the crib—or even in my mother’s womb?
Numerous studies over the years have found that some mental illnesses tend to run in families. However, biology does not explain everything. Life events also play a key role. As is often said, “Genetics loads the gun—stress pulls the trigger.” This was absolutely true in my case, as a multitude of traumatic events and excessive self-imposed stress contributed to my disease.
Unfortunately, I still can’t believe how mental illness and addiction are so misunderstood.
One of the reasons for sharing my story is to help whoever I can. I was extremely ashamed and devastated when I lost a successful business career due to my disease.
Prior to my first long-term disability at 33, I had already been suffering for many years and had reached the point where I could not get out of bed without prescribed medications and strong coffee. I hated every day and was in complete misery—despair and agony beyond words. I even went back to work when I shouldn’t have. The stress of the bank combined with alcohol withdrawal and various medications resulted in me having a grand mal seizure one day at the office.
During my disability leave, I only heard from a few friends and colleagues, and only on rare occasions. Most people just weren’t comfortable with what I was dealing with. It made me really sad when I saw all the flowers, gifts, and get well cards that my husband received when his appendix burst and he was hospitalized. In my experience, most people are more comfortable dealing with physical versus mental issues. But the reality is that many physical illnesses have underlying mental factors.
The prejudice directed to the mentally ill is worse than the illness itself. My choice has been not to hide, be embarrassed, or accept any shame or guilt. I speak openly of my disease, as I feel this is the only way to gradually eradicate prejudice. Mental illness is not a weakness of character, but rather a disease that requires the strongest of character.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of amazing work being done by brilliant and wonderful people. I just wish that mental illness and addiction were more fully accepted.
Cancer and heart disease are leading causes of death. Billions are spent each year to treat these diseases. When somebody dies of cancer or a heart attack, I often wonder, “How was their mental health?” Did they smoke, drink, and/or eat junk food to self-medicate their undiagnosed mental issues?
At my current age of 53, I have finally learned that there is no one pill (or any other external factor) that can change the “stinking thinking” in my mind. Recovery is an inside job and is extremely complex. I believe that the reason I am still alive is so that I can love, share my story, and evolve. It took me years of regular spiritual studies and meditation to get to where I am today (despite significant downturns along the way). I radically accept that life is imperfect and there will always be pain and human drama.
I also choose to believe that everything will be okay in the end—and if it’s not okay, it is not the end.
Never give up. There is a solution to absolutely everything. Just keep trying.
“If nothing goes right, turn left.” ~ Unknown