Mental illness sucks. There is no way around that, but it has its good points too.
I have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). As the sentence above says, it really does suck. I went through some major misery in my life for me to earn those 4 letters associated with my name.
I used to be embarrassed about my diagnosis. I kept it a secret because I was afraid of what people would think about me. I was afraid of how they would react if they found out. It was the typical stuff associated with mental health stigma, but that’s a story for another day.
One day I was waiting in line at a restaurant when a man who I’d never met before walked in, taking a place in line behind me. I was a bit grumpy and irritable that day and didn’t really want to deal with people. I looked over at him and he politely said hello. He asked me how I was doing. Without thinking of a usual generic fake response I quickly responded with “not good, I have PTSD”.
I have no clue why I said it. I realized what I said out loud as soon as I said it. A sinking feeling of “oh my God, what did I just say” crossed my mind. Without hesitation his response was “me too”.
We both laughed, turning what I fully expected was going to be a highly awkward situation into an oddly placed moment of bonding only those who suffer would understand.
The man was a Vietnam veteran. He put his hand on my shoulder and said “there was a time when we couldn’t talk about this stuff”. Out of nowhere, something changed in me. I didn’t want to hide it anymore. I somehow suddenly accepted my PTSD.
When not in as awkward a moment as at the restaurant, I started to tell people about my mental illness. I started talking about my depression and PTSD. Owning my issues and openly talking about them was a bigger relief for me than any medicine I’d ever taken.
I’d been to therapy many times, but it wasn’t the same. Speaking to a paid professional in the comfort of an office is far from telling something so personal to a total stranger. By opening up about what I’ve been hiding for years, it was like a wave of peace and clarity came over me because although I’ve been told many times, I realized I wasn’t alone.
When I was first diagnosed I never I never thought there would be a time where I’d be openly bragging about what I’ve been through.
Mental illness is far more common that one might think. Probably half the people I’ve told said they also suffer from depression or anxiety. It was like I was in a dark box and someone opened the lid, letting all the light in. That’s where the blessing part comes in.
Mental illness has caused me to learn more about myself than I think I ever thought I could.
I learned there is no such thing as “normal”.
I learned to confront my fears.
I learned I shouldn’t be ashamed.
Most of all, I learned little goals mean a lot.
Sometimes it takes incredible strength just to wake up in the morning and get out of bed. Sometimes it’s a battle to put on a happy face when you know you feel like crap. Sometimes it’s a challenge to act like a functional human being when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and cry.
It takes even more strength to admit there is something wrong with you.
Those with mental illness struggle with these battles every day, but we push on.
I wouldn’t wish mental illness upon my worst enemy, but there are some good lessons to be learned if you look for them.
If you can start out taking just a few little steps, you’ll eventually be able to tackle the bigger steps. Suddenly you’ll realize you’re not at the bottom anymore. You’ll look back and realize how far you’ve come.
Talking about mental health is hard to do, but you need to do it. This is the first step.
If you take a few more steps you just might find your blessing in disguise also.
Written by Marty Augustine