It’s Me, Isn’t It?
My dream was to get a PhD. in Philosophy from either Vanderbilt or Princeton. I’d been accepted to both of their graduate / postgraduate programs. It was Spring. I had spent all my years since college saving and planning for this.
My problems started out with a (relatively) simple emotional issue: dealing with a breakup. I was diagnosed with mild depression and prescribed a antidepressant.
Then I took a bad fall playing pickup basketball, where I fell on my head.
Then I started having seizures, and they couldn’t get them stopped. I was diagnosed as an epileptic.
Then everything else in my body started to go haywire. My immune system started killing healthy cells: platelets, collagen, the lining around the lungs and heart. I was diagnosed as having lupus.
I spent a year in and out of hospitals, while they tried to figure out how to keep my own body from killing me. I had destroyed my back having a seizure and had to have back surgery. Then they took my spleen out, as the offending part of my immune system.
When I did get out, I was in many ways a totally different person. I had lost 80 pounds when I was ill. They then put me on steroids, where I gained 130 pounds.
I would go days without sleeping, then sleep for days.
I was diagnosed as severely bipolar. I tried to kill myself, twice. Once by trying to jump out a sixth floor window, where one of my co-workers tackled me. I put myself in the mental hospital voluntarily.
The second time I took two bottles of sleeping pills, but my best friend, who I didn’t even know was in town, came by to see me. He had a key.
I woke up in a small locked room with charcoal all over my face. They had pumped my stomach.
I was in and out of that same mental institution for 9 months. I was in the hospital a total of 18 months over a 25 month period.
I lost all the money I had been saving for my graduate school dream.
I had been working a federal government job, so it was still there when I got back. People where I worked were mostly very understanding. They had done everything they could to help me all along.
But I was embarrassed. Ashamed. I was defective. In every way.
I was crazy. I was weak. I had to take medication for seizures, medication for bipolar. I couldn’t go out and drink.
I decided to play the piano for a dinner theater to meet some new people. I met a girl there, who I told my story.
I fell in love with her.
She married me – because she felt sorry for me. She told me so six years later when she left me.
By that time, I had left that old job for a new career in a new town, one where no one new me. I swore to myself I wouldn’t tell my story to anyone. No one would know. I would just say I didn’t drink.
Then, after my ex-wife had left, I had a seizure at work. I had to tell my boss what my deal was.
You see, this job was different. I worked in a field where I could help people who had been through what I’d been through. Being sick. Losing everything.
I had been pouring myself into the job with all I had; now, with my ex-wife gone, I had a child who needed me.
When the signs of mental illness started to show up in him, I was in denial. I had lived with it for years, what was I afraid of?
The stigma wasn’t coming at me, it was coming from me.
By this time, I had become “successful”. I had an extremely responsible job at a famous company. I was making more money than I ever knew was possible. I had met another woman, one with three daughters: we fell in love and got married.
I didn’t hide anything from her. She knew, but still loved me, and my child, as I loved her and hers.
However, my ex-wife, who had felt sorry for me because of my condition, spotted in my son what I had missed. He started to get professional help.
He went through a period where things got much, much worse. He’s been in and out of hospitals himself. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Treatment for bipolar and borderline personality disorder.
I can admit to people to having a physical condition: I’m still considered an epileptic, as I still am prone to seizures without medication. But why would I be ashamed to admit I’m bipolar?
I could lose my job. They could phase me out.
I have written several reasonably popular blogs online for years. I don’t use my real name.
I could lose everything.
I am submitting this to Stigma Fighters because I want people to know that mental illness is like all illness. Nobody asks for it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
But I don’t want to use my real name.
I’ve been living a good life. I have people who love me. So do you.
I have billion dollar decisions riding on me at work. They would remove me if they knew.
No, they wouldn’t. The company has an enlightened policy on such things.
The stigma is coming from me, isn’t it?
It’s me… isn’t it?