“I am what I am and that’s all that I am.” –Popeye
It’s not politically correct, but I have two terms I use when talking about mental illness: depressives and norms. Yes, I’m sure some find this offensive, but I assure you, that’s not my intent. It developed from trying to help my husband understand why I am who I am. I find it best to keep it simple and streamlined.
Depressives are any one with any type of mental illness or mood disorder. Norms are, well….my husband. He’s gifted with a wealth of rationality, pragmatism, practicality and mental/emotional stability. Norms can have a really, really hard time understanding depressives.
Does that mean they’re better than us? No.
Does that mean they are healthier than us? No.
Does that mean they are happier than us? Definitely not.
But try to explain to a Norm why you feel like being applauded for actually dragging yourself out of bed this morning, and you’ll find that they have no idea, no conceptual framework to even begin to understand what you’re talking about or feeling. I find using simple, small words helps.
My name is Maggie and I have Major Clinical Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, as well as vast personal experience with Seasonal Affective Disorder, Anorexia and Suicidal Ideation. I also love anything Victorian Gothic and macabre. Hmm…maybe the two go hand-in-hand?
On the outside, I’m about as normal as it goes. Here’s how I can blend in with the Norms: Master’s degree, married for 10 years, five children, practicing Catholic, part-time vegetarian/vegan and I love Dr. Oz. That usually gives me enough to talk about with a group of Norms, if I absolutely have to force myself into a dreaded small-talk situation.
On the inside, I’m fighting for my life every single day. Some days are harder than others. I have been in therapy with a psychiatrist for over six years, am currently on Pristiq and Klonopin, try every single promising vitamin combo to give me energy and calm my thoughts (already there’s a contradiction here) constantly pray silently for the death thoughts to stop, force myself to exercise to help boost my mood though I hate every single minute of it, and if I’m not sleeping, I’m wishing I was sleeping….or wishing I would hurry up and get diagnosed with some form of terminal illness already. I’ve pretty much felt this way for as long as I can remember. Small children can seem quite simple and innocent, but some of us have been drowning in self-loathing since the tender age of 3 or 4.
For a long time, I lived in paralyzing fear that the Norms would somehow read my mind and see how crazy I really was. Then, something happened that changed my world forever.
On January 30, 2013, my little brother, having just turned 30, committed suicide. He was a champion to the Norms, beloved by all who met him; tall, dark and handsome, charming, funny, gregarious, intelligent. He was three months away from earning his Ph.D. from Oxford University. But inside, there was a monster slowly ripping him apart. That monster had many names: Severe Depression, Bipolar 1, Anxiety, to name a few. But in the end, his monster was Legion.
Tommy and I were very close. He used to call me his “psychic twin.” We always knew what the other was feeling, could finish each other’s sentences and even oceans apart, would be able to just know when to pick up the phone because the other was hurting. Tommy and I were completely comfortable being our true selves with each other, but it wasn’t enough to save his life.
Now, my own 8-year-old son, who is the spitting image of his uncle, has begun therapy for depression and anxiety, joining the ranks of his mom and uncle and millions of other Depressives. Tommy and Colin are two of the biggest reasons I’m still here. I speak openly now about this mysterious yet grossly misunderstood community of Depressives. I fight to win the battle that took my brother’s life. I fight on for my son so he won’t have to suffer in silence for over 20 years like I did.
“Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” –J.K. Rowling
I’ve learned to not be afraid of names or labels. “Suicidal.” “Depression.” “Schizophrenic.” “Anorexic.” “Bulimic.” “Cutter.” The Norms may cringe when they hear or read these words. Even Depressives may feel squirmy. But these words describe the burdens Depressives live under every day, every minute. It’s not who they are, but what they battle. How can we begin to fight if we can’t name our enemies? How can Norms begin to support us if they can’t understand the war and our battle plan?
I learned best from other Depressives how to embrace who I am and everything about me when I joined Therese Borchard’s online support community “Project Beyond Blue.” I became a member of a Tribe with fellow warriors to guide me, support me, understand me, fight for me and with me. Together, we’re not only helping ourselves, but helping the Norms out there to understand and fight beside us. Erasing the stigma against mental illness will be one of the biggest obstacles we can overcome in not only uniting Depressives and Norms, but in winning the battle against mental illness and saving lives.
I lost my brother but I still fight on, for him, for my son, for you. I am what I am and that’s all that I am, and I am stronger for it.
Maggie White lives near Chicago, Illinois with her husband and five children. She currently published her first children’s book, “A Christmas Guest” through Mascot Books, and is a contributing writer for MentalParent.com and StigmaErasers.com. You can contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at MaggieWhite2015. For more information on Project Beyond Blue, visit www.community.projectbeyondblue.com orhttp://thereseborchardblog.com/2015/01/13/support-the-beyond-blue-foundation-together-there-is-hope/