I write this as an insiders’ view of mental illness. I am not a psychiatric professional and I can only speak from my perspective of events. It is my hope that it will help others in understanding themselves and others who many be suffering similar problems.
It’s all in your mind
This has been a common theme throughout my life. It is one of those truisms that solves nothing, but makes the person saying it feel better, or even superior. The fact is that everything is “in your mind”, so to speak.
I was a believer, for most of my life, that, if you just maintained a positive perspective on the world you would come out on top of any situation. I still believe that any situation can be dealt with, but that mentally bullying yourself into positive thinking is usually counter-productive and can mask a problem that needs to be dealt with. The subconscious will not be subdued forever. When it decides that you are operating contrary to, what it considers your best interests, it will stop you.
As a child I exhibited signs of, what is now recognized as “childhood depression”. This lasted from childhood through most of my teen years and subsided after I left home and started living on my own. That period of my life involved finding a job, reading a lot of philosophical, religious and self-help materials, writing poetry, and involving myself in the “social mix” of the time (late 60’s & early ’70s). I used my understanding of human nature to build a persona that would be accepted. I am not saying that I was something other than me, but that I shielded my vulnerability.
There were still times when my motivation and willpower crashed and I had trouble making it through the days. And, since I, myself, didn’t totally “believe” in mental illness, it just got chalked up to “being sick” or “catching a bug“, though I knew that there was something deeper and darker, which I attributed to laziness (an awful thing, which is not allowed - ever).
(Remember: that it is only recently that the concept of a man being vulnerable has been accepted even in a few circles; that mental illness is mostly a taboo subject; and that addictions and drug abuse are tolerated in general society.)
Over the last 40 years I have been through 3 marriages (2 divorces and 1 separation), and more employers and types of work than I can remember, but I was never fired. I was always looking for something that didn't make me feel trapped. And it all seemed pretty much natural to me, I couldn't understand people who wanted to do the same job forever.
A little over 3 years ago, I began having panic attacks on a regular basis. They had happened before, usually right before I’d leave a job (I‘d told myself that it was just the anticipation of finding something new). But, this time I decided to stick it out, which seems now to have aggravated the condition.
I ended up in the hospital, thinking I was having a heart attack. (Even thinking about it now tightens my chest.) It wasn’t my heart, but I found myself in a constant state of panic and ended up being referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed “agoraphobia w/ panic attacks“. I took this hard at first. After all, I was, to my mind, a sane optimist. There was hope, but no guarantee, of recovery.
My wife was (and still is) my anchor and best friend. She picked up the pieces of the life we had had and did everything she could to make things normal and help me heal.
I did get “better”, but was still unable to work or hold a job for long. I could no longer tolerate people and began to enjoy being alone much of the time.
Panic Attacks =>Agoraphobia=>Depression=>Thoughts of Suicide
At this time, I have not recovered and have, instead, battled with bouts of depression and even thoughts of suicide. The thoughts of suicide led to me giving up much of what I had in order to conform more to what, I thought, others thought I should do (many suicidal people give away their things first). I figure having nothing and no perceived control of my life is the closest to suicide that I want to get. Though the thoughts still crept into my dreams and daydreams for months after.
As it is, I have had to give up much that I cherish, due to the demands of agoraphobia. I have started on new medication to relieve the depression and anxiety. And am making definite plans for, what I hope, is a better, more harmonious future. (The uncertainty there is from financial problems that I am trying to fix.)
And so it is that the Kid and I have our work cut out for us. I hope that some benefit is gotten from these posts.
Feel free to comment, ask questions or share your own experience.
Until next time…