By Wanda Lewis, Administrative Assistant, Sr., Office of Assistant Dean for Alumni Relations at LLUSPH
This is a response to a post published yesterday entitled, "Mental Illness... Isn't it Ironic?"
My hat goes off to Katie Freeland and all others who have found the courage to publicly share such an intimate part of their lives. I too, find it ironic that the most bubbly, outgoing personalities can be masking years of anguish, and their peers and family can be completely oblivious to their situations.
Most of us have experienced periods of sadness or been down in the dumps due to the cards that life has dealt us. Imagine that feeling of misery shadowing you daily, everywhere you go, and no matter how hard you try, it persists. That’s depression. Crying uncontrollably for seemingly no reason…depression. A constant feeling of impending misfortune…depression. Total lack of emotion…depression. Depression comes in many forms, and can hit anyone, at any time. Trust me, you’re not alone and there should be no shame in expressing how you feel.
How do I know?
I wasn’t officially diagnosed until my early twenties, but my experience with depression and anxiety began when I was a teen. I remember it like it was yesterday, although at that time, I had no idea what it was.
When I was about 14, my grandfather had planned to travel New Orleans, LA to visit my family in California. First, he was to spend a couple of days with my aunt in Mexico. Two days before he was due to arrive we received the news that he was killed in an accident. My Papa, as I called him was the love of my life, and I couldn’t cry. Maybe because secretly, I wished it were me and not him. I knew something was wrong with me, but my family kept saying, “Everyone grieves differently, it will come in time.” For about a week, all I did was sleep. I couldn’t eat. I didn’t want to talk about it, and I still couldn’t squeeze out a tear. The day of the funeral I stared blankly at the casket and told myself, “You need to show some sign of sorrow, people are looking.” Little did they know, I was the saddest I had ever been! To this day, I have not managed to allow THAT tear to drop, but I have shed many more.
Even now, my moods come in waves and I never know when I will hit that bump in the road that puts me flat on my face. My family and friends often refer to me as “crazy”, but that has nothing to do with my chemical imbalance. That’s my personality! It’s the times when the smile disappears, that wrinkle appears in my forehead, and the tears begin to flow, that I am not ME.
For years, I have walked a tightrope of treatment, counseling, and medications hoping that I do not fall back into that deep abyss of sadness. Sometimes I feel like I am on the losing end of a game of Russian Roulette where the loser is stricken with illnesses such as mine, and the winners get to live “normal” happy lives.
Nevertheless, it is the hand that I was dealt, fair or not, I am making the best of it. Most of my peers are aware of my illness as I often joke about my “happy pills” but for those of you who are hesitant to divulge this information, even to those who are close to you, it is a huge injustice to them, and the rest of the world. People need to know that mental illness is not a joke, it is not the figment of someone’s imagination, and the stigma needs to be erased! Education is the key. Although making light of my situation helps me to cope, mental illness is serious business.