October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It was also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’m sure there’s a third cause out there that was also supposed to be highlighted and educate the public. I will not downplay that both of these causes are important. 1 in 8 women are impacted by breast cancer. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men are impacted by domestic violence. Whether it’s 12% or 30%, doesn’t truly matter, lives are impacted. But, there’s a but, one is more warm and fuzzy than the other. It’s more common to talk about breast cancer, screenings, a loved one passing away from an illness that has no cure than to talk about something that has been considered shameful and personal. Both are important and both need to be talked about.

Mental health has a stigma, just like domestic violence. It’s considered shameful, personal and must only impact those that are “crazy”. But according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, just looking at adults – 1 in 5 adults are impacted by mental illnesses that range from anxiety disorders to personality disorders.

Below is the story of a 40-something female and how she has lived with her illnesses.


 

It blows my mind the selfish-instant-gratification society we are living in.  Consideration is hardly ever taken to those silently suffering with chronic illnesses. Mental illness has been my scarlet letter and a major part of my life ever since I was 15.

It all started when I was sexually assaulted one afternoon in front of the school library by a random stranger while waiting for my mom to pick me up. It happened quickly and something broke inside of me. A light went out and darkness filled my mind like a fog. I didn’t say anything right away to my mom thinking it was my fault because she told me to wait for her inside the library and I had disobeyed her like a careless little girl thinking the world was a good place helping a strange man take his books to his car around the corner. The guilt was so intense that two days later I attempted suicide.

When my mom found me, I had no pulse. I was rushed to the hospital and was saved by having my stomach pumped twice and put on a ventilator. At that time is when I revealed what had happened. Many people think that was my nightmare but my true nightmare began after that. I spent a week in a mental institution and after many evaluations, I was sent home with scheduled therapy sessions twice a week and a ton of pills as well as a new illness I had never heard of and my mom made me keep to myself.

An invisible illness that didn’t make you look sick. An illness that did not respond to diet and lifestyle change. An illness that caused intense pain that somehow not even the strongest painkillers can touch. An illness that can not be cured and carries a horrible stigma: Bipolar I with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The violent attack traumatized a part of my brain causing an inevitable imbalance. I wanted to fix it and make it go away. I wanted to run and hide. I did both things.

After I graduated high school, I moved as far away as I could from all my friends and family and started running. I became a runner with an insatiable appetite for more and more miles. That was my therapy. That was my drug of choice to help deal with the pain and isolation I felt in a world that frowned upon this invisible illness. Twenty-four years of running and hiding. I am 41 and in those 24 years, I became a mother of 3 beautiful children. I married and divorced three times.  I had three different careers. I moved more than 20 times to three different states and even moved out of the country and eventually came back. Always running. Always hiding. Until now.
 I have grown tired of running. I have grown weary of hiding. The mental exhaustion outweighs any physical exhaustion I can put on my body. I have started to go to therapy again. I have agreed to take medication once more. I also have physical conditions that do not help the matter but I tote those around like a Gucci purse because those chronic conditions are acceptable. Those physical chronic conditions are recognized and even empathized by society so I don’t hide them. I show the world I conquer my chronic conditions like a warrior.
I wish I could say the same for my invisible illness. Some weeks are better than others but never perfect. I wish I could say the future looks bright and I have to wear shades but this carefree dreamer knows things don’t just come to an end; they just take twists and turns like the river bends so I just go with the flow. So the next time you want to throw the first stone, remember that we are all living in glass houses.
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